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The Truth About French Mamas (By A French Mama)

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French Mamas Are Perfect, Oui? Maman Of Two & Founder Of So Chic, Emma, Tells Us The Truth About French Parenting

When people think of French women, they think of fashion icons, expert lovers, ideal mothers and that’s before touching on her chic aura and perfect kids. It’s an ultra-glam cliché dreamed up by American housewives writing mama books, and to be quite honest, it’s too stereotypical to really be true. So what do French women really think of all this?

Okay as a French mama myself, the reaction honestly includes a fair amount of gloating, but we do kind of wonder what on earth are all these books talking about. In order to understand the French women, so many writers like Debra Ollivier, Anne Barone, Pamela Druckerman, Mirelle Guiliano and Edith Kunz just to name a few have tried to describe our way of living. From these books, we’ve learned that the French woman is naturally pretty, has a natural sense of style, has this je-ne-sais-quoi that makes her irresistible and that she drives her husband and kids à la baguette (that’s ‘with a stick’ to the rest of us). That’s not all:  she’s a femme fatale, mysterious, nonchalant, subtle, confident, funny, charismatic…

Am I really supposed to be all of these things? Of course, I could entertain the stereotype and not say anything – but there is one more thing you can say about French women. We have strong tempers and are outspoken.

It’s time to destroy all the myths and stop making silly generalisations! Here we go… 


French women are naturally pretty

Le mythe
If we read mama books, apparently time has no effect on our divine beauty. And that’s supposed to be because we sleep a lot and drink lemon juice every morning.

The truth
It’s not nearly as glamorous. I’m not a sleeping beauty that lives off bio-organic juice. I drink black coffee in the morning and am one of the biggest buyers of anti-wrinkling cosmetics on the planet. The big secret is that we’re obsessed with looking ‘natural’!

The first thing we say when we go to hairdresser is that it has to look natural. When we go out, we’ll spend hours getting ready, but it has to look like we only spent few minutes. Every outfit can’t look too extravagant! Stylish, but simple! Very, very simple!

So yes, we do spend a lot of time taking care of ourselves. That said, we pretend we don’t because it all needs to look effortless…


French women eat, but don’t get fat

Le mythe
It’s a miracle! French girls eat baguettes with butter all but don’t get fat. According to Mireille Guiliano, writer of French Women Don’t Get Fat, she writes that French women don’t diet. We’re supposed to be sooo lucky. Cue the eye roll.

The truth
Whenever I go back to Paris, I always notice myself how slim French girls are compared to other cities. But it’s not true that we eat buttered baguettes every morning! It’s true that we never diet, we just pay attention. Which means essentially that we’re dieting all year long so at the end of the day, we’re not really dieting at all. Do you see the difference?

I have to admit that when I talk with my friends from different nationalities, it seems French woman are ready to more sacrifice their foodie indulgences. It’s pretty important to us. For instance, getting back into your jeans after giving birth is one of the first thing you post on Facebook! And then when you get pregnant, your doctor in France will warn you if you put on too much weight and will tell you to stop eating for 2!

One example is that I put on 20 kilos during my pregnancy abroad, whereas I put on only 13 for the second pregnancy. That was only because my doctor in France told me not to let me go just because I’m pregnant. It’s not an excuse! I think we just put much more pressure on ourselves, there’s no black magic and voodoo here.

The French don’t sleep alone

Le mythe :
Jamie Cat Callan wrote we’re so confident and alluring that we can have any man we desire in our bed in three seconds! And how do we do that, according to Callan? By buying lingerie. So our closets are full to the brim with sexy lingerie and that makes us constantly sexy.

The truth :
French women actually spend five times less than American woman on lingerie. And our favorite brand is the children’s fashion line Petit Bateau… yep, sexy! I still don’t know how this Jamie woman came to the conclusion that we could get any men in bed in 3 seconds. That’s hilarious!

French women cook delicious meals

Le mythe :
Finally a woman who enjoys life! She likes food, good wine and spends hours cooking delicious dinner for her family. We’ve been collecting our recipes for generations and will leave a family book to our daughters.

The truth:
Just because we sit at a table to eat and serve hot and well prepared meals to our family at lunchtime, that makes us professional chefs?

It’s true that in Holland, warm meals are usually only reserved for dinnertime. But for my Italian step mother, French women are real disasters in the kitchen and shouldn’t even approach the oven! We’re the best when it comes to quiches and crepes, but we prefer to eat at restaurants. And when it comes to blanquette de veau or coq au vin, we’ve quite frankly lost the cookbook!


French parents do it better

Le mythe :
Pamela Druckerman, who authored French Children Don’t Throw Food, says our kids sleep after 3 months, have good manners, are patient and of course, eat everything! We’re don’t over-parent, don’t stimulate our kids and are full of serenity!

The truth:
We panic like any other mum when we first have a child and “serenity” is a word that left my vocabulary when my first child was born.

Okay, my kids eat vegetables for dinner, apples for snacks and they never drink soft drinks. Often the teacher compliments the kids on their healthy lunch box… but are we the only ones? I lived in Sweden and Holland, and most kids had the same diet. My kids have to wait until proper meal times for food. Sweets are not allowed every day, but are they really French? I don’t think so…

We do know how to say NO! But it doesn’t mean they always listen to us. My kids can be little monsters just like any kids.

It is true that it is important that they say Bonjour Madame, merci, s’il vous plait, have no elbows on the table while eating and hands on the table, close the mouth while chewing and sit properly. If they want to come to a restaurant, they have to behave. They will not be allowed to run around or scream and I can get really upset if they do. I just try to teach them people are not there to tolerate all the racket. I ask them to be considerate.

I’ve noticed that we’re in fact stricter on how children should behave, especially when they eat from a very early age. I can’t remember when I started, but I’ve always told them to remove elbows from the table!

The truth is as any mum, you always question your parenting skills. We’re not sure we’re doing the right thing either! Having had the chance to travel since I had my kids, I discovered different ways of raising children and being a mum myself.

When I see other parents, I always find them more patient, more encouraging and more positive. I know the French school system is more focused on “have you done it right” instead of “have you done your best?”

One day, an English mum told me I did not look like a mum. I have to admit, I was confused for a few days and asked my kids they agreed. I didn’t know what to think about it. Does that mean I don’t look responsible, or that I’m not tired enough, or focus too much on myself?

I found that most French mums aren’t ready to give up as many things as other mums do. I love my kids more than anything, but I do also exist. A mum needs to be happy and epanoui to be a good mum. We’re prepared for more adult time and feel less guilty if we say no and ask them to behave. We accept less to combine parenthood with balanced adult lives.

French mothers often have a greater sense of detachment from their children. I believe differences in parenting are largely down to the difference in how mothers view themselves. We don’t define ourselves as mums only.

I can’t spend 24/7 with my kids, however whenever I return to them, I’m more patient and more dedicated to them. I prefer quality versus quantity!

On the other hand, I’ll never be able to send my kids to boarding school. I can’t be away from them too long! They drive me crazy, but also give me this wonderful energy!

It seems easy, but it’s a real struggle for any woman to juggle their own lives and be a mum. It’s especially poignant that the focus of the French Elle forum this year revolved around working women balancing their private and professional lives, while considering their work at home and at work, sharing the load with their husbands and partners…

french chic

French women are so chic

Le mythe :
From pont des Arts to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the French mama is so fashionable. She never makes any mistakes and has this mysterious and fascinating aura!

The truth :
We’re not all Ines de la Fressange or Charlotte Gainsbourg. I think Parisian girls pay real attention to the way that they look and they’re always checking out new trends and how to use them. It’s not a natural ability, but a real awareness and we’ve placed a lot of importance on how we look.

Are we obsessed? Maybe. But it makes us feel good, feminine, trendy and desirable. So why shouldn’t we be!?

I think that people consider us better dressed because ironically, we’re less obsessed by brands. We use less color, fewer prints, wear more basics and our outfits are usually very sober. Not too short, not too décolleté, without super high heels… does that make us elegant?

Did we grew up like that? Now I think about it, I explain to my kids that sports shoes should be worn only for sports and flip flops only for the beach. I don’t let my sun wear his football favourite team Tshirt frequently and insist that he should be dressed for the right occasion.

When I choose clothes for them, I don’t choose them just because they’re practical and confortable. They also have to have a nice cuts, sober colours, quality fabrics and fit their body! I often say to my 5 year old girl; that we’re not part of the carnival! So don’t go crazy with the pinks, glitters or mix up all the colours!

They have a uniform all week. In Dubai, they usually wear bathing suits and T Shirts. But that doesn’t mean the T Shirts have to be massive and that their bathing suit can’t be a cute one.

Are my kids obsessed with their clothes? No, but I know they do pay attention. 😉

Sometimes they want to decide how I should get dressed, and I try to teach my daughter I don’t need to put a dress or high heels to look pretty!

beret girl

To be honest, I find all these stereotypes very embarrassing. Like all mums of our generation, we don’t need all this pressure! It’s a huge farce that we’re the best parents out there, as we’re just scared of messing up as any other mama out there. I spend all my time wondering how I should raise them and spend the rest of it feeling guilty that I don’t spend enough time with them.

In any case I’ve been travelling and have come across loads of amazing mamas, so it’s about learning from everyone rather than just from the French. I know for certain that I’m aiming to be as positive as Dutch mums, as caring as Italian mamas and still somehow be me as a French woman and a French mama.

Featured image sourced via Pexels

This article was originally published in March 2015.

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