Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Congé Parental

How much is a stay-at-home-mom worth these days?

In France, her current monthly estimated value is 530€.

After the birth of your second child, you can leave your job for up to 3 years (and get it back when you're done) and the government will pay you 530€ a month to stay home and take care of your family. It was originally established to encourage families to have more children (birth rates were low for a while) and to lower unemployment (at least on paper) by creating a (temporary) job.

When asked what I do, I say quickly and without heistation that I am on parental leave. I feel no embarassment or shame or even intellectual inferiority - why should I, right? Just because I've stopped working doesn't mean I've become a burden to society or lost my ability to converse with adults. I just assumed the lot of us felt the same way. Then, last week, at the Dr.'s office, I read an article in a women's magazine in which the author lamented her parental leave status. She claimed to feel a serious gêne (discomfort, embarassment) around her when she told people what her current activity was. That there was judgement in the eyes of those around her and that her worth in this society could only be defined by a truly professional activity. Now, if there's one place on earth where a stay-at-home-mom can claim some worth and recognition (economically speaking), it's here. We actaully get paid to do it! Not a lot, mind you (especially considering that it's the one job in France exempt from the 35 hour work week law), but still. Symbolically, I think the paycheck is important.

So I asked around. And most of the women I talked to agreed with author. Which just seems so paradoxical to me. But then, of course, France is full of paradoxes. This is the country with the strictest anti-smoking legislation in Europe. But people here smoke EVERYWHERE (those very strict laws are not enforced).

So how is it that I don't seem to feel this gêne they all told me about? A few possiblities. I'm too obtuse or egocentric to notice it, it doesn't apply to me because I'm a foreigner and lots of rules just slide right over us, or, my favorite, it isn't really there at all, it's just a shadow of what used to be true. Those women grew up during a time when women who worked were more highly respected than those who didn't. But the pendulum here has swung back the other way and now, I think, you can do whatever you want and feel good about it. If I'm incorrect, I'll just continue being obtuse.


zeb said...

Egocentric what? Maybe just maybe since they want you to have the money you take it without guilt. If someone wants to pay me for staying home I would be happy to do so. You did not create the system and actually since you had 2 kids you are actually helping the cause- well maybe since they are both american also!!!

julie said...

Somewhere in the mythical north of Europe (scandinavia you know) women's breast milk is included in the gnp of the country, so I hear. Brian and I argue if this is good, if it cheapens it somehow to put a monetary value. I say all money paid toward mothering shines a light on its worth, bring it on sister and I am proud of you for being proud!

Lorraine said...

Sheesh. I'd kill to get paid for what I do. I'm sad that there is a trend toward French women feeling weird about staying so sucks that women get conflicted about child rearing. It's important, dammit! Someone's got to do it. Brava to France for at least recognizing that there is worth in the task, even if some of the women are weird about it.