On Motherhood + Raising Kids in France with Jules Theis
I started reading Jules' blog, Maple and Macaron, and following her on Instagram over a year ago when I was pregnant with my son. Jules had just had her second boy, Louie, and I was drawn to how down to earth she was, as well as inspired by the beautiful snippets of her life she shared as a Canadian expat living with her young family in the South of France. I'm excited to share today's interview with you as Jules gets real about the ups and downs of new motherhood, postpartum realities, and raising her boys abroad.
Name: Jules Theis (I was born Julia but only my family calls me that now)
Location: Le Cannet, France
Occupation: I'm a stay at home mum to two boys and blogger at Maple and Macaron
Tell us about your family!
Hiya! I'm Jules, soon-to-be thirty year old wife to my Frenchie James and mama to Oslo (2.5y) and Louie (9m). I met James almost 8 years ago in Toronto, Canada, where we quickly fell in love and decided to move to the French Riviera. My immigration journey has not been an easy one and there were many times we thought we wouldn't stay in France. Fun fact: Two months before my wedding I was denied a visa and was deported. I had to go back to Toronto, then quickly book a flight to come back to France as a tourist. Thankfully now I am a permanent legal resident, and can become a citizen in just two years. What a relief!
We live in a 200 year old village house with a view of the Mediterranean sea in the adorable village of Le Cannet, just 10 minutes from Cannes. When James is home from work and we spend time as a family we love to cook, go to the beach, visit other beautiful villages around the South, and go on nature walks. We also love to travel, even with our small kids, and take a visit back home every year. We also love to go to Italy, England, and other parts of France.
What does a "typical" day look like in your household?
We wake up to the sound of either one of my boys calling out, then James and I head downstairs to get them. James always takes Oslo and I take Louie because he is still breastfeeding. We head down to the kitchen where I make breakfast for everyone, with Oslo usually calling out for what he feels like that morning. More often than not he wants pancakes with dip dips (maple syrup). James is always in charge of caffeinating me, so he makes me coffee every morning. We eat breakfast together then James gets ready for work, and I get the boys ready for the day.
We say goodbye to James and then depending on the weather, we either go out for a little walk first thing or stay at home and play. Louie has put himself on a very tight schedule and likes to have his nap 2 hours after he wakes up, so he goes down to sleep around 9:30am. Then Oslo and I have a couple of hours to hang out just the two of us, which is one of my favourite times of the day. He loves this time as well, because he knows Louie can't take any of his toys away.
Louie wakes up and we have lunch together, and I always put on loud music to get them in a good mood and super excited to eat. It seems to always pump them up while I prepare food for them. After lunch I clean up, sometimes with Oslo's help, and then the boys play a little longer before they both go for a nap, my favourite time! I put Oslo down first, and try and tire Louie out a little more before I put him down for his second nap of the day.
These couple of hours to myself are absolute bliss! Depending on the day, I might write for my blog, I read, I do my nails, have a bath, watch Netflix, or do some chores - but I really hate to do this during what I call my "self care" time. It is my time to recharge my batteries before they wake up and we spend the rest of the day together.
After naps we usually leave the house for some fresh air and to stretch our legs, if we didn't go out in the morning. I pack snacks to eat once we arrive at the park and I usually just sit back on a bench with Louie in his stroller, and we watch Oslo run around. We come home before 5 pm, and I put on a show for Oslo to watch while I start cooking dinner for them. Most evenings James gets home after the boys go to bed, so I feed, bathe, and put the babes to bed before he gets in the door. Then I might get 30 minutes to put my feet up before James gets home, which is mama's wine time. If it has been a trickier than usual day I will treat myself to a glass of red, sit down, and just take a breath. When James gets home we eat dinner together, talk about our days, then usually watch an episode or two. We just finished The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which I have to say is amazing! I like to be in bed before 10:30 pm, so we head up to our room and off to bed we go.
ON LIVING ABROAD
You're a Canadian living in the South of France. How did you and your husband decide to make the move overseas? Do you plan on staying long-term?
After being together for 1.5 years, James took me to visit his family just outside of Cannes for his 30th birthday, 6 years ago. After the most incredible week, he proposed to me, and from there we started seriously talking about moving here. I just fell in love with this place. The sea, sun, and laid back way of life was all too appealing. So 7 months later, just before Christmas, we packed up everything and moved to the small, yet stunning village of Le Cannet. James also had the incentive to move back home to take over his family's business. Five years later, three house moves, and two babies we are still happy as can be living here in the French Riviera.
There are definitely days where I miss my family and friends in Canada, but we have made so many incredible expat friends here, which has helped us feel less home sick. I can't say we will live here forever, but with the family business doing well and the way things are going for us at present, I know we are thrilled to live here for a few more years. And then who knows where we could end up!
What is the most rewarding aspect of raising your kids in France? On the flip side, what is the most difficult?
There are so many benefits to having kids in France and better yet, the South of France where the weather is pretty divine. Knowing our kids will be fluent in both English and French is the most rewarding aspect by far. But something that I never considered until moving here is just how amazing the French culture is. I love raising my children in a country with so much history, as well as such a love for amazing food, wine, and music. There are festivals every month in almost every village around the country, celebrating any random thing they can think of. I just love how many activities and celebrations there are surrounding the culture. It is also incredible to live in Europe and know we can hop on a quick and cheap flight and enjoy an entirely new country, language, and food. It is so amazing to be able to travel frequently with Oslo and Louie.
The most difficult aspect of living here, especially with children, is making friends with French families. Strangers are less open to conversation than Canadians, so when we go to the park or beach families really stick together. It is the main reason we only have expat friends here. We've tried to meet other French children but unfortunately it hasn't worked out so well.
Are there any significant differences you've noticed between parenting in Canada versus France?
I'm sorry to say, but the whole stereotype that French parents raise their children perfectly, as per the book Bringing Up Bébé, is not true at all. It doesn't matter where you go in the Western world, all kids are pretty much raised the same. I see kids in restaurants on tablets in both Canada and France, I see helicopter parents in both places, and I see good and bad parenting styles everywhere I go. So it is really hard for me to see a significant difference.
One thing that is really wonderful in France, though, is that children are allowed almost anywhere till whatever time the parent wants - even bars! This would never happen in Canada, but it is a completely normal thing to see kids in a bar with their parents, or a child eating at a restaurant very late in France. Food and wine is a huge part of the French culture, so it would be strange to not allow children to be a part of that.
In Canada, women are extremely privileged to get up to one year of paid maternity leave. In France, a woman is lucky to get even four months, so most French babies go to day cares or with a nanny at a very young age. Children also start full time school four days a week at 3 years old in France. Oslo starts this September and that seems crazy to me as he's just so young! Compared to Canada, it seems children are separated from their parents a lot younger. This is why I am so grateful to be a stay at home mum in France, because I know it is so rare here.
What inspired you to start your blog, Maple and Macaron? More specifically, what is your favourite topic to write about?
I started Maple and Macaron when I first moved to France as a sort of hobby, and as a way for my family to catch up on what I was doing. It sort of evolved into a motherhood, travel, and lifestyle blog from there, and now that is what I mainly write about. My favourite topic to write about is honest motherhood and all aspects of it. Instagram can often look very curated, and it is where I share the more beautiful side of my life, so I love to keep it more real on my blog and share it all, even the bad. I also love to talk about the stuff that no one really talks about, I.e. our lady parts after we give birth! That was the most real post I ever wrote and the feedback from it was so amazing.
ON CHILDBIRTH & FAMILY LIFE
You've been open on your blog and Instagram page about your difficult birth experience and postpartum recovery with your first son, Oslo. Do you have any words of advice for others moms who might also be struggling with a similar experience, particularly in terms of how you moved past the difficult experience and went on to have the confidence to give birth to your second child?
For me, being open about my experience really helped me face the reality I was going through. As soon as I made my story public it was so incredible to see the support I received from other mothers who had gone through a difficult birth, and to not feel so isolated in my trauma and guilty about the bonding struggles I had with Oslo. The thing that helped me heal the most was being open and honest with James. He was also struggling with PTSD as well if not more, so sharing our emotions and how we were feeling really helped us get through it together. About 5 months after the birth we were both still having a hard time, so James thought we should go see a therapist to try and help. This was the best thing we could have done! Our therapist really helped us talk about our trauma and helped us heal together. I really don't think I would be as strong as I am today if it wasn't for our therapy sessions. It can be a little embarrassing to admit you need help to recover, but I think it is so important to get help from a professional if you aren't able to do it on your own. It also brought James and I even closer as a couple and as parents, so I will forever be grateful that we did it.
I think every mother, whether she had a good birth or not, should write a birth story. When I wrote mine it was one of the hardest things I ever did. I still cry every time I read it, because I know how difficult it was to write about all of that trauma. Writing it out was such a powerful form of therapy for me though, and now it is so nice to have it to reflect back on. You don't have to share it if you don't feel comfortable; it can just be for you to have and to sort of let go of once it's on paper.
The way I approached Oslo's birth was so strict and precise. I had such a specific vision of how I wanted my birth to go, so when it went completely the opposite way of how I planned it, I was so disappointed. With Louie I didn't plan anything. Instead, I kept an open mind about the birth. I was more free spirited and willing to just give in to the moment. We planned a hospital birth, with a midwife and doula, but just like Oslo's birth Louie's was the opposite of what we intended it to be. I gave birth at home at the bottom of the stairs, and it was incredible and the quickest moment of my life. So after two completely different births, both entirely the opposite of how they were meant to happen, I would say just prepare your body and mind to relax and let go. That way no matter what happens, you know you are in the best state of mind to welcome your sweet new baby into the world.
What is your favourite activity to do with your kids/family?
Almost every weekend we go to my in-laws' beautiful home just a 15 minute drive away, where they have a gorgeous garden with a pool. When the weather is warm enough we have the aperitif (the French way of saying drinks and snacks before the meal) outside on the terrace, then my mother-in-law - who happens to be the most amazing cook - serves us lunch, followed by a delicious dessert. After lunch we all swim in the pool, and lay out in the sun with a glass of rosé in our hand. It is my happy place, where everyone can relax, and Oslo can run around and have fun. It is something I look forward to every week.
What is one thing you are struggling with as a mother right now (if you're comfortable sharing)?
I think every mother of a toddler can relate to the struggle I am having with Oslo and his tantrums. He goes through periods of time that can last a week where nothing seems to set him off and he is wonderful, but then something changes suddenly and we go through a week or so of nonstop tantrums. It was getting to be very difficult for me to figure out why this was happening and how to deal with it, all while trying to balance taking care of Louie. When Oslo goes through these bad weeks, anything can set him off and it is hard for me to predict what it could be.
It got to the point where I reached out to some friends with kids the same age as Oslo for advice, and one of my friends recommended the book ParentSpeak: What's Wrong with How We Talk to Our Children -- and What to Say Instead by Jennifer Lehr. Oh my goodness, this book changed everything! I'm only halfway through now, but already I am noticing a massive difference in how he reacts to how I talk to him. It is such an enlightening and useful book, so I highly recommend it if you are going through a tough time with your toddler.
How do you recharge when you have a moment to yourself?
After two kids and spending the first two years giving myself no time at all for self care, I am all about it now! I think it is so important to take a little time each day to just relax and recharge. I am a lover of hot bubble baths, so if I have a good twenty minutes I am most likely in there, listening to a Super Soul podcast. I also find writing very therapeutic and energizing, either through my blog or in my gratitude journal. While the boys are napping I love to sit down and get everything out of my mind and onto my laptop or paper. It really helps clear my head and helps me stay focused and present.