This Job I Have

Am I a mean mama?  Or am I magnifique?  This article, Is Maman mean or magnifique? , about French parenting (mothering mostly) has been making the rounds of late and it has me thinking hard about my role and how much it is shaped by culture, how much it is impacted by sheer exhaustion and how much I am constantly coming to terms with how difficult it is.   I plumb the depths of my resources daily to keep my voice from hitting too high a pitch, to stretch to meet their needs and my own, whilst providing security within which they can grow and learn.  Sure, I regard my role as important but some days (many times a day) I'm not always so sure what part of my role is the most important.  I'm always happiest when we're all doing an activity quietly together--the sun is shining and we're all happily walking to the park or reading a story or constructing a creation.  Bedtimes are the most trying. Mornings, when we have to go anywhere, come a very very close second. Bedtime because there is no fixed deadline (except the one burning a furrow across my forehead, warning one and all that Mama's bedtime is nigh). Mornings because they have an all too fixed deadline that is hanging over us while we find socks and force cereal down our gullets.

The article, written by Janine di Giovanni, an ex-pat Italian American living in France, explains that French moms tend to vest more confidence in institutions in the "education" of their children and therefore they are more conditioned and empowered to take a hands-off approach.  Enforcing manners is considered a moral imperative and they tend to be stricter. "They shout more", she writes.

I shout too.  More than I'd like to admit, but I do.  I am on the one hand, fulfilling the American (and by that I mean North American) tendency to be kid-centric.  Our house is a mess, full of half completed art projects, we've completely immersed ourselves in this period and have drastically adjusted our working lives to accommodate it. We care about our kids' feelings just as much as their table manners, but if push came to shove, their feelings would carry the day.  As I read that the focus of French parenting is on educating kids to be patient as an act of love, I thought about my recent post, Tapas, not toast ,  on my son's fixation on snacks, and I realised that this would horrify the French moms she's talking about.  Her point is that French parenting puts the emphasis on civilising kids which involves learning to wait, including waiting for meals.

On the other hand, I identify with the French moms as described in this article.  I draw lines in the sand.  I have definite expectations of their behaviour and it matters to me that they are met. I'm hands off in many respects.  I regularly let my kids play on their own and make mistakes.  I really resist interfering in squabbles, I usually let them fight it out.(I mean work it out for themselves!) I feel mean just writing that, and yet I believe that less is more when it comes to child rearing.  However, even though I want my kids to be well-mannered, I often feel a bit put off by all the elaborate (and often unwritten) rules and expectations that face not just my kids but us parents as well in their childcare/schools.  I can't accord as much confidence in institutions as my French counterparts do, but some more clarity would be nice.  How old will my daughter be when it will be okay for me to send her to school on her own?  The school is almost within sight of my house, and although I have answer for myself, I don't know what the school thinks--and for some reason, I haven't asked.

I see my kids' and their imagination unfold into all kinds of ways the less I interfere. The more I get involved, the more I get involved.  Choosing when and how to get involved is the daily question. Was that too much? Was that too little?

What is hard to accept sometimes about parenting is that these kids that I am raising are going to know me in ways that I rather they didn't.  They are getting to know my soft, creative and supportive ways, but they are also getting to know my mean streak, my foibles, the things I work hard to conceal.  And, begrudgingly, I have to accept that in other ways, they are likely not going to know me very well at all.  Am I mean or magnifique? The answer is YES.