A few years ago, I was in a café in Paris with a group of Frenchwomen who'd just dropped off their kids at school. They were exactly the sort of moms I tend to know back home in the U.S.: smart, educated, reasonably stylish and devoted to their kids.
But when I brought up the subject of extracurricular activities, these Parisiennes suddenly seemed extremely foreign. They bristled. One said her kids were allowed just one activity each, because they needed time to be bored at home. Another said she had cut out extracurriculars altogether because she found them "constraining."
You bring them and you wait for an hour, then you have to go back and pick them up. For music you have to make them practice at night... It's a waste of time for me. And the children don't need it. They have a lot of homework, they have the house, they have other games at the house, and there are two of them so they can't get bored. At first, I bristled back. What about creating well-rounded human beings? Don't they care about their children's backhands? I was already anxious that, chez nous, we hadn't started Spanish lessons or dug into those early reading books that had arrived via airmail a few weeks earlier (weirdly, I couldn't find these in Parisian bookshops). Were these French moms selfishly preserving their own leisure time at the cost of their kids' development?
Several years, and a whole lot of research (and Parisian parenting) later, I feel I can safely say: probably not. I've come around to the French (though not exclusively French) idea that a slower, less stressful pace of family life isn't just more relaxing for...