Wednesday, March 28, 2012

French Women Don't Have Mommy Guilt

Mommy Guilt: Why Americans Have it and the French Don't

Mommy Guilt is terrible.  Before I had kids, a friend told me that Moms never stop feeling guilty.  I remember thinking she was crazy.  "What on earth will I have to feel guilty about?" I thought.  "That's absurd!"

Then came the day when I had to hand my 12 week old baby over to the nanny.  My boobs were spurting breast milk and my little girl seemed so helpless.  Of course the raging hormones don't help anything, but I remember feeling so overwhelmed with guilt that I almost couldn't function.  Then when I was working I couldn't concentrate and then I felt guilty for being such a bad employee.  Then when I came home and the nanny told me she cried all day, I felt guilty for leaving the nanny to have such an unpleasant day.

Now, three and half years later, the guilt still never ends but it almost amuses me.  When I'm alone in the shower and I feel a pang of guilt for being away from the kids, I smile.  After all, why should I feel guilty for my 15 minutes alone?  Yet I do.  When I put them to bed at night, I have to admit that I'm thrilled to finally be able to sit down and relax.  And then I feel guilty for being so happy to be rid of them.  What kind of Mom am I anyway?  The good news is that as far as I can tell, every Mom out there feels guilty almost every second of every day for one reason or another.

Imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that French women don't feel guilty.  How is that possible?  Are they heartless?  I picked up a book called, Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman.  Ms. Druckerman is an American but she moved to France to raise a family with her British husband.  I was really floored when I read this book.  She introduced all kinds of concepts to me that are hard to grasp, like school trips for a week at a time for four year olds, kids who don't snack, and babies who sleep through the night at two weeks old. The most revolutionary idea to me though, was this idea that French women don't feel the guilt that we Americans do.  Surely Ms. Druckerman has misunderstood, right?  Isn't being guilty just part of Mom DNA?

Of American Moms, she says:

"For American mothers, guilt is an emotional tax we pay for going to work, not buying organic vegetables, or plopping our kids in front of the television so we can surf the Internet or make dinner.  If we feel guilty, then it's easier to do these things.  We're not just selfish.  We've "paid" for our lapses."

Now, I have to admit that is a very true statement.  I've never thought about it like this before, but I think she's right.  Yet this is what she says about French  mothers:

"French mothers absolutely recognize the temptation to feel guilty.  They feel as overstretched and inadequate as we Americans do.  After all, they're working while bringing up small children.  And like us, they often aren't living up to their own standards as either workers or parents.

The difference is that French mothers don't valorize this guilt.  To the contrary, they consider it unhealthy and unpleasant and they try to banish it.....What really fortifies Frenchwomen against guilt is their conviction that it's unhealthy for mothers and children to spend all their time together...The French also talk about l''s about not letting any one part of life - including parenting - overwhelm the rest."

I have really embraced this concept because anything that promotes less guilt and more fun in life is something I can get behind!  Now that I think about it, I do think guilt is unhealthy.  It makes me unhappy to feel guilty and then I also feel defensive.  Sometimes when people (i.e. Hubby) make innocent comments, I get offended and pick fights, just because I already feel inadequate.

Of course, there is a lot to be said for being a devoted Mom and I applaud anyone who wants to spend every second with their child.  However, I have found that for me, guilt really can be damaging and I'm determined to try to find a way to live without it.  With this in mind, I have resurrected a quote that I lived by in high school.  My wonderful Mom printed it out for me and made me hang it on my bathroom mirror so I would see it every morning before I left for school:

"No one can make you feel inferior without your permission" ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

If you are interested in reading Bringing Up Bebe, I do recommend it.  Aside from the Mommy Guilt issue, she introduces a lot of concepts that are truly helpful and interesting.  Here is the link to Amazon:


And don't forget to check out my new book!  It will seriously help you save your sanity.  If you have ever tried to cook dinner while your kid clings to your leg and cries, this is the book for you!  It was released in July, 2012 and was co-written by me and Susan Case, a Kindergarten Teacher.  We worked together to give a Mom's point of view and a teacher's point of view, so that we could give you activities that not only keep the kids busy, but also keep them motivated to learn and develop their natural curiosity.  Kids behave better when they are given challenging projects to work on, which will in turn give you more free time to do the things you really need to do, like washing dishes, paying bills, and relaxing so that you can be a better Mom!

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  1. Huh - I like it.

    I sometimes feel guilty because I actually LIKE being a working mom. I like my job and I like some of the freedom I get from 9 to 5.

    But then I realize that although that means I'm away from my kid a lot, it actually makes me a better parent when I'm with her because I recognize our time together is special and that guilt goes away.

    Maybe I am part french after all?? :)

  2. I need to get this book. I love the way Europeans do allot of things especially the way they raise their kids. Everything is allot more relaxed and less stressed and the kids grow up allot more sure of themselves. When I was living in Italy first graders used to go on 4 day ski events like it was not big deal. We tend to coddle our children too much{this is my personal opinion}. I see allot of very nervous stressed out and not confident kids. I have now begun to take me time and not feel guilty about it. It makes me a better mom...hopefully

  3. I had read on the subject prior. You did such a great job in a brief post to capture the spirit of the subject. Thanks for the post. I am definitely sharing it now!

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  4. Just maybe feeling guilty is a way gauge if your doing the right thing for your baby. We have instincts for a reason.

  5. I love that quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. Your mom is smart-- I'll also have my daughter look at it before she goes to school as a teen. I'll look at it, too!

  6. I think a happy mom and balanced mom makes for a happy, balanced family. The kids respond to mom's energy and if it's giving off insecure, doubtful vibes, the kids will react to that. When mom is confident in her choices (career, home, whatever mix) then everyone can relax and go with the flow. I think there's something to what French women believe. Balance is key and mom and kids both benefit.

  7. When I read the title, I thought maybe they don't have mommy guilt because they're always drunk on red wine.
    But your explanation works, too. There's a lot of wisdom in what you write, and I think we'd do well to let go of some of the guilt. Nobody's perfect, after all.

  8. LOL to the one above (Child Anxiety Mom). Okay, so maybe I'm crazy, but I don't have guilt. I don't feel guilty because I do those things to help my child progress in life. I do those things to ensure he's not dependent on my every move. I take time for myself because it's needed and will help me to be better mentally when I have my son. I work because of the same reasons. Maybe I'm weird (I DO LOVE MY SON AND SHOW HIM IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE), but I don't think I have guilt - ever. Unless I am not recognizing it...

  9. I don't think you need to be with your child every day all day (I work part time, and leave the kids with hubby or trusted sitters regularly). But I do believe guilt is part of a mother's instincts. Sure we may feel pangs of guilt a lot- but it's a chance to learn and grow...NOT to be perfect or expect ourselves to get to a point to never feel guilt.
    I'm an expert on child sexual abuse- 4 yo's taking a week long school trip??!! I'll just say- many sexual offenders (keep in mind many do not get caught so are not on registries) put themselves in positions/occupations to gain access to children. That situation would be perfect for those seeking time alone with your child.

  10. @Briana...guess I'm crazy too! I do not feel guilty for taking "me time"...I relish it! I'm a stay-at-home mom, and if I didn't have a break every now and then, we would NOT have a happy household. I am very thankful that I can leave my boys with family or friends and not have meltdowns because I'm leaving them. To me, that says they are happy and confident that I love them and that I will be back for them. The old saying, "If mama ain't happy, nobody's happy!" is very true!! Take time for yourselves, have a girl's night out....getting a small reboot once in awhile does wonders for you, your children and your household in general!

  11. The author of the article said "every mom out there feels guilty almost every second of the day." I must be an odd ball then. I do not have mommy guilt ... except for the one time I forgot to register my daughter for summer camp until the day it was to begin (lucky for me, I was still able to get her in!!!).

    I enjoy being with my kids, I enjoy going to work, I enjoy time alone. I have no problem telling my children that I need a little "time out."

    I believe it's healthy for children to learn to deal with separation anxieties--and early on. Trust me on this one! I listen to plenty of Kindergarteners howl and sob for the first few weeks of school because they don't know how to live without their mommy by their sides!

    One of the best things we can do for our children is love them dearly and hold them close to our hearts, but also let them go and explore their world. Smart parents set up safety parameters, and expand those zones as their children grow older.

    As others have said, balance is key. While finding that balance can sometimes be an art, it's worth pursuing.

    1. Yes it's a learning process for me but I'll get there!

    2. MWSM - I don't think we are saying that you shouldn't have guilt. Don't worry about that. If it works for you (in whatever way), then it works for you. Just like what we do works for us. There is nothing wrong with guilt. I just always find it odd that I have none. I think I'm the oddball along with the other two who commented. :)

    3. sweet of you to reply! I really am envious of your approach! I've gotten better, but that's just my personality I guess...I feel guilty about totally absurd things, but I know they're absurd so then I try to get past it! Kudos to and anyone else who is able to manage to have no're very lucky!! :-)

  12. I am a french mom, and I do feel guilty not being with my child all the time because I am working all day, because I sometimes need a break so I switch on the TV on the cartoon network... but at the same time, working is necessary, financially, because who can afford to stay home these days.. for my own independance too, I don't want to be supported by my husband..
    and breaks are necessary too, even if sometimes like you I am saying to myself that I shouldn't be so relieved when bedtime comes, when grandma takes the kid overnight and stuff like that. because happy moms makes happy kids! and for most of us working mummies happiness does not revolve around kids only:)as far as I am concerned, being a SAHM would drive me crazy:)

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