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 â‚¬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 â‚¬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 â‚¬300 a month more, or almost â‚¬800 a month in subsidies. Compared to my salary of about â‚¬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 â‚¬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 â‚¬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.