I was very much involved in the Kundalini yoga community in Los Angeles. There, it was considered normal for a mother to nurse her baby, co-sleep and carry the infant as often as possible. It was also recommended to stay home with the baby for the first 40 days of his life.
Many cultures around the world share this closeness with their babies, and it felt right for me to do the same. If I had stayed in Los Angeles, I would have been surrounded by mothers who raised their babies in the same way. Instead, I fell in love with a lovely Frenchman and I moved to Paris to be with him.
For 12 years, I had been used to living in an American city, where pretty much everything and anything goes. Now suddenly, I found myself in a city where NOT everything goes. So much for ‘Vive la différence.’ What I didn’t expect was the peer pressure that went along with doing things outside the box, nor how alone I would feel at times.
I expected criticism from my own family, but I didn’t expect it from friends and certainly not from strangers. A Frenchwoman I’ve known all my life, was shocked that I held my baby in my arms so much. “You will spoil him with love, ” she told me. I almost laughed out loud, until I realized she was perfectly serious. Others said it would damage his back to hold him.
An acquaintance, a young woman, was horrified that I chose to be a stay-at-home mom. “Women have fought for your right to work, you must work. ” She has a point, I give her that, but I wanted to be the one to raise our child.
Even if I had wanted to return to work, daycare was not much of an option either, because it would have cost nearly my entire paycheck.
In France, there is very little tolerance for a crying baby. During one of my first outings with my two-month-old, I made the mistake of spending a little too much time in a department store. I tried to hurry home before baby got too hungry (I hadn’t figured out how to nurse him in the wrap I carried him in).
On the bus, a kind man gave me his seat. As soon as I sat, my baby started crying. I felt pressure to keep him quiet. It didn’t help that it was rush hour. I stood up to rock my guy, hoping this would calm him. When I looked up, a woman threw daggers at me with her gaze.
“He’s just a baby, we all were babies who cried, ” I said, hoping to speak to her compassion. Her reply ? “If someone offers you his seat, you should sit. ”
I thought I had armed myself with a good comeback line for when a stranger criticized me, but I didn’t expect that. The woman was sitting.
I got off the bus, and walked home crying the entire way. I decided then that I really did need a thicker skin.
I’ve had people run into the stroller and then expect me to apologize. I’ve had others wanting me to slap my child, when he had a temper tantrum. Oddly enough though, I never got flak from anyone for nursing my child in public.
The most unexpected thing about raising my child in France is that on one hand, I was criticized for being too available to our baby, for nursing too long, for co-sleeping and on the otherhand, I was repeatedly complimented on how aware he is, how calm, how open to others, how social, how alert, and how comfortable he is in his own skin. Go figure.
Bio : Dya Englert, who is half-French, has lived in Barcelona, NYC, Los Angeles, Paris and now in Toulouse, France, with her French husband and their 6-year-old son. She is a stay-at-home mom, photo artist and writer (‘Yoga Journal’, ‘Bravo Sport!’, ‘Sorrisi e Canzoni’).