“The foundation of family life is intangible” / “For Life” magazine no. 3 – Fall 2014
A talk with to Laurent Cochet, French expat in Romania, about family life, raising kids and the new ideology affecting natural family.
What is family to you? What is family for the French people and what is it for Romanians? Are there any differences?
Laurent Cochet: Family is for me the very first brick on which you can build a society and, depending on how families are doing, you can assess how healthy a society itself is. The family is the place where you first learn how to be in the world, how to behave with others. You experience the satisfaction of being heard and considered, but you also learn to bear the dissatisfaction – or even the frustration – of not always being considered as you think you deserve, or of not to getting what you want, because you have to share with others (from toys to the attention of your parents, who might not be available whenever you need). Sometimes you might even consider that you are victim of a misunderstanding or, worse, of an injustice, because your parents took a wrong decision in your view, or because last time they were less severe with your brother or sister than with yourself. You might then become furious because you don’t understand a decision and because you can’t give your opinion, which is just not required, and you can’t accept that!
In fact, family is for me the place from which you should get out free, which means able to choose a good way to lead your own life. You should do this with the help of the instruction received in school, which adds to what you have received from your family. To that purpose, you need to accept the fact that some things are imposed to you by your parents because, when you are young, you don’t know what is good for you. You must also accept the imperfection of your parents: even if they do their best, they might sometimes make errors. However, step by step, the mix between things imposed and things you can decide upon will tend to be in “favor” of what you decide by yourself, as you become ready for that.
That is for me the signification of family.
When it comes to considering the differences between the situation in Romania and the situation in France, I would say that I feel the situation in Romania is more “preserved” than in France, in the sense that “traditional” families are livelier in Romania than in France. It seems to me for example that people kept the tradition of spending time together for religious holidays more alive than in France. It’s obvious for Easter, which is even more important than Christmas in Romania. It is no longer the case in France, where people might still spend time together for Christmas, which remains an important event, but it’s less frequent for Easter. In fact, the meaning of Christmas in France is no longer a religious one. It has actually become a symbol for today’s society: un-refrained consumption fuelled by massive advertisement. Even a society that has ostracized God needs symbols – and sometimes it is easier to keep the existing ones!
But, with all due respect to Romanian people, whom I really appreciate, I can’t say I believe Romanian society will remain “preserved” and able to keep that specificity. Indeed, in my opinion, even if Romanian society as a whole seems less secularized than the French one, the co-existence of the traditional “clerical” society with a massive opening to the consumption society cannot last forever without a clash (see the incredible number of Malls and the fact that they are open on Sundays, see the visual impact of advertising spreading all over the cities, especially in Bucharest).
Unfortunately, I think the trend for the near future is more towards dislocation of traditional structures like families (which have remained quite preserved until now) than towards a consolidation of such structures. And the acceleration of migration towards secularized Western countries is not a factor that will slow down this trend in Romania. I think it will bring a lot of difficult times in families by bringing new ideas and behaviors in an environment which is not prepared for that challenge: families will lose their cohesion.
What are children for your family?
Laurent Cochet: They represent a huge source of happiness, despite the “difficult” times. Moreover, they represent a great opportunity to stop focusing on our own person, especially these days, when we are very busy with ourselves. They demand a lot of energy, but they give you a lot in return and you also learn a lot about yourself with them.
For me, children are the natural outcome of a new family. So their coming to the world sounds like something obvious. When you get married, the natural result of this union is children. Except for the particular and painful situations of infertility, which are more and more frequent, but remain exceptions to the “rule”, I can’t imagine a family without children. Children embody the strength of life that will continue after we pass away.
The main issue in my opinion in Europe is that we no longer see ourselves as part of a continuity that has an origin and tends towards a purpose. We can discuss hours about the source of and the reasons for this situation, but the result is that we are stuck in the present, not really knowing where we come from and where we are heading; we are stuck in the middle, afraid to move ahead. So we want to stay young in order to keep all the possibilities opened, but it is vain in the absence of a goal. By delaying the time by which we consider ourselves adults, and consequently postponing the time of commitment, people generally delay the moment when they have children. They also want to monitor everything: to decide when to give birth and, soon, also to decide more than that regarding their future child.
So, globally, we are losing the link with our nature in the sense that having children has now become something carefully thought and designed: first you avoid it for years, because it is an obstacle that closes possibilities to you, then finally you decide that you want to have children because the nature is not completely out (yet) and because there is still a “social pressure” in that direction (for how long?). To summarize: you want fewer children, you want to have them as late as possible and, of course you want them perfect, which is the next promise of science (partially achievable today).
This is for me an excess contrary to my conception of children as an irruption of life, as a natural consequence of your love that overpasses your comfort and the plans you might try to make for yourself. It doesn’t mean that you mustn’t rationalize and take into consideration some temporal factors when you contemplate the possibility to have children. However, in my opinion, it’s more important not to be dominated by your “plans” and to have an attitude of openness towards life.
It may seem less comfortable but it’s much more exciting in fact!
What do you think one of the spouses brings in the other one’s life by simply being of the opposite sex?
Laurent Cochet: A genuine difference and a complementarity which is not easy to define. It’s rather something that you experience in daily situations than a topic for conceptualization.
Our perceptions (mine and my wife’s) might not be identical in the same situation, or we don’t attribute the same significance to the same events, we don’t always prioritize in the same way.
But I think the best examples of those differences are to be found in our relation with the children.
When it comes to raising kids, how do you think your spouse makes a difference by simply being of the opposite sex?
Laurent Cochet: From my own experience, which means life with three children aged 1 to 5, I can see that one the differences lies in the way each of us judges the behavior of the other with the children of opposite sex.
To explain it, I would say that my wife detects much more the “manipulations” I am subjected to by our daughter. And I can more accurately detect her “weaknesses” towards our son. It’s incredible how fast seduction and manipulation (even without real conscience of doing so) come quickly in relation with your children. It’s a real challenge to be able to find the right balance in your behavior with them and my experience is that the father will find more easily the right balance with his son than with his daughter. My wife, because she is a woman, has a more accurate perception in certain circumstances and she helps me find the right attitude.
In addition to that, I do believe – because I can experience it – that the complementarity of sex is the key of education, at least at the beginning of life. Indeed it is obvious that, as a father, you don’t have the same role as the mother. The mother is the one who feeds the kids and takes care of them physically so all that she does in the beginning tends towards a close and very corporal contact with her children.
As a father, you are the one who has the authority and imposes the split: you impose the split when you sleep in the same bed with your wife, thus your children, who want to be with their mother, learn that they just can’t. I think we all know people who experienced situations when they started to keep their young child in their bed because he/she was crying and it appeared more practical to take him/her in their bed… And then the father started sleeping on the couch!
If I had one piece of advice to young parents, it would be the following: never make your child sleep in your bed!
I think most of the problems some parents have with their children are due to the fact that we are globally losing the meaning of words such as “place” or “role”. It may look very conservative and I want to make it clear that I am not promoting immobility in society. However, there are some realities that don’t change and I think the basics of family life are intangible.
There is currently too much black-and-white in public discourse: either you are for natural family, which means you are retrograde and a bigot; or you are open to any change, which means you are a civilized and democratic person. Thus society gets divided between two groups, which are presented as being in conflict and the group currently in power is invited to destroy the other, very much in the way Communists divided society. How do you see this division?
Laurent Cochet: I don’t know about Romania and I am surprised to hear this, for I’d rather not have applied this depiction to Romanian society. But I can tell you it is a pretty accurate description of what is happening in France. This situation became more obvious in 2013, during the debates on the so-called “marriage for all” (« mariage pour tous »), which the socialist government passed through the Parliament.
This public discourse is quite boring, since, as you have noticed, it tends to discredit all dissenting thinking. It does look like communist practice. And the methods they use are pretty much the same as those used in Communism: denying reality to favor an ideology which lacks empirical foundation but is promoted as better than reality. Because reality is too prosaic, you see. It seems reality is only good for brainless dummies who are unable to conceptualize, while the beautiful souls are generous and escape tedious reality by conceptualizing.
So they combat reactionary dummies by deception: words are obscured their real meanings, words are prevented from naming reality, there are laws being voted to harass people for “crimes of opinion”. Of course, it’s very subtle, they will never admit they are attempting to stifle freedom of expression. But, since they regard the debate as a fight against Fascists, almost anything is permitted: there should be no freedom for “the enemies of freedom”, as they used to say when they applied terror during the French Revolution.
Therefore, opposition is discredited in the purest Marxist tradition, being presented as “Fascists” the very moment they hold a point of view which is not in conformity with the promoted ideology.
Whoever advances “sickening” ideas will be immediately tried as an obscurantist: for example, in France, don’t you ever dare to question the foundation of the law legalizing abortion. I am using this as an example because this is the most taboo of all subjects, I think it is the thing which can never be discussed, along with capital punishment (as if there were any relation between them!). If you do question it, you will immediately be put in the same line with those names which recall the darkest hours of our history. Try explaining them one can disagree with a deed without necessarily punishing the doer. If so, you will benefit from even less understanding, for the system makes no difference and irredeemably isolates whoever questions its dogmas. There will be no hope of rehabilitation for these ones. It’s like capital punishment on the social level, apparently more lenient than the physical one, but redoubtably more efficient.
The only problem with this deployment of forces is that people of good will and common sense – and there are still many of them out there, thank God! – are becoming tired of it.
I think we shall see a return of traditional values, because the people and the system promoting this division into Western society don’t have the stamina to continue anymore. In fact, the model they propose doesn’t exist and they themselves represent its inescapable failure: people have discovered the shortcomings of a lifestyle presented as universal solution for years but which is based on a deviant conception of freedom, which in reality only means to do what you are told, becoming a slave of your own whims and desires.
I also think we may need to reconstruct institutions that have been misguided for the last 40 years, especially the institution of family. But let’s not deceive ourselves: it’s not going to happen smoothly, because the promoters of “disorder” are heavily infiltrated at all levels of society and they will not desert their cultural and media assets in favor of the conservatives. Their ground needs to be re-conquered in order to create the premises for a sustainable change in history.
Why do you think we need to foster everything about family?
Laurent Cochet: I think positive protective measures are always welcome, but they will not really protect family. What could really make a positive impact on family would be that all good-willed people become aware of the current threats to the idea of family and get involved to counteract the actual evolution of things, which many see as inexorable, or even worse, desirable (which is not my opinion, of course).
The best protection for natural family is protecting and promoting solid traditional families which testify about family life in a very convincing way. For this purpose, we may need to make use of the all the tools we have for this battle: political involvement and consolidation of the civil society. Representative democracy as we knew it too easily betrays the general interest. In my opinion, only a mature, dynamic and powerful civil society can make a difference. It’s happening in France, even though there is so much more to be done. But I’m afraid it’s something badly missing in today’s Romania.