Dear Dr Laura,
There are many clichés about French women, that they are seductive, passionate, charming, elegant and smart. My wife Samantha is French, and she is all of those things, and more. Much more, she is the mother of our 4 incredible children. I would like to dedicate this message to her - because she is an incredible woman who has overcome so much to be a real mother.
My wife grew up in an abusive house, it would be an insult to call it a home. Her two genetic predecessors (it would be an insult to call them a mother and a father) wounded her profoundly. She has a thousand reasons to be angry, resentful, bitter and self-destructive in life, but she has harnessed these bad experiences and, through a great deal of strife, determination and energy, turned her life into something wonderful.
She has a Science Masters from one of the top universities in France and could have invested herself in a big career, but for the last 12 years she has been a stay-at-home mom for our 4 children. Being at home, you really have to face up to yourself; children provide you with a full-on 24-hour character test, and I am so lucky and proud that my wife is willing to go through all of that for them.
But here in France, women are not valued at home. In fact, the French tend to think of it as something backward, oppressive even, both for the mother and the child. Babies go to 'kindergarten' to learn social skills, independence, have friends and learn to play. I think this is one of the biggest euphemisms in society - it is the mothers that send their children to kindergarten so that they can be social, independent and meet their friends (even if it is at work).
The absurd truth is that thousands of French mothers will celebrate Mother's Day, then drop their babies at 07:30am the next day for up to 12 hours. But because this is normal, it can seem at bit awkward when you tell people that you stay at home with your kids. France has a rotten view of motherhood, and that is why I really wanted to write to you. For once, I would like my wife to get a big, proper public nod for what she does.
When a whole society adopts a set of values different to your own, it is tough to hold onto what you know is right. When it gets tough, you can start to wonder if you are doing the right thing. Somehow, a woman who comes home exhausted from a tense business meeting, or has closed out a stressful deal with a client, has a more legitimate looking reason to feel tired. Yet, just to go for a simple bike ride with young children can be crushingly difficult because of very mundane complications, and it doesn't feel legitimate to be exhausted because a 4-year-old has been gnawing away all day with questions about random things, and a 2-year-old has been struggling all day with his bowels.
...As humans, I think we need to feel like we have a proper place in society which is legitimate and appreciated. France admires its working women, but rather looks at the floor with those who raise their children at home. When the world around you tends to think that what you are doing is a bit odd, it is not easy to see what you are doing is beautiful.
But what could be more beautiful in life than a woman who has turned a bad childhood into 4 irresistibly wonderful children. The shadow of your past never goes away, but my wife continually makes the choice to make a bad thing good, she makes the choice to turn the ugly into something lovely.
Dr Laura, please know that over the Atlantic thousands of kilometers away, in a different time-zone and culture, there has been a woman who has been uplifted, sustained and inspired to think about herself in radically positive and fresh ways because of your perceptive and bold podcasts. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping my wife articulate her values, and for giving her moments of courage and insight for doing the most important job in the world: Being Maman.
Merci, et au revoir.