I truly believe that there is no such thing as an ideal family size – every person needs to listen to their instincts and decide what is “right” for them. I have many friends who have stopped at one or two, and they feel strongly that the family they have is the perfect family for them. However, I’m not sure for me instinct would have won over logic if I hadn’t been living in France.
For one thing, “smaller” families of one or two children are actually a rarity here. At the girls’ school in Beaune three children certainly seems to be the most popular choice, but families of four (like my friend Charlotte since Mahault’s birth three weeks ago), five, and even six are not uncommon. Granted, their school is a private Catholic school and I have noticed that the biggest families also tend to be the more Church-going ones (and last I heard the Vatican still hadn’t revised it’s no-birth-control stance). Nevertheless, having lots of children is considered a perfectly normal life choice in France, Catholic or not.
Another thing that struck me early on is the fact that most of these families of three or more are not rolling in piles of euros or squads of hired nannies. Like Franck and I, they are a far cry from poverty, but let’s just say they don’t have all their ducks lined up in a row – the perfect house, the steady job, the sanity – before they decide to add to their brood.
Children are widely considered as the most precious thing a person can have here in France, much more so than a high-flying job, or money, or the talent and drive to be a champion marathon runner… It is a very different concept of “wealth” and as such no material reason (such as the fact that our glow-worm might have to spend his / her first year sleeping in an open drawer in our bedroom) is viewed as a good reason to put off having a much-desired child.
Maybe it comes from the utter disdain the french have for being logical. They simply don’t see waiting until a more “reasonable” time to have a child as being more important than their emotional need to have one.
And unlike the US which is always banging on about its “family values” but last I heard only gives a measly six weeks maternity leave, the French state puts its money where its mouth is. Although most of the financial benefits of having three or more children apply more to salaried employees rather than entrepreneurial types like myself, they are substantial.
Women who stop work entirely to bring up their third child are entitled to 6 months paid maternity leave, and then three years of roughly 750 Euros a month from the government as pay (non-taxable too) for bringing up their children. These policies create an atmosphere where having and bringing up children is something that is concretely valued by society and remunerated as such.
So when I realized several months ago that I was still wanting a third child and that my broodiness wasn’t going away any time soon, I was surrounded in essence by people and a culture that said, “Bien sur – go for it!”
So I did. And from the moment I found out I was pregnant it was like a missing piece of my life had finally fallen into place. Vive la France.