6 Parenting Lessons I Learned in Paris
It wasn’t until we got to JFK that I realized the gravity of what I was doing: With ten pieces of luggage in hand, my husband and I were taking our seven-month-old to France and Germany for ten days of vacances. It was a trip we planned in the early days of my maternity leave. (We were seasoned travelers: Why should that have to change now that we had a kid?)
Just like that, the trip was booked and—fast-forward six(ish) months later—to the three of us eagerly waiting to board our plane at the Air France gate.
Did we anticipate that our son wouldn’t sleep a wink on either flight? That he’d reject the travel crib? And spike an out-of-nowhere fever that lasted just one night? No.
Did we survive? Yes, and I’m a better mother for it. Here’s why.
I Learned How to Trust My Instincts
It’s a funny thing when you become a new mom. Everyone tells you instinct will kick in. But even as I spent the last seven months growing more familiar with my son, I still maintained a degree of separation, leaning on outside experts (books, my pediatrician, my online mom group) for insight about all kinds of things from constipation to how to nail down a daily routine. In Paris, we were totally removed from that “phone a friend” resource. One night, when my son was acting a bit fussier than usual, I detected a fever by placing a hand on his forehead instead of using a thermometer—a mom superpower I’d witnessed, but never thought I could do.
And How to Relax the Nap Schedule
Pre-Paris, I spent hours—days even—obsessing over sleep, but more specifically naps. One particular night, I spoke with a doula in my mom group about fears related to my son’s “wake” time. On the road in France, I had to let go of that rigidity. When my son fell asleep at takeoff only to wake up—happily—an hour later to the sound of silverware clanging during the dinner service (a very specific sound bomb he can’t ever ignore), there wasn’t a ton I could do. Was he crying? No. Was he thrilled about the blackout shades in his nursery being replaced by the bright light of the “fasten seatbelt” sign? Also, no. But right when I was afraid he’d never ever sleep again, he fell asleep in the carrier and stayed asleep for three hours. Mom win? I’ll take it.
I Discovered I Could Breastfeed in *Any* Context
It’s not that I was opposed to nursing in public. It’s just that, back in New York, I tried to time my nursing sessions to happen right before we left the house. In Paris, we were always on the go—museum and park hopping and finding ourselves in arrondisements that were a lengthy metro ride away from our hotel. I nursed on a park bench next to the Seine and on the train station floor at Gare du Nord. I even nursed him at the foot of the Eiffel Tower when, after our baguette and fromage picnic, my son decided he was hungry, too. It got to the point where I didn’t flinch at the thought of lifting my shirt in public. I even ditched the cover-up. When in France, you might say.
I Had Zero Qualms About Speaking Up
Another piece of parenting wisdom gifted to me one month before my son was due: “When push comes to shove, you will turn into a fierce mama bear.” At the time, I marked it as cheesy. But, in Paris, I put it to the test. Like when a rude tourist from the U.S. barked from across the hall: “Control your baby!” when my son was jet-lagged and crying late one night. (I soothed my son, then complained to the hotel about my dissatisfaction with their claim to be a "family-friendly" hotel.)
And, When Push Came to Shove, Stayed Remarkably Calm
Stress is contagious especially between mothers and their babies, according to several studies including this one published in Psychological Science in 2014. In Paris, when I found myself in situations that caused my heart rate to spike—the fever described above, train delays, a particularly bumpy carousel ride in the Jardin des Tuileries—I was surprised at my focus on remaining calm. But that’s where the magic happened: My son (for the most part) followed suit.
I Learned That the Time Difference Can Be a Mom’s Best Friend
For us, life in a French time zone was conducive to all the cultural things we wanted to do. We ate dinner alfresco at a chic café at 8:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m. at home); took our son to see the Eiffel Tower’s glittering lights at night; and slept in until 8, sometimes 9 a.m. with our bébé who, at home, loved to wake at the ripe old hour of 5 a.m. Sure, it took a few days to settle in with the jet lag, but once we got over the hump, it was great. And incentive enough to travel again.