Family life in Paris


I often am asked what it is like to bring children up in Paris and what I like and don’t like about it, so I thought it could be fun to write down some of my experiences! These are just random things that I have personally observed..

Playgrounds and Parks: There are not many and there is especially not a lot of green grass for the kids to play on. Most neighbourhood parks are small and consist of flowerbeds, a play structure with benches around it and no swings! Kids go play and the parents sit on the sidelines reading books. The Parisians are definitely not helicopter parents – children entertain themselves or play with their friends. It’s nice as the kids are really independent, but it is not so nice when they start throwing sand at each other’s faces and there are no grown-ups to intervene.

Schools: I do find the the school system of a country defines the country a lot. Like most French school children, my children go to the local French school around the corner. The standard of education is high, and the children are challenged and marked at a very young age (the word evaluation is used a lot). Interestingly this is not only something that the teachers impose on the children, but something that is actually being asked for by a lot of the parents. For example, teachers are not really supposed to give the children homework, but it is apparently often the parents who insist they do! Schools are also not a place for the whole family to socialise, but only the children. Parents drop their children off in the morning and rush of to work. At the end of the day, we pick up the children at the school gate, but there is not a lot of chatting going on… (My personal theory is that there is a belief in France that the education of children is responsibility of the state, not of the parents, so schools are not a place for parents to get involved). I might be wrong, but I do have the feeling that there are a lot more full-time working mothers in Paris than in other big European cities I know. This might also be the reason why there is less involvement from the family in school life.

Restaurants: Though it has improved a lot, Parisian restaurants do not cater toward children. Children are welcome though, as long as they tow the line and sit down and eat. Maybe I am mistaken, but not that many of my French friends take their kids out to eat. People cook a lot and have people over for dinner, even in the tiniest apartments.

Apéro: One of the favourite things to do over here is to have people over for apero (short for aperitif) which are pre-dinner drinks. My children have even been invited over by their friends over for an apero instead of a playdate! Usually there will be champagne or wine, beer, sparkling water and Champony (a sparkling apple juice in a champagne bottle) for the kids. Foodwise often you serve paté, foie gras and some good saucisson. It’s the perfect event to have with kids and parents, it starts relatively early and you are not required to serve real food for everyone.

Food Shopping: Parisians still go to the market on a Saturday or Sunday and buy their meat at the butchers, their bread at the bakers, their cheese at the cheese shop and their vegetables at the green grocers – it is one of the things I love about this city!

These are are just some personal observations. Other people might have had completely different experiences, which would be lovely to hear by the way!

– Emilie

Above, a photo of Place des Vosges, which is a typical Parisian park, which is beautifully landscaped, but definitely not full of rambling nature…

11 COMMENTS - Add your own

1. Lili | January 7, 2014 | Reply

This is really interesting! How different the playgrounds are and how kids are viewed in restaurants/society. Very interesting also to hear about schools in Paris as London suffers such inequality in access to good schooling. I’ve noticed too that all my French mummy friends living in London went back to full time work usually after 6 months maternity – it definitely feels cultural. And they all seem to have the mantra “remember before you are a mother, you are a WOMAN!” makes me chuckle!

2. Emilie in Paris | January 7, 2014

Yes, it is funny, especially because the maternity leave here is so much better than in the UK. Your employer needs to keep your job available to you for 3 years, but most French woman go back after 6 months.

3. Brimful | January 7, 2014 | Reply

During the few times I’ve visited Paris, I’m always been impressed with how well behaved children are while their parents shop, eat, or are just walking on the streets. Jardin du Luxembourg would be a park I’d take my children if I lived there. So beautiful!

4. Paula | January 7, 2014 | Reply

I was in Paris for a couple of days in December visiting family and found a nice park/playground in Nation with a vegetable patch, some trees, flower beds, grass, sandpit, playground and a flat area to play ball – the entrance was through the side of some church grounds. I have a 3 and a 2 year old that are used to run a lot in wide spaces in Africa therefore we really appreciated to have two afternoons without rain, out of our tiny apartment and in such a nice and car free place. One thing I found there and every country I go to – why the hell has equipment changed to the point that we do no longer have toboggans and swings?

5. Emilie | January 8, 2014

I have no idea! I have never seen swings in Paris! Only in the bois de Vincennes and the bois de Boulogne. It must have to to with security, but it is such a shame. I love swings!

6. Esther in Amsterdam | January 7, 2014 | Reply

I loved reading this!! Thanks for sharing your observations with us! xxx

7. Vanessa | January 8, 2014 | Reply

I really enjoyed reading this! I love the idea of the apero where children are invited too! I must look out for some Champony- the girls would love it!! x

8. Lili | January 8, 2014 | Reply

No swings or slides??????? Is that health and safety??? Surely not in France! I had no idea re the maternity – so fascinating to see how things are in other countries

9. Vera | January 10, 2014 | Reply

Thanks for sharing this interesting blogpost. We do have a friend from france living in Hamburg. She has a little daughter and I love hearing about her french way to raise children.

10. Lucia | January 13, 2014 | Reply

I fell in love with Paris as young single and independent art student and recently went back with my husband and my (at the time ) 5 month baby… even though I’m still in love (i believe you can’t fall out of love with Paris) i was really surprised with the fact that none of the cafés, creperies, restaurants, boulangeries, etc. had (or understood) the concept of baby changing facilities… we ended up diaper changing in your beautiful parks, streets, sideways… we also found a fun improvised “community” of other tourists-parents offering to assist and sharing advice. I was mostly afraid, as an unexpierenced new mom, of the subway access, and was really surprised with everybody offering help with the stroller and the stairs… I’m from Chile, and got to appreciate that every single diner or restaurant here has a place where you can change your baby.

Even though swings are a hit with my little one (now 11 months old), a good stroller walk, let´s say to the Palais Royale or Les Tuilleries, even mom and dad’s museum tours are the greatest ! (I like to bellieve he looks forward to our saturday chilean art gallery and museum tours).

I have to admit I (no longer secretly) envy you Parisian parents!

11. Claire | January 13, 2014 | Reply

I love to hear about motherhood in different countries. Your exaples reminded me of the book “french children don’t throw food” I just laughed so much ! I am a frnch mum living in London and i can tell how much you’re right when you watch people at the playground (great places by the way !). Who is sitting on a bench talking th her friends ? French mums ! Who is singing nursery ryhmes while pushing the swing ? British mums !!
Last evening, it was nearly 7pm, we were back from a Galette des Rois at a french family’s home, I saw another family down the road, I though, who could be outside by this bedtime hour ?
Another french family back from a Galette des Rois too !!!

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