Because of the fact that we are a family made up of two nationalities, I am always interested to hear how other families in similar situations live their lives. And I thought you might be too.
For this month’s installment of Multicultural Family Life I asked a French expat blogger to share with us how she, her husband and their children manage their multicultural family life in London.
Mel is happily married with four children and a serious food addiction. A keen photographer, she is rarely seen without her camera around her neck. Her blog, Le Coin de Mel is all about food, family life, allergies, crafts, days out and pretty much everything she gets up to with her family. When Mel is not drooling over food on Pinterest or Instagram she bakes with her children, plans meals, thinks about her next sweet treat, shares recipes with friends or takes photos.
- Tell us a little about your family’s background – where you’re from, where you’ve lived, where you are now.
I’m from a small village in the Champagne region. Growing up in rural France was rather quiet and uneventful. I had a lot of freedom in my childhood. I could be out from dawn to dusk as long as I wasn’t on my own and when I wasn’t at school, I’d spend my days with friends, cycling from village to village in the vines.
I left my village when I was 19 years old to study in Paris and the daily commute to my uni was a bit of a shock. Poverty, smelly public transport and an entirely new way of life could have put me off city life, but they didn’t. I loved the hustle and bustle of the city, the cultural diversity and open-mindedness of my fellow students. A couple of years later, I moved to the South of France for further studies in French as a Foreign Language in Aix-en-Provence. I also studied in Lancaster but it is in London that I found my home.
I travelled a lot as a student and in the early years of my career, but every single time I approached London, I knew I was getting home. I think I have felt that ever since the first time I visited the city when I was 13.
I taught French in North London for over 12 years and absolutely loved the interaction with my students, teaching them my mother tongue, answering their questions and learning about their own cultures.
- What languages are your children exposed to and how do you juggle these? Do you have a family language you speak at home or does each parent have one language they stick to?
My four children are 7, 5, 3 and 1 and English is without the shadow of a doubt their first language. I speak French to them when I am at home with them, but they tend to respond in English. Crevette, who is 7, is bilingual and loves speaking French. The girls are more reluctant to use French with me, but when in France or with French friends and family, they speak French to them.
- What have you noticed about your children’s language skills? Have they picked up on both /all languages equally well?
Although I speak French to them, life is in English if that makes sense. They go to school and everything is in English, most of their friends speak English and Hubby and I speak to each other in English. Their understanding of French is excellent, but English comes a lot more naturally to them than French does.
- Do you or your other half have any of the stereotypical traits of your nationality? Has this had any effect on your life in the UK?
Does being obsessed with food count? I love food and always insist on the family sitting around the table for meals and chatting about everything and anything as we are eating.
- How different, if at all, would your life be if you lived in France rather than in the UK?
I would still be working as a teacher. They have systems in place to enable mums to keep a career in France, like help towards childcare costs, lots of childcare options and the choice of working part-time being fully yours (automatically granted if you are a teacher) until your youngest is three years old. Although in a way I wish I could have been a mother and a teacher, I am secretly grateful for the lack of help towards working mothers here since it means I am there to see my children grow up. Working freelance (by that, read “in the middle of the night”) means I am working around my children’s activities.
My parenting style would probably not be as gentle as it is had I been a mum in France.
- Have there been any child-rearing differences between you and your husband based on the mentality of your home countries?
Not really, we really are on the same wavelength when it comes to raising our children.
- Are there any British customs you’ve adopted in child-rearing or anything else? Or have you perhaps been sharing with others how to raise their children the French way?
I gave birth to three of my children in a birthing centre and my fourth baby was born at home. I gave birth naturally with no or very little pain relief. Having a choice and writing a birth plan is completely alien to French mentality. My friends and family find the way I gave birth to my children very ‘out there’ and eccentric. In France, I would have been in a hospital with an epidural and legs in stirrups, no doubt about that.
I nursed my four children. Had I stayed in France, I don’t think I would have considered breastfeeding as it really wasn’t as common as it is here in the UK. I also think that the environment we are in has made my parenting a lot gentler than it would have been had we lived in France. I am quite strict with my children, but I don’t normally shout at them or tell them off all the time. I tend to speak to them and explain that what they are doing is wrong rather than shouting and punishing them.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Mel. It really does sound like London is home to you now. It is very interesting to hear how different life, especially your working life, would be if you lived in France. It is wonderful that there are so many supports in place but, as you say, staying at home and watching your children grow and develop has its benefits too.
In Germany, where we live, natural childbirth and breastfeeding are very popular. I hadn’ realised that in France, just across the border from here, the customs are so different. Good on you for going ahead with the methods you chose, despite the attitudes of family and friends.