Originally from the UK, Anna and Rob met in France when Anna was visiting friends from her days as a chalet girl and Rob was working as a ski instructor. It wasn’t until the following year that they became a couple, by which time they were both setting up businesses in the ski resort of Courchevel. Rob has a snowboarding school, RTM, and Anna runs Pamper off Piste, a mobile massage and beauty se rvice.
Over the next few years Rob and Anna established a routine of spending each winter in France for the ski season and the summers in the Lake District where Anna has family, and Rob teaches water sports. This split-location lifestyle sounds pretty idyllic, but what happens when you add children into the mix?
Having got married in 2005, and with both businesses well established, Anna and Rob decided that it was time to start a family. “Luckily, Tom was a pretty easy baby,” says Anna, “otherwise I think I would have found it difficult.”
Anna had worked hard to make sure that Pamper off Piste could survive without her day-to-day input, but she was still keen to try and minimise the impact that having a baby would have on her work. “At first we were aiming for a summer baby, so that he would be born out of season, but then it took so long to happen that we gave up trying to plan it! As it turned out, Tom was born in April, which was perfect timing.”
Anna missed the last month of the ski season to come back to the UK for Tom’s birth. “I have lots of friends who have had their children in French hospitals, and say they are brilliant, but my French isn’t very strong, and I wanted to know that I’d understand what was happening. In the end, Tom was born by emergency caesarean, and I was very glad that I was in the UK.”
Anna managed to slot Tom into her working life with relative ease. “Tom was a Gina baby. He slept through the night from eight weeks, and he napped in the daytime – so I knew I’d be able to work when he was sleeping.”
However, back in France for the winter, she did find having a baby challenging in other ways. “There isn’t much emotional support for mothers here. There aren’t health visitors to advise you like there are in the UK, and, perhaps it’s because it’s a resort, but in Courchevel there are no baby groups, or activities like Tumble Tots.”
Partly because of the language barrier, most of the friends that Anna and Rob have in Courchevel are part of the expat British community. Fortunately, there are two other British families, with children of a similar age, living on their street. “We’ve become really close,” says Anna, “with no family around you need your friends more than you do at home.”
Eighteen months after Tom, Anna and Rob had their second child, Ella. Although Ella’s routine has not been quite as accommodating as Tom’s, Anna has still found time to keep an eye on her business. “I never switch off, even when I’m not supposed to be working – breastfeeding is great for catching up with your emails!”
And as a working mother, Anna appreciates the French childcare system. “The crèche days are longer here than at the nursery Tom goes to at home, and the school days will be longer too. And, even at school, the children are put down for a sleep after lunch.”
However, she still feels that, on balance, having two small children in France is more challenging than it would be back home. “It’s the little things, like the fact that you can’t do your food shopping on the internet, and when you get to the supermarket, the trolleys only have one baby seat and there are no changing facilities – I don’t think France is as child-friendly as the UK.”
One advantage of raising children in another country is the exposure to another language, and, not having confidence in her own language skills, Anna is keen to make sure her children learn French early. “I love the fact that they’ll be bilingual. I put Tom in a crèche earlier than I would have in the UK, so that he would pick up the language. At twenty months he was already laughing at my French! The people who work in the crèche are lovely, and they’ve given me French songs to learn and sing to him.”
Rob and Anna are planning that when the children reach school age they’ll go to a French school for the Autumn and Spring terms and be at school in England for the Summer term. “That way, when they get to secondary school, they’ll be able to choose the system that suits them best – I just hope they both choose the same one!”
Anna feels that the time they spend in France will get easier when the children older. “It’s great to be able to get outside in the winter. There are more activities here for older children, and we’ll be able to go skiing every week.”
Although their way of life does present some challenges as parents, Anna and Rob are planning to continue making it work. “If I had to choose one life, I would probably choose England. But as long as we feel that the kids are coping, we’ll carry on doing what we’re doing.”