It seems that French parenting, just like everything else stemming from this part of the world, is having a moment. Glancing at the endless “be more French” baby books lining airport kiosks, you would think that French women have discovered the Holy Grail of motherhood, one that miraculously transforms this scary and exhausting endeavor into an effortless exercise, one complete with calm babies, lithe bodies, sexually content husbands, and impeccable wardrobes. They don’t even have to work at it, attaining this paragon through good genes, moderation, and a general Zen laissez-faire. Or do they? In an effort to find out, I headed to the Sixteenth Arrondissement, the Parisian answer to Manhattan’s Upper East Side and epicenter of all things bébé.
First things first: Once I hit the streets, I realize that I can’t actually tell who is a mother or not. With most of the kids tucked away at crèche–the French version of day care and a right of passage for every child–the women around me are surprisingly hard to define. Gone are the diaper bags, the yoga mats, the oversize engagement rings, and all the other “stay-at-home-mom” indicators that I am accustomed to. The sole traces of family status are the thin gold bands on their wedding fingers (even the wealthiest Europeans don’t believe in our engagement ring craze), and the occasional Goyard tote that may actually hold diapers and snacks, though you’d never know it. Among the moms of the over-five crowd, I spy an impressive amount of understated Hermès and Céline, paired with simple high-street basics. All the mothers look professional and chic, like their lives do not revolve around their children (or their husbands, for that matter).
I head over to visit my friend, a new mother who is currently raising a one-year-old in Paris. She answers the door, baby in hand, closely accompanied by a chien roughly my size that she has jokingly started referring to as a “dorse” due to its resemblance to both a dog and a horse (because a baby is not enough to handle effortlessly, the French typically favor large dogs). In her navy kimono-style bathrobe with just a glimpse of a lacy Agent Provocateur set visible, she looks more like somebody who has spent the past week in Merano than that mother of an infant at the pinnacle of her crawling stage. So far, so good.
The trouble starts when we head to her bedroom, where she attempts to pick out an outfit. “Everything I own is dirty,” she announces in defeat, explaining that her life now entails three daily outfit changes due to the various joys of motherhood—spit-up, feeding, and bathing le bébé, for starters—which makes getting dressed something of a logistically challenging pursuit. I suggest some fitness clothes; after all, our afternoon plans entail lunch and errands. Mais non, after a quick glance at her watch, she proclaims that it is too late: In Paris, workout gear past 10:00 a.m. is considered socially unacceptable. “What about weekends?” I ask, remembering all the Tribeca moms back home rushing to the farmer’s market in their Lululemon. “Especially weekends. God forbid my [French] husband even catches me walking the dog in sweatpants. He likes to say that I am a representation of him, and sweatpants do not fit the bill.”
But what hands-on mother has time to play fashionista? She explains that most French mothers she knows have adopted a uniform, something chic, functional, and composed of interchangeable, neutral basics that allow them to move around seamlessly with bébé in tow. A standard outfit includes high-waisted skinny jeans and a crisp cotton button-down from Massimo Dutti, topped with an Eric Bompard cashmere sweater and a pair of Manfield riding boots. Under the condition that laundry day is conducted on time (meaning roughly three times a week), getting dressed should just be a matter of quick coordination. An oversize cashmere coat, a classic Goyard tote, and you are easily out the door in the matter of minutes.
When it comes to l’enfant, however? “If I’m a representation of my husband, then my daughter is a representation of me,” she says, trying three different hair bows on her daughter before finally setting for a tiny beanie from Numaé, a French baby brand with a hippie twist that’s become her obsession du jour. Her little girl’s dresser, purchased at the Parisian baby furniture mecca, Baudou, is stocked with enough designer brands to put a grown woman to shame: Pieces from Baby Dior and Stella McCartney Kids intermingle with basics from Tartine et Chocolat and Jacadi, all in tastefully muted pastels and dove grays. There’s something about these elegant little baby clothes that inspire fantasies about a Parisian future of Bonpoint gift bags and babies that coo “Maman,” even in the not otherwise maternally inclined. (Ahem.) And yet, my friend confides that she is excited for her daughter to start crèche—while she relishes in being a mother, even penning a mommy blog that gives a peek into her everyday life (LaYummyMummy.com), she looks forward to returning to her more independent self. “I think this will actually help me be a better mother,” she says, “as well as set a good example for my daughter.”
After a healthy lunch amongst some other French yummy mummies and their very well-behaved offspring (true to their reputation, French children really are impressively calm in public), I accompany her as she runs her daily errands. First, a stop at the Passy market to pick up some vegetables and fresh-cut flowers, followed by a twenty-minute wait at the boulangerie for the best côte de boeuf. Back at the apartment, my friend runs out with her dorse, feeds the child an organic concoction, and starts preparing a gourmet mini-feast for her husband. The entire routine is exhausting yet somehow entirely charming, giving motherhood a desirability that I rarely experience. There is no magic formula, it seems, no twelve-step miracle to French parenting; just a sense of humor and a quest to find pleasure in the small things, as well as enjoying those irreversible moments with your child while still preserving your adult life.
And about that adult life: The phone rings, the hubby is on his way back home. After a quick dash into the bedroom, she emerges in a cloud of Terre d’Hermès (a perfect fresh scent to slightly masque the eau de bébé), wearing her final outfit of the day, a Massimo Dutti sweaterdress, opaque tights, and simple Chanel flats. A candle is lit, a bottle of red wine is opened. She winks at me as she starts setting the table, and something tells me that, if all goes well, there is a grown-up plan for later that evening.
Marina Khorosh is the author of dbagdating.com.
The post Parisian Yummy Mummies Have It Down: A Guide to Chic Child Rearing appeared first on Vogue.
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