Being A SAHM In France

by Kelly · 8 comments

in Notes On Culture

I stayed home with my first son until he was almost nine months old, and with my second son until he was almost five months old. I went back to work before I was ready, both times, and for economic reasons. This time around, I’ll be home with my kids until my daughter’s first birthday, in October.

I’m paid by the government to stay home with my kids; I receive a combination of maternity leave, sick leave, parental leave and family subsidies. Maternity leave for a first or second child begins six weeks before the due date and finishes ten weeks after the baby is born. Most parents tack on some vacation- up to six paid weeks in France. With your first baby you can receive paid parental leave until the baby is six months old, and with your second (third, fourth etc) you can stay at home until the baby is three years old, and eligible to go to school. If you choose to stay at home full time, then the government will pay you up to about €550 a month.

With my first son, I had a combination of maternity leave, vacation and unpaid leave. With my second son, I went back to work four days a week, and received a supplement from the government for about €120 a month until his third birthday. Now I’m on my third child though, and things have changed.

France’s birthrate has been stagnate or declining since World War 1, and so the government encourages women to bear children- lots of them. The major family subsidies kick in with the third baby- even before it’s born. I stopped working at the beginning of my sixth month of pregnancy, fully paid. Maternity leave starts 10 weeks before your due date, and lasts until 16 weeks after the baby’s born. Then, you can choose to stay at home three years, and receive the same subsidy as with your second child, or you can choose to stay at home one year. In this case, you receive about €300 a month more, or almost €800 a month in subsidies. Compared to my salary of about €1020 month and it’s easy to see that staying home can be a wise and feasible financial choice.

Add to this the housing subsidy of about €200 that kicks in because I’m no longer ‘earning’ any money, and I’m almost at my salary. Compare that to when I was working, with two kids in daycare, and only took home about €100.

It’s easy to see why there are so many Stay At Home Moms here in France– but also why the deficit is so high! I do think that it’s important for babies and young children to have a parental presence* instead of going into daycare at a very young age, and I know from personal experience that parenting is easier when it’s supported, economically and culturally, by the state.

*Fathers are also eligible for these exact same subsidies, although far fewer of them take advantage of them in the way that mothers do.


1 Sophie February 18, 2008

May I add that the benefits of paternity leave do not apply to same-sex couples… Only the bilogical parent is considered as beneficiary.

But I agree with you that the system is great for families.

2 K February 18, 2008

I didn’t realize that- I thought there was a recent ruling against the CAF (the governmental organization that pays out the subsidies, for you non Frenchies out there) saying that the non bio mom (in a lesbian couple) was entitled to paternity leave. I know that a lesbian just won a ruling saying that she was eligible to adopt.

3 Christa February 19, 2008

Wow!!!!!!!!!!!! That’s just amazing how much you receive in subsidies but, as you mentioned, a contributing factor to the high deficit. But, each country has their own strategies and values and I applaud the fact that they encourage parents to stay home. If I had three children, I wouldn’t be able to work since daycare and school costs would eat up most of my income. I only have two boys but I live in a VERY expensive part of the US–L.A., recently ranked as one of the top most expensive places to live, even BEFORE NYC! So, living frugally is living smart in LA otherwise the area will suck money right out of you like a vacuum.

4 K February 19, 2008

Hi Christa,

I’m from LA (like, I’m a Valley Girl, oh my god!!) and I know that we’re never going to be able to move back there unless we win the lottery! You’re right, it’s even more important to be frugal in expensive areas. Where we live in France is one of the more expensive areas, and even with all those subsidies, things are tight!

5 JHS February 25, 2008

Thank you for sharing this post with the readers of this week’s Carnival of Family Life! This week the Spring is Just Around the Corner Edition is hosted at home at Colloquium! Hope you will drop by and read some of the many other wonderful entries received this week!

6 jennifer in OR February 25, 2008

Fascinating – I really had no idea the extent of the subsidies. I have really mixed feelings. I love that moms are encouraged to stay home and take care of their babies – there’s nothing better. And for most of you, those subsidies are the only way it’s possible. That is fantastic!! The only part I don’t like is the extent of government intrusion in family life (is this an accurate assumption?) and also the federal deficit issues. But overall, if I was having more babies, I’d be right over. 🙂

7 K February 25, 2008

I think that as Americans, who really expect the government to keep their hands off our business, we are really afraid of the govnm’t being too intrusive here. But, in my experience, they’re not. I am applying for family subsidies for rent however, and I think that they might not give them to us because our house is considered too small. That would be too intrusive for me!

8 janet August 22, 2008

My husband is French and we live in the San Fernando Valley (California). I have visited with his family several times and they told me about their amazing maternity leave. Truly, it is amazing!!! C’est la vie. But, life is considerably different in France oppose to the USA. They truly enjoy food and are cost conscious people. Europeans on a whole save 13% of their annual salary oppose to Americans a measly 0.7% plus or minus. We might have to consider moving to France for our next child!! From my in-laws I have learned quick and delicious meals, as well as, learning to eat in small proportions. I dropped my baby weight incredibly during their stay in the US.

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