Musings on parenting expat-style.


When I was thinking about moving to France, I spent a large proportion of my time worrying whether the kids would settle and be happy. Once I arrived in France, and the kids seemed settled, I spent an equally proportional part of my time worrying whether the kids would be happier back in the UK, and whether school was more fun ‘UK style’. This wasn’t because I had any undue worries about French schooling per se, but that in one of my French classes back in the UK an ex school inspector, and fellow student had planted a seed of doubt in my head that French schools lacked ‘va va voom’ and inspirational teaching after having visited many in the late 80’s and early 90’s. My own second cousin(once removed) did not wax lyrical about her own experience in a ‘collège privée’ in France in the 70’s.

When my 9 year old pipes up that he really doesn’t want to go to school as he clambers out of bed in the morning, and my 13 year old tells me that history was really boring, instead of recognising that it is early morning and my nine year old would far rather be playing on a computer regardless of which country he lives in, and that my thirteen year old has a tendency towards the sciences, I lurch headlong into several long moments of guilt with a supplementary dose of worry. The overriding problem is that maternal instinct drives a parent to want to provide the best for their child and there is very little one can do to fight it.

It would be easy to jump back into our old life; the house remains where we left it; our friends for the most part are still where we left them; all our children have taken the 11+ as a sort of insurance policy thanks to the UK grammar school that was prepared to send the test papers to our collège in France, and we did on-line applications for each of them for entry into UK secondary. So why don’t we jump back to our old life?

Because, as you’ve already spotted, no sooner done than we will worry that we have given up on an opportunity,  clipped a growing skill of bilingualism, limited their horizons of multi-culturism and separated them from their friends. And haven’t we already worried about separating  them from their friends when we departed from the UK, and didn’t we discover that the very best of their friends stayed in touch.

The simple truth is that we could easily go back, but would our life be quite as rich. Would our children forget how they kiss all their fellow classmates each morning? Would they loose the possibility of buzzing to Lycée on a scooter? Would they start to forget their new language? Would they start to loose the confidence in themselves that came from facing a challenge, succeeding, and realising that anything is possible?

Our local town back home has market, castle, river and canal, but does the market sell Bulots (welks) and Crevettes(prawns) draped in seaweed, and is there a local guy in ratty trousers selling local cider (which could be quite frankly dreadful – but often isn’t)

and is there watercress for sale from on a little rickety table manned by the farmer who grew it locally,

or trays of goats cheese, some so mouldy that one starts to question their edibility, and is there a man selling freshly cooked crèpes?

Are there cafés set out on the pavement with every age group enjoying a coffee outdoors whatever the season, and are there teenagers sitting in groups drinking coffee in preference to beer?

There are bakers of course, but are they independent, selling incredible patisseries and freshly baked bread without preservatives? Are the pharmacies run by husband and wife teams who know the ailments and family histories of their customers, and do the bank clerks of the inner-city banks know their customers by name and greet them as they enter?

My 15 year old daughter came  back one day, three weeks into her new lycée with a verbal invitation for a sleep-over party. ‘Will there be boys’ I asked, ‘One or two’ she replied, ‘Will there be alcohol’ I asked ‘and will the parents be there’. I grumbled about never having met the parents, and she muttered something about the fact that none of the other parents were making such a fuss. I insisted I dropped her off, and if I didn’t like the look of the set-up….

When my daughter told me the address I mused that on that particular stretch of road there weren’t many houses. As we parked outside a beautiful mini chateau with a circular drive and sweeping steps up to the front door she pulled out her phone. ‘M’, she said, ‘Do you live in the biggish house with the iron gates?’ I had to admire her ‘sang-froid’.

As I sat down in the café a day or two later with the French mother of one of the other invitées, she related how she had jumped straight on the phone to ‘interrogate’ the host mother. ‘When she told me she was senior in the ‘Direction for the Commissariat d’Education’ I decided she was OK,’ she said.’ And my son sent me a photo of the house from his phone when he arrived’.

It seems that Expats aren’t the only ones to worry after all!

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6 comments on “Musings on parenting expat-style.

  1. Whether you should or shouldn’t have moved your children is a constant concern, I still have it and mine are aged 24 – 29! I think that in some ways French education is much less imaginative than English education but it’s also much more inclusive – I know things have changed in the UK but when my eldest was at primary school there was an absolute division between the type of children who went to state schools and those who went to private ones. Because so many private schools are subsidised by the state in France you get a much wider range of social classes, my middle daughter’s best friend was a woodcutter’s daughter and their class included children from at least two chateaux. And the best schools in France, the ones most sought after by the middle classes, are state schools – something which is inconceivable in England! I’m not saying that France is a land of equal opportunity for all because it blatantly isn’t but at least it starts children off heading in the right direction.

    The middle daughter would kill for that pink scooter!

    • I have children in both public(state) and private education in France. My daughter in public says it’s the best school she’s ever been to, my son in private doesn’t like school in either country. I imagine we’d worry wherever they were, it’s the nature of parenting. I wouldn’t turn back the clock though. As for changing cultures – I once read that ‘you only regret what you don’t try.’

  2. amelie88 says:

    All parents wonder if they are doing things right! When my parents first got married, they first lived in the US but they weren’t sure if they would stay there or go back to France. After my sister and I were born, I guess it made sense to stay put. We experienced private and public schools. My mother would never have let us go to the public school if she knew the education there wasn’t as good as the education we had gotten in private schools. Every year our local public high school is ranked amongst the top 100 public high schools in the US (which is no easy feat considering how many high schools there are in this enormous country) so my parents had no qualms sending us off there.

    And my mom and my sister always got into fights about the calling other parents issue! I was never a problem since I didn’t go out as much as my sister. But my sister was constantly going to parties and my mom always insisted on calling the parents if she didn’t know them. I can’t remember if my mother ever contacted other parents but my sister always made a scene, saying other parents weren’t making a big deal about it. So this conversation happens worldwide! 🙂

  3. Yes, I too always wonder whether the English system would’ve be a better choice… the greener grass, lol! But then as you say, I remember the good stuff, the reasons we made this choice, the bilingualism, the multiculuralism, the strong academic ethos, and all is good again 🙂

  4. Sue Whatmough says:

    Yes, it’s important to remind ourselves why we love it here. I would find it very hard going back to UK and the idea fills me with dread. I’ve been away so long I don’t recognise the place any more. Hope you’ll all go on believing it was the right choice to come to France to live.

    • When I see my nine year old looking cross when faced with the prospect of school I do question it..until I see my 15 year old saying hers is the best school she’s ever been to. My older two have no regrets!

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