A couple of weeks ago a new bomb was thrown in the war of Perfect People vs. American Suburban Moms Who Do Everything Wrong. This time, it is the French who do everything better than we do. First of all, quelle surpise! The French do everything better? Of course they do, they wear scarfs and heels and make chocolate croissants.
The debate ran its usual course. Le writer appeared on morning talk shows and wrote an obnoxious op ed in the Wall Street Journal. Mothers everywhere insisted that they were going to buy the book and be more French. Then, there was une mini scandale. It turns out that the Francophile once wrote an article about the menage a trois she and her husband had.
Personally, that makes me less likely to read her book about parenting. Seriously, if the most interesting thing you can think of to do with a menage a troi is write about it, you aren’t doing it right. If you can’t figure out how to make that fun, I really don’t need your advice on something as mixed as raising kids.
Then, came the backlash about the book: Hey, the French are rude, and you know Nazi sympathizers, why would we want to be French? Also, this book is bullshit because it only talks about upper class French. A lot of this backlash started to get interesting when people pointed out that the real difference between French and American parenting is that the French have some amazing social structures in place to facilitate their supposedly relaxed parenting style.
I am all on board with that last argument. I don’t think it takes being raised by a sociologist to realize that the way we parent today is driven in large part by the way our society is structured. We always hear about how other cultures, Israelis, Swedes, Canadians, and French have these great social policies in place to make it easier for parents to have children and still maintain their lives.
We don’t have that in the States and so we live these somewhat crazy lives. We struggle with issues of child care, work, etc. We live in a sprawling, spread out society that doesn’t allow for communal childcare or family as childcare. Many of our suburbs don’t have sidewalks, let alone parks! Our school system is such a mess that our kids go all over the place to school and need more activities after school to provide the basic education that schools don’t give. All of this leads to parents who are in some ways forced to be hyper-involved in their children’s lives.
So, let’s not blame the moms for being helicopter parents. Our culture is set up in a way that it’s hard not to hover.
But, one of the conversations that I haven’t seen is: Why do other countries have these benefits and we don’t. Here’s my guess at the answer – those other countries have those benefits because they want to improve their birthrates. They have aging populations and are in need of babies. Of course, by babies I mean what they consider the right kind of babies. If you’re French Canadian you have a “right of return” to automatically gain French citizenship. Just like Jews do in Israel. Not so much if you’re a citizen of a former French colony in Africa.
The French don’t provide those benefits because they love women and babies. They provide them because they need more people to support the country in coming years and they are une wee bit racist.
The median age in the U.S. is 36.9 and we have a birth rate of 13.68 per 1,000. The median age in France is 39.9 and they have a birth rate of 12.72 per 1,000 ( I spent years as a non-fiction editor, I know my way around the CIA Factbook). My guess is, look up a country with great maternity policies and you’ll find a high median age and a low birthrate. The exception to this is Israel. Median age 29.4 and birthrate of 18.97 per 1,000. But, the Israelis have their own reasons for encouraging people to reproduce. Those reasons are also une wee bit racist.
I love children. I think the urge to reproduce makes a lot of sense. I did it, twice. But, I think an argument can be made that it isn’t really in the best interests of our country or the world for the U.S. to provide incentives for people in this country to have more babies.
We have enough people in this country, and the world has enough Americans. Those 19 Duggar kids take up a lot more resources than 19 African kids, or probably even than 19 French kids in their tres chic et petite apartments.
I’d love to see this conversation start farther back. Not with “what kind of parent do I want to be” or “what kind of benefits would I like to have” but “What does the world need?” Do policies that are designed to encourage child birth actually encourage child birth? Are the French reproducing more or is it just that the French that exist are happier? Are American policies cutting down on birth rates or just making American moms unhappy?
Then again, that discussion isn’t nearly as much fun as one that lets us keep bashing American mothers.