I think that they might. From what I can see, they spend less time freaking out about being a perfect mom and a bit more time out with their husband on date nights, out with their girlfriends for lunch, and on general maintenance (maybe this is the key to why French women age so gracefully? They never let things slip). I tend to feel a bit envious around my French girlfriends who seem to have mastered the balancing act and look great doing it. That doesn't happen all that often around my American girlfriends.
I noticed an interesting post on Slate this morning about the book Le Conflit, La Femme, La Mere written by Elisabeth Badinter (a french philosopher/auther). I hadn't heard of this book in France but apparently the English translation has caused a bit of a stir. The author argues that current ideas about what constitutes good mothering are a threat to women's liberation. Its true that while I pretty much accept as law the idea that it is better to breastfeed, make my own baby food, and use clothe diapers (whether or not I actually make the effort is another thing...), all these things mean that my presence at home is a necessity. So long, career. But she goes further to say that in order to raise perfect children, women are ready to put themselves in second place on every level. Is this really moving forward? I've never really looked at it in that way, but I have to admit that she might have a point.
I am of two minds. As it said in the post from the London Times that I put up last week, I do think that staying home with the girls is a luxury and I think that its a waste of time all around if I don't appreciate this opportunity. But Badinter has a good point; all the time I see women who are so invested in being the Perfect Mother that they are nothing else. First of all, I think this is a catch-22. The more you try to be the perfect mom, the more pressure there is on your kids to be the perfect children. At some point, they are bound to realize all the weight on their shoulders to justify having their mother dedicate her entire life, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to their well being and success. Result? Kids that are even more fucked up than the average, and who probably turn around and blame the poor woman for all their problems for the rest of their lives. And in a way, I guess they would be justified in doing this. Its interesting to compare this to what is going on in Germany; here's a great article by a friend of mine, who is currently living in Paris and dealing with her own struggle, balancing her two jobs (journalist and mom).
There is also the curious link between the increased competition for spots in top universities and the time that women commit to their children- specifically ferrying them from activity to activity; helping with homework; etc. While all this time investment on the part of women maybe an 'over-investment', the simple truth is that is does seem to pay off when you look at Ivy League admissions and see what sort of profile that they demand from incoming Freshmen. Kids can't do all that stuff (be an athlete, a great musician, a volunteer, a well-travelled, well-read valedictorian) if the parents are supporting them all the way.
This year I've been a bit lazy and not even bothered to sign up Ella for a single activity. I've thought about getting Georgia into the baby music class at Gymboree but with a 9:45 start time on the other side of Paris, I figured it would be a waste of money (I would NEVER be on time). But one of the main reasons that I want to move back to the States is so that the girls can get in activities since I think the French way of non-stop studying for 10 years straight is pointless and ridiculous. So I suppose I should stop feeling guilty and accept that this is just a sign of my supremely liberated subconscious asserting itself, right?
I better get that subconscious in check because apparently, this "snowplow parenting" does work to a certain extent. I would love to see one of my girls graduating from Harvard, so I better sort out this conundrum, and quick.