Thursday 20 October 2011

Guest Post: A Nordic Savage in France Or the Day Care Question

This post comes from Milja (pronounced Milya) who is a singer-songwriter and Mummy of one. She, like myself, is an expat and is a Finn living in France. Milja discovers what happen when Nordic and French views on Day Care collide.

'Oh? You won't put your daughter to child care?'
'Ummm, no.'
'But she's two years old! It's better for her development!'
'Oh. Didn't realize that.'
(Vague tittering.)
'Well, I guess it's because you're so... you know... '
'Because I'm what, exactly?'
' So... Nordic. You know, all that breast-feeding, child raising and all.'
I couldn't believe I was hearing this.
'You know, us French women, we want our freedom! (more vague titters.) We want to work! You Nordics, you don't feel that way.'
'We don't?'
'No! A French woman wants to return to work right after she's given birth! We don't want to stay home like our poor mothers and their mothers were forced to do! Whereas you...'

This is where my friend the Frenchwoman finally gave up. She didn't know what more to say about us strangely maternal Nordic women. Here I was, once again involuntarily drawn into a conversation about my wrongful choices in raising my child. A Finn (and a musician at that) raising my child in France, doing it all wrong. For in France, it seems, it is considered a crime against the feminist movement if your child doesn't go to childcare by the age of two, and God forbid, if she/he doesn't go to school at the age of three, like the other French children. It's so good for the child, I'm told, that way it won't be spoiled! Good for the mother, too, that way she won't have to exhaust herself with unnecessary child-raising. After all, there are professionals for that. I'm not saying all French have advised me thus – but it's happened often enough for me to generalize about it in a flagrant manner such as this.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm one empowered woman, and proud of it. I'm the head of my household, like my mother, her mother, her mother's mother and generations of mother's mother's mothers were before her. In my native Finland, when a man went chasing bear-meat burgers in his loincloth in snow up to his chin, it was more than possible he would never come back. There were always some swedish and russian tribes to fight, bears, wolves and wolverines to kill – and a mighty winter that lasts more than a half of the year, for heaven's sakes. A Finnish woman is the head of her household, whereas a man exhausted by hunting, fighting and snow-plowing lays on the furs drinking hard liquor. So the famous equality of the sexes in the Nordic countries is a necessity. Without it, we would have been extinct since the invention of booze.

This, however, is not the case in western and southern Europe. Historically, it's been the Man of the House who makes the rules. Unless a field slave, the respectable woman's duties would sum up to being a lamb in the living room and a tiger in the bedroom, none of that cave-bear-matronly behavior. I mean, the French woman only got to vote in 1946. She couldn't open a bank account without the permission of her male guardian before the 1960's! I know a women whose banker called her father every time her bank account was on overdraft, and this was the 1990's! No wonder a Frenchwoman will still do anything to get the hell out of the house!

I get this. I feel for you, Mesdames. I also feel for the women who have to work full-time just to put bread on the empty table. But those who don't: come on, don't claim it's anti-feminist to raise my child myself. I agree, the equality of sexes and all that, but hey - I just need to look at the unkempt state of my daughter is in after having spent a week in her loving father's care to know I'm the more instinctive carer for her. And since I'm able and willing to both work and care for her, what's so wrong with that? (Oh, I forgot. It will spoil my child. A smiley here.)

There's a Finnish woman politician, an elected member of the Finnish parliament, who took her newborn child with her to the parliament sessions, breast-feeding him right then and there. For some reason, I'm quite sure I wouldn't see this in the French Assembly. There are too many cultural differences to even compare my land of birth to my adopted homeland. Still, I choose to stay here, to have my cheese and eat it too, and also have my weekly conversation about why I want to raise my child wrong, raising her myself. I love this country dearly. But to be honest... I just sometimes wish I never learned french so wouldn't have to understand the stuff I'm told.


Melaina25 said...

Beautifully written. I'm realising that I'm quite Nordic in my views on child rearing despite being West Indian! But then, while sexism is rife in Trinidad, in the realm of the family, it's always been the matriarch who runs the show, who is the consistent force propelling everything forward. The childcare question would be reversed by many people there: "You are sending your child to nursery? Don't you like them?" As for the Finnish breastfeeding politician - wow. I'm awed.

Melaina25 said...

Excellent post. I'm going to share this with my Finnish friends.