19
Dec
  

“Postcard” from France: On Marriage/Relationships/Parenting

By Lisa Barr

In my Fantasy Life, I did EXACTLY what Stacey Pryor, 47, did in reality. She was 20 years old, packed her bags, and left Los Angeles with her best friend to travel Europe for a year. As the story goes … she fell in love in Paris, with Paris, and never came back …

Sounds romantic, oui?

Stacey, beautiful and stylish with a silky voice, has lived a full life, but like all of us, she too has had her bumps along her journey. She later married and divorced her Parisian love, with whom she had two children – Auguste, 16, and Avril, 13. And like a true French “roman” — she fell in love with her divorce attorney. They have been married for a year and a half,  and he has two children, 25, and 28, from a previous marriage.

I connected with Stacey through a close friend of mine from back in my Israel days. Eliza Steinberg (Stacey’s traveling partner from her 20s) told me about her best friend in France, who lives in Bordeaux, who reads my blogs, and said we simply had to “meet.”

Of course, I had a million questions. How do the issues in “Les Suburbs” of France – Marriage/Parenting/Relationships/Mama Drama/Girl Drama — compare and contrast to those in the States?

With a glass of wine in her hand (it was only 2 p.m Chicago time so I was stuck with coffee), we held a Facebook-to-Facebook (chat). Stacey – who is open, funny, frank, witty, and truly her own woman – held nothing back.

What do you do, aside from being a mother?

I had a language school for years, and I’m now in the process of making a change. I haven’t decided yet what I want to do — to hang out, or to work on some exciting projects. My career has been easygoing, and has allowed me a lot of flexibility. I’m now exploring other options.

What is the French take on Stay-At-Home-Moms vs Working Moms?

I work from home, but there is NO ‘stay-at-home’ community here. And in fact if you don’t work I think you might be kind of looked down upon. There is certainly a large percentage of (all, but also) upper-middle class French women who work, because there are incredible working conditions here … The work week is 35 hours for basic positions, but in addition, it is very common for women to be able to continue their careers and work 1/2 time or 2/3 time. So many women hold interesting professional jobs and raise their children at the same time. Working Moms have a lot of flexibility in France. I don’t believe this would be possible in the States in upper-level positions.

On my blog, we cover lots of Girl Drama subjects. You have one daughter — Avril — who is 13 — does it get clique-y? Do you deal with ‘popularity’ issues?

It does happen here. Popular, I think, exists on a much lower level in France. You can be popular here in France if you are the good student in class. Remember there are no extracurricular sports at school — which is a big thing in the States. And there are no cheerleaders — none of that. Yes, there are cliques. My daughter Avril is not in ‘The Group’ if you will. It is an issue, but my daughter is the coolest chick. She said to me, ‘Mommy, you know, I just don’t like those girls. I don’t like their jokes, the things they play. I prefer to be alone or with the one girl I do like.’ Look, I was a popular girl throughout school, but I know how nasty girls can be — and I preferred to go away rather than be with those girls who no longer interested me. That’s what I tell her — and she’s great with it. Perhaps because she is great in her head, her choices; and her studies are a priority. My son Auguste is very different — he is very social and ‘happening’ — and he was that way at 13. My kids are different, but they are great friends.

Are parents overly-involved in their kids’ lives? We have a saying here known as ‘Helicopter Parenting’ — and it usually manifests in the sports arena.

Kids in the States play sports in the schools — there’s a whole package as a parent that you buy into. Since sports is not part of the curriculum here — kids can do sports anywhere — but they are not always with the same kids, same parents, and same things. There’s a lot of variety. My kids for example do a lot of sports — but they don’t specialize in anything. They swim — but I don’t know any of the parents there at the pool. We don’t hang out. Overbearing parents at a game is not an issue at all.

In France, kids are not the center of their parents’ world. The children have a place in the family — but it’s one place — not the WHOLE place.

One of the things that shocked me when I moved here was that most French parents fix dinner for their children — they talk, they hang with them, BUT the parents eat separately after the kids go to bed. You rarely see children at restaurants. You rarely ever have children come to a dinner party.

I came to Paris when I was 20, and I realized there are young people and there are old people — an older generation. Where we come from, we mixed with adults since we were children — at a barbeque, at a party, at a baseball match — here it is not the same. Young and older people are completely separated. This trickles down to the kids. Your kids have kids things but you don’t mix friendship with kids things.

 

I don’t know very many parents who become friends with their children’s friends’ parents. In France they say you can count your friends on one hand. And these friends are those they met in elementary school — history friendships. These are your friends for life — and their kids become your children’s friends as well.

 

We talk a lot about the media’s impact on our kids — especially on teenage girls. Does the French media convey some of the same messages our daughters get here: You are not skinny enough, not pretty enough, not enough of enough? And on that note — what is the prevalence of eating disorders?

 

I don’t see anorexia and bulimia here, particularly at my daughter’s age group. French teenagers are much more protected, they grow up slower somehow. Maybe because they stay in that Kids World. Also they can’t drive here until the age 18. Maybe there are more eating disorders at the age of 20 — but definitely not at 13.

Also, there are no teen magazines here. It is a much less marketing-pronounced society. The TV shows in which the pretty girl gets the guy is purely American. All that Disney stuff with all of the teen dramas just does not exist here.

Given your own childhood, do you feel raising kids in France is a better — healthier — experience?

Yes I do. I think kids here grow up more slowly, and they are less caught up in all the teenage cliches. I moved from Boulder, Colorado to Los Angeles at ten years old. You can only imagine the change I experienced. My family lived in a wealthy Studio City neighborhood. You had to have the right jeans, the right everything — or people don’t even look at you. Here, it’s not like that at all. Academics here is perceived as a great thing. Getting good grades is held at a much higher level than being popular, for example. Kids are really taken care of. They come home, and even if it’s a nanny, their needs are met at home. When I grew up I walked home alone, and let myself into the house, made my own snack. It’s very different here. The kids all sit down together, eat together, and do homework together. Even if parents get home later — the children are all together.

What about having dinner as a family unit? I find the separate parent/kid dinner thing a divider.

Most people in the States really don’t eat together. You hear how every kid has a different activity, and dinner is usually on the run. And kids here are with their family on the weekends. There aren’t so many activities. Look, I’m American, and I do eat with my kids. I have two step-kids as well who are much older than my children. One of them still lives at home — he is 25 — thank you! The other one just moved out at 28! Most European kids are not raised to leave and go to a university outside of the city where they are raised. There is no student housing. My step-kids were raised here. As an American of course I was raised to prepare for my kids moving out at 18.

How do French women keep their marriage strong? A real partnership? Or separate lives coming together?

It’s so funny — I don’t think I can say anything is typical — because I actually don’t know how anyone keeps their marriage together (she laughs). Right? Marriages here are just as across-the-board as American marriages. I can’t say French women have a secret, that’s for sure.

How much importance do French women place on beauty, working out, and spirituality?

Beauty and fashion — we live in France — of course, it is very highly regarded. All the women I know are extremely high-level in those areas. Working out? Maybe more and more. Most of the women I know work out regularly. Spirituality — I don’t know any women who are religious. Now France is a Catholic country — the majority of everything that goes on here is run by Catholic criteria. Jews are separate, and most stay within their own community; they stick together. Now I grew up with a majority of Jewish friends in Los Angeles — I’m not Jewish but I call myself a ‘Born-Again Jew.’ But as far as the women I know, none are religious nor do they have a spiritual base.

What is your personal philosophy on life –and how has it evolved since you moved to Europe? What have you kept from your “Old Life” and what have you adopted?

I came here so young — so I probably chucked everything from my American life. At the same time, you are born with a certain education that even if you chuck it — you simply can’t get rid of it.  As a foreigner you can bend the rules, because everyone here knows you weren’t born with their rules. The people may think you are a bit strange or far-out at times — I call myself a UFO — but in actuality, they give you slack or certain rights because you are a foreigner.

You can do anything you want as an ex-patriate — I do anyway. There’s no judgment or hold on you — I’m a very gregarious, likable person. Even if it doesn’t fit into their criteria — they accept me. Ninety-five percent of all my friends are French-born.

Women here juggle a lot with finding themselves in between their To-Do lists, their kids and husbands’ needs and demands. Many women especially in their 40s find themselves at a crossroads —  what do I do now? What do I really want?

I think that Moms in the States make huge issues out of their kids’ ‘acceptance’ — are they popular enough, are they athletic enough, etc — because their kids become their lives.  I don’t know if it’s me — but in France it just all feels so much less. My kids are part of my life, but not ALL of it. I’m lucky I’m married to a guy who has two older kids and I have two kids — mine are mine, his are his. I make decisions for mine, he makes decisions for his. We talk about things for sure — but it is separate. I’m lucky enough to have a husband with whom I don’t have kids — it changes the nature of our relationship. I’m lucky that I have a life that I can choose to work or not to work. Because of my divorce situation, I have my kids part-time and my current husband works in another city — so we see each other only on the weekends. So, the fact is I have a part-time husband and part-time kids — which gives me a fucking full-time life!

Talk about balance — Love it!

What I’m really saying is that living here especially, I’m able to enjoy my life as a woman, as a mother, as a wife, as a friend, AND have my own thing.

 


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