France: The Real Family Values Country?

I had a notion return to my mind recently when I realized I had two French songs in my current playlist about father-son relationships. It's a notion that first came to me while living in Strasbourg, and I wrote about it here: The French love the idea of childhood, and by extension parenthood! There must be at least half a dozen songs out of my 300 Francophone songs on iTunes that seriously sentimentalize family relations, while I probably have a similar number of songs like that in English - out of a total of around 4500. Indeed, both the songs in my playlist came from an album of popular hits in France; meanwhile, the last chart-topping father-son song in the U.S. was probably Cat's in the Cradle, and that came out in 1974.

Photo at right: A community art piece in Neuhof, a banlieue of Strasbourg, part of a big playground.

a park I often saw near the IEP in Strasbourg
As I alluded to in my old post about the French and childhood, I saw a whole ton of babies while I studied abroad! - parents with strollers, showing their children off in public. I just don't seem to see as much of that in the U.S., although it may just be the places I go. When my mother and I visited Alexandria, VA a few weeks ago, for example, we spotted a ton of pregnant ladies and new mothers. Maybe young American families just tend to form enclaves, while the French mix in with everyone.

France definitely boasts a big old mix of pro-family governmental policies that the U.S. could never dream of approximating on a federal level - monthly stipends for each kid you have, paid maternity leave, lots of state-supported early childhood care, and so on. The French also seem to be big sticklers about Sunday free time, as the U.S. is not (ironic, given the differential in religiosity). What I learned is that a lot of French people consider Sunday a day of mandated rest, relaxation, and family time - taking a walk with baby in the stroller, or playing with your kid at a playground. These were things I saw all the time.

a huge park in Strasbourg called la
Citadelle - old fortifications, of course
Are you familiar with the stereotype of would-be American parents thinking about where they want to raise kids and deciding it should be somewhere outside the city - a smaller community, perhaps, one with good schools and services and nice parks and open spaces, etc. France is pretty much that, as an entire country - except for Paris, of course. France is really a country of small towns and villages - except Paris - and I think that ends up being really great for families. Though I don't have any information to back it up, I would also hazard a guess that there's less internal migration in France than in the U.S., so extended families stay closer together as well.

So, here's the final question: Which is the real "family values" country - France or the United States? I'll tell you what I think. I think "family values" have nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with how societies structure themselves around children, providing them the respect and nourishment they deserve,

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