The Mediocre Mothers of France

Those French people, they’re so accepting of certain things—extra-marital affairs, high taxes, universal health care. Also, a child-rearing philosophy that involves smoking your way through pregnancy, just saying no to breastfeeding, and shipping your children off to boarding school at the earliest possible opportunity. These, at least, are some of the ideas espoused in the recent bestselling book in France, Le Conflit, La Femme et La Mere (The Conflict, the Woman and the Mother).

It is by Elisabeth Badinter, a feminist philosopher, and while it’s not available in the U.S., with all the press it’s been getting it’s a fair guess that it might be sometime soon. Basically, as the Times of London puts it in an article about the book, Badinter is advocating “a return to the old French model, which involved whatever necessary—powdered milk, baby minders, nurseries, you name it—to prevent les enfants from taking over their mothers’ lives.”

Or, in Badinter’s words: “Today, we’re told we’re not allowed to smoke, to eat unpasteurised cheese or seafood or even to a drink a glass of wine when we are pregnant. It’s time to stop all that.”

Needless to say, some people find these ideas somewhat controversial.

Jezebel, in its post on the subject, points out that “Badinter’s send-’em-to-boarding-school (she actually kind of says this) ethos is somewhat refreshing in this era of maternal judgment, but one recent study contradicts her view of babies as ‘tyrants.’ ” They’re referring to a study conducted in Taiwan that discovered having children greatly reduced a woman’s risk of suicide, and the more the better. Two children reduced the risk by 39%, while three or more reduced it by 60%. But of course, as Jezebel goes on to point out, this could just be guilt.

Then again, maybe mothers don’t have as much say as one might think in what kind of mother they turn out to be. The Times of London also recently published a story about some scientists at Richmond University in Virginia who claim that women have a set of neurons that operate sort of like “bad mother/good mother” switches.

The researchers claim that women with fewer of the “good mother” neurons are more likely to neglect or abuse their offspring. The hope is that at some point in the future, brain scans could help detect mothers more at risk of abusing their children, and that services could then be provided to these women to help prevent abuse before it starts.

Not that Badinter seems like she’d be too interested in this line of research. “We’ve always been mediocre mothers here,” she told the Times of London about France. “But we’ve tended to live happier lives.”

The Mediocre Mothers of France By Molly Langmuir

Courtesy The Faster Times

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