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'I really regret it. I really regret having children' Add to ...

"France," Ms. Maier says, "the infantophile state par excellence."

It was partly this pressure that caused her to leave for the softer and less fertile shores of Brussels, only a 90-minute drive from Paris. She and her partner, who have a psychiatric practice, prefer to have their kids in school here.

"In France, we are supposed to love children more than anything, and it's a bit ridiculous, because it brings a lot of deceptions. It's an idea that is growing in popularity now, and it's very heavy on me. It's become a matter of national identity and it was unfortunately one of the themes of the last election."

Indeed, this year's presidential campaigns were almost obsessively aimed at the merdeuf brigades, with both candidates hinting in their speeches that a fertile nation could keep the brown-skinned hordes at bay. But, as it happens, this year's presidential elections also happened to be dominated by another obsessive theme, one that many people believe was partly put on the agenda by Corinne Maier herself.

In 2004, she wrote another funny little book, this one called Hello Laziness: The Art and the Importance of Doing the Least Possible in the Workplace. It wasn't her first: The same year, she published three very serious titles devoted to French psychiatric theorist Jacques Lacan. But it was the one that set France aflame, becoming a huge bestseller.

At the time, Ms. Maier was working for the national public electrical utility, and found herself ossified by the corporate culture of hypocrisy, euphemism and false devotion. Her book was an insider's examination and defence of the culture of non-work that many felt had overtaken France. The 35-hour workweek had turned French workers, according to their public image, into the world's leading slackers.

Nicolas Sarkozy seized upon her book's phrases and images in his election campaign this year, calling for a "France that gets up in the morning." In his speeches, he would mock her book by shouting, "Goodbye laziness!" Those lines received enormous ovations and you couldn't help but feel that Ms. Maier had catapulted the little man into the Élysée Palace.

If so, it was quite by accident: A stalwart member of the left, she can't stand Mr. Sarkozy.

But if that book raised questions about her political intentions, this one has raised far more personal questions, about her own motherhood. After all, this is a stern polemic against having children, and a direct attack on the notion of children, by a woman who has two (who are, by all accounts, very well adjusted, despite the episode in the gallery).

It contains lines that are far from flattering to kids. "The child is a kind of vicious dwarf, of an innate cruelty," she quotes novelist Michel Houellebecq in one of her chapter headings, and then describes children as base and amoral creatures.

"Children are born to disappoint you," she says. "Because we dream about wonderful children, but there are no wonderful children. They are people like me and you, and they fail, they do things you don't expect, they dream of things you don't even imagine, things that are pointless for you but not for them. So of course they have to disappoint you. Most children are difficult."

For the record, she has given copies of her book to both her children. Neither has picked it up, or paid it any attention. "All they want to do is read Harry Potter," she sighs.

She is painfully honest, as perhaps only a psychiatrist can be, about her own delusions of motherhood. She had been an only child and had hoped that having children would end her feelings of loneliness. She realized too late, she says, that it simply created new forms of loneliness.

"I thought it would be easier. I didn't realize how tough it would be - the organization required, the time you have to spend with them for maybe 20 years. It was the idea of feeling trapped, trapped in something that you are unable to end, it will last you 15 or 20 years and you cannot escape. It is not like a job, which you can change. Or a country."

The change of country had a lot to do with the pressure that French mothers face. "I think a lot of us are tired of France," she says. "Everything is difficult, people look down at you all the time, when you want to do something you need a lot of red tape and you always miss the good opportunities - after some years, it becomes something like a nightmare."

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