I’ve been enjoying getting to know my new baby during these first three months of his life. I organized a Mommy & Me Yoga/Baby Massage class at our local yoga studio here in San Diego to give myself that regular undistracted one-on-one time with baby Lenny. During the massage portion, I enjoy warm memories of taking a baby massage class with my first born while we were still living in southern Germany.
One of the other main benefits to taking a baby class is getting to know some of the other mothers. After each class we find ourselves at the local cafe exchanging stories about our same aged babies and getting to know each other better. This aspect of motherhood is pretty critical to my own well-being as a mother. On one of these recent occasions, I was enjoying a conversation with one of these fellow mothers and was suddenly struck with a pang of guilt as she told me about a mutual friend of ours who would be going back to work soon, three-months postpartum. It was a new feeling, a new world feeling.
I realized that I had never in fact experienced this same sensation of guilt before during my first years of motherhood in Germany. I had a whole year of the same group of mother friends, probably half of whom were going back to work once their babies turned one. They were going back to their former jobs, mostly on a part-time basis negotiated relatively easily with their supervisors.
Pumping breastmilk was also not as big of an issue for working mothers in Germany as it is here. First, many German mothers choose to breastfeed for the first six months and then switch to bottle feeding. Second, by age one, there is little need to pump breastmilk for a baby if you are home with the baby for most of the first year of its life. Breast pumps in Germany are used mostly to create a small supply and bridge between feedings lest the nursing mother had to go away for the weekend or go out for an evening. There were also the “pump and dump” believers, those who would indulge in some alcohol and then pump and dump their milk.
Pulling from Wikipedia DE and consulting with a German labor lawyer, working mothers of Germany get:
- 6 weeks off prior to due date fully paid mandatory maternity leave.
- 8 weeks off fully paid maternity leave following the delivery date.
- Elterngeld from the government between week 8 of the child’s life till s/he is one-year-old. The total is calculated based on your salary with a minimum of €300 and maximum of €1,800 per month.
- Kindergeld from the government, which is €184 per month, from the child’s birth till s/he is at least 18 years old depending on circumstances such as whether or not he is studying or disabled. (You get more for each kid from child 3 onwards.)
- When you return to work full-time after one year, your pre-baby salary remains the same.
- A guaranteed position at your place of employment.
These maternity leave laws make it viable for many working mothers to be able to take a full year off to care for their babies if they choose. From my observation, this seems to have influenced a more relaxed attitude towards parenting. There’s less of the overcompensating anxiousness and controlling that is symptomatic in American parenting, manifested in the commonly seen helicopter parents. On the other hand, German women who choose to go back to work earlier may struggle to find good childcare options for their babies, particularly in smaller cities and villages. These women also have an opposite struggle of being called Rabenmutter or a bad mother. Don’t you love that there is a German term for such a thing? But so strong is the stigma.
And while Elterngeld has encouraged more fathers to take more paternity leave, there is still a pervasive social structure where the mother is expected to be home for the children to prepare them a hot lunch and help them with their homework.
Each side of the coin has its downsides, but at least in Germany, as one friend facetiously wrote to congratulate me on the birth of my third child, I could practically live on Kindergeld now!