I was surprised to see that someone kept statistics on this, but it is nonetheless interesting: Over 50% of French parents (link in french) go on vacation without kids.
Anecdotally, I knew this was common from my own circle of French friends, but maybe that was just us? I didn’t think there was any shame in telling your friends that you are ditching the kids and going off for a few days (or more). It’s called a vacation.
Take the kids on holiday, especially small children, and you are simply doing the same things that you do at home. Except now you are doing it somewhere else: brush your teeth, eat this, change diapers, etc, etc.
You love your kids, we all do, the little monsters. But just imagine how much more fun Disneyland Paris would be if you went without the kids! No whining, no height restrictions, and freedom to eat all the candy you want 😉
Fine, maybe you have to take the kids to Disneyland, but that romantic spa weekend for two? All bets are off! But parental fears are universal. There is not some magic potion à la française that takes those fears away. So how do French parents work up the courage to take some time away for themselves?
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French School Holidays
For one thing, as much vacation time as French adults have, French kids have even more. Every 6 weeks, schools are closed for a full two weeks. This means the kids are off of school for 2 full weeks each Oct, Dec, Feb, and April. And that is excluding regular summer hols.
That’s a lot of holidays. So someone has watch the kids for that period of time. There are centre de loisirs (leisure centers) that you can send your kids off to, but quite often, the kids are sent off to the grandparents. In our case, that is in Provence, in the South of France, where there is plenty for the kids to do without us.
☞ READ MORE: The French Calendar of Holidays
This means there is a generation of well-trained grandparents who know how to watch the kids without Maman and Papa around. We regularly use both my parents and my in-laws as “free babysitting”, and they all love it. And my kids love it too, they are sometimes even better behaved. The more often you do something, the more confident you feel doing it.
Now distance does play a role in this too. Even if you don’t live in the same city as your relatives, France is a much smaller country to travel across. Our relatives near Marseille can be chez nous within 3 hours by TGV train. That’s not quite possible if you’re living in New York and your relatives are in Los Angeles!
Emphasis on the Adult
One of my pet peeves when reading the newspaper is titles that go something like “Mom of 4 finds cure to cancer”. Just because the person has become a mother doesn’t mean that the person she was before has vanished.
In France, the belief is that parenthood does not mean that your own dreams and ambitions are to be put out by the wayside. You are still supposed to take time for yourself and use the system of resources put in place by the State to pursue your goals: nursery care, maternal assistants, nannies, etc.
Stay-at-home parents can drop their kids off for a few hours at government-sponsored places called Halte Garderies. For a minimum cost (€2/hour), the children are entertained and taken care off, while their parents get some much needed time to themselves.
This way French parents are conditioned to leaving their kids with other people. Not all the time, of course, I know a lot of parents who work part-time, or take Wednesdays off when the kids are off school, or make all sorts of other adjustments to accommodate their kids. But what I mean is that no one is generally surprised if as a parent, you require extensive childcare.
And that’s the big factor. With all the mommy-shaming and outside parenting that strangers like to offer, you don’t feel that as much in France if you’ve sent your child off to daycare. The State is there to take care of you and your child.
And just like leaving the kids with the grandparents, it shows French parents that they can leave their kids and somebody else who will manage. The baby will sleep in her proper outfit, with her proper doudou (favorite toy). The kids will be fine.
For my own kids, there are things that the grandparents or the nanny have gotten them to do (e.g. using the dreaded nasal spray!) that they simply refused to do with me. It takes a village to raise a child.
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Parents don’t stigmatize
Now, I know that you are saying, for over 50% of French parents who go on holiday without their children, there’s nearly the same amount who don’t! So why is this even so significant? For me, it really revolves around the stigma of it. Even for the parents who don’t have grandparents or other family members nearby, they look upon it as something envious for the parents who do. “How lucky!” is the most common remark, rather than “what, who’s taking care of the kids?!”
And so with all this, they are willing to take a long weekend once in a while. Not having to share your hotel room with a couple of travel cots, does not seem so daunting, and seems actually fun. Emergency numbers on the wall, lots of phone calls and pictures, and it is time for Maman and Papa to relax at the spa and go out on a dinner date.
So what about you? Would you leave your kids with a trusted family member and go off on holiday? Is it common where you are from? Comment below!
¹ Featured Image: Emile Guillemot for Unsplash
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