I just got a little distracted by a question on Quora:
Which country is better to live in: France or Australia?
They were asking particularly about raising kids, so I was compelled to answer. I was feeling particularly qualified to explain the differences, as I’ve been looking after two toddlers in France and hearing stories from my Aussie mum friends about the state of affairs there at the moment.
If you’re reading this post, you’re probably more interested in what bringing up kids in France is like, rather than Australia. So, I’ll quote the section of my answer that explains the French system for you.
France has paid maternity and paternity leave as part of the social security system everyone pays for. Even freelancers can take paid maternity leave.
Both countries have free schooling available (and private options if you want them), and the quality of the education is good. There are some small differences, though.
In France, the school days are long, but kids get Wednesday afternoon off. One parent per family is entitled to take time off work to look after the kids on Wednesdays. Every school has an on-site before and after school care program to look after kids from 7am until 6:30pm, often with cultural activities run by the local mairie. The system basically makes it easy for both parents to work. School lunches, the before/after school care, and all other forms of childcare are highly subsidised by the government according to your family income. For two parents earning modest wages, the childcare costs are negligible. For instance, we pay 115 euros per month for our two-year old to go to creche 25 hours per week with all lunches and snacks paid for. That’s over 100 hours per month, so we pay about 1 euro per hour. My three-year-old is at school (school starts at three – it’s basically kindegarten) and we pay about 20 euros for her lunches each month. They’re eating proper three-course meals with good meat and vegetables too. All of the staff at the childcare centres and schools are highly trained and certified, too. The only downside to childcare is that in some areas it’s hard to get a spot at a creche. But, there are alternatives like nounous, and since school starts at three, you don’t have to worry about that for too long.
I concluded that France is better for raising kids financially, and for the resulting bilingualism.
BTW, I didn’t know all this stuff about France before we moved here. It was a lucky accident.