Vanessa Bellanger with Imogen, Iris and Pia
Vanessa is a picture perfect french woman: successful, smart and elegant. On top she recently had twin-girls following her 13 months old daughter. Yes, 3 kids in just a bit more than a year! With a hands-on husband, a nanny, and a lot of positive energy she’s handling the situation as relaxed as possible and – of course – she’ll be going back to work when her baby girls will be 6 months old. How? She told us how she does it in the interview.
Dieses Interview ist vorerst nur auf Englisch verfügbar
So my first question – of course – is: your children are not much apart, that alone is quite a big thing, and then the second round with twins! A big WOW from my side. What were you thinking, when you found out, you would have twins?
Our eldest little girl was actually 13 months when her twin sisters were born so it was a bit of a challenge to say the least.
My second pregnancy was a beautiful surprise and learning it was twins was a tsunami! It took me a couple of days to fully enjoy the news but my husband was a rock for both of us, he was over the moon. We always wanted a few children with little age difference so at the end of the day, we thought having little “triplets” was the best thing that could happen to us. We had a few silly thoughts, such as having to change car or house, but once we got over that, we started really looking forward to the years ahead of us. Our little girls will grow up being so close to each other, hopefully in every sense of the way.
And what’s your daily life like now, with three small girls at home, how do you manage, do you have anyone to help you? What are the nights like? I must say you look quite relaxed!
I am still on maternity leave and the key is to have a lot of help if you can. We have a great live-in full-time nanny who helps us in every possible way. She is the key to our “system” as I like to call it. My eldest daughter also goes to nursery every week to socialise.
Having already had one, we are much more laid back about things and don’t feel guilty about leaving our children to get on with other things. Time also goes by so fast I know I will regret not having taken care of them as much as possible, whatever the time of the night…
Your husband and you, you are both hard working people, and I know in France it’s the usual thing to go back to work pretty quickly after giving birth. Even in a case like yours? Did you and your partner take time off? How long?
The last three months have been extremely hectic as we’ve also had other projects going on, finding another house, etc… And funnily enough -or not- my husband has never had so much work. He literally took one day off the day I gave birth. He is taking a few weeks off next month so we can finally spend some quality time all together. As far as I’m concerned, I get double time off because they’re twins so I get to spend the first six months of their lives with them. Even if I do somehow miss work, I believe it’s once in a lifetime and it’s a blessing to be able to spend time with our little munchkins, as time just flies.
Six months and that’s double, we take one year in Germany, did you know? You work in fashion communications, a beautiful, but though business, will you be able to do your job the way you did before? Or is this a question only I as a German have, and you French are like: of course?!
Of course why?!
I believe my sense of priority is slightly different but I need the right balance in my life, a good mix of family moments, social time, work and special time with my husband of course. A very good friend got me the book “French children don’t throw food” which illustrates how French mothers culturally don’t articulate their lives around their newborns. Don’t get me wrong our children come first but I don’t feel guilty leaving our 5 days old babies to a sitter while we go out for dinner. I need to sometimes forget I am a mother and it makes me even happier to get back to them when I do. I believe in quality time more than quantity and I make sure I am 300% with them when I am. It is also the image I want to give to my children, especially since they’re all girls, I want them to learn to be independent, strong and confident individuals and seeing their mummy happy to leave to go to work or elsewhere is part of that.
I generally have this picture that combining a job and a family is super easy in France. Would you agree, or is it tougher than it seems?
Touch wood, they’ve rarely been ill. The French state system is good if you have a 9 to 5 job. Since this is not our case, we’re happy to be able to afford the more comfortable solution. We have a flexible, reliable, discreet yet always positive nanny to take care of our children. That way, our minds are free to dedicate ourselves to work and our career. It is a virtuous circle and a choice of life. Now I guess many women get stuck professionnaly because they have children but it depends on a lot of other things too. I am lucky enough to work in an industry that employs a large number of women and for a big French luxury group with a great HR vision. I really don’t claim myself as a feminist but I think that mothers are more efficient professionals as they are more organised, procrastinate less and are perhaps more able to set priorities.
You know many other cultures, since you are half Irish and have lived in Italy and Switzerland. Which main differences concerning parenthood do you see?
Italians have a very intense relationship with their children to say the least, the Swiss are quite similar to the French “super mums”, the Anglo-Saxons do spend a lot of time with their babies and often take a year or more off work when they become parents. I hear Germans have less babies because their support system is not the best right?! I guess we should all take a little bit from each culture. French education has its good and bad sides, it includes a lot of academics and competition for instance, which I loathe. The Anglo-Saxon culture encourages to think out of the box and helps to develop creativity. My husband and I agree on encouraging our children to do their best but not to be the best and to always enjoy what they’re doing.
How do you find time for yourself, or isn’t there any right now…?
I haven’t really got time for myself which is fine, but I do get on with things for the family. I juggle between the daily baby life’s logistics, activities with my eldest, staying in contact with my friends, organising our future house and my return
to work, while keeping some time for my husband! (that is- without mentioning the children:)
How involved is your husband in your family life, can he take time off on a regular base?
No time off, no. I don’t know how long we will last like that but that’s how it is for now. With three babies, he is and has to be involved as much as he can. As I said, I believe more in quality than quantity so we make sure to share a lot of things while we’re together and we organise ourselves according to that. My children sleep more during the day so they can sleep later at night and they can see their papa for instance. Our eldest Imogen and him are very close and I make sure to always mention him in everything we do during the day, I also ask the nanny to do the same with me when I work.
Both of you were quite adventurous before you had kids, you were travelling the world. How much of this do you think is still possible now, any new adventures planned with the three bundles?
Thank goodness we did a lot of that before becoming parents and we don’t have any underlying frustrations. We will slowly organise different holiday trips, starting with close “drivable” destinations. We are spoilt with many beautiful places close by.
Our dream would be to take them to Japan, which we love, and do a safari in Africa but that will have to wait a few years. And we have a wedding in New Zealand in 2 years time so we’ll see!
I love the style of your apartment and that you are very bold with wall colours and colours in general. Where do you find inspiration to decorate your flat, and how do you keep it neat?
My husband and I both love interior design and the art of craftsmanship and we are actually now just starting to refurbish another bigger apartment in Paris. We read a lot of press, go to exhibitions and go hunting online. For furniture, I would rather wait until I fall in love with something than just buy pieces to fill in a house so I can wait for months until I find the dream pieces. We also like to buy things while traveling so that our house reflects our adventures.
In terms of tidiness, I am a control freak. The children can play in the mess all day but our place has to look like an “adult ” home at night. We also teach our children not to touch unsafe or delicate things and it seems to work. We don’t want our house to turn into some sort of babyzilla place so they have their own space and have to respect ours. I could go on forever with my crazy house rules but I’d rather keep the mystery.
Finally: What’s – for you – the most annoying part of motherhood?
Thats tough, its a combination of little things, such as the lack of impro – you can’t go for a drink after work if you haven’t booked your nanny-, the lack of personal space as I always seem to have someone glued to me at home, the constant chaos that children subtly leave behind them.. More seriously it’s probably our concern for their safety and health, which has risen the day they were born and shall never leave us. It’s part of the game!
And what’s the best part?
Create little individuals with the person you love the most, watch them everyday discover the world and help them to become good people, what can beat that?
Imogen, Iris and Pia, if you read this one day: you make our lives worth living; and Pilou MERCI for just being you.
Thank you, Vanessa! And all the best for the future!
Vanessa Belanger with Imogen (16 months), Pia and Iris (2 months), May 2015
Interview: Isabel Robles Salgado
Photography: Christina Schumacher