Both Jane and I have mentioned the concept of the Rabenmutter, which is defined in the Wikidictionary as “A raven mother, a loveless, heartless, cruel, unnatural, or uncaring mother; a bad mother who does not take good care of her children.” Now no one has dared ever call me that directly, but I have most certainly gotten that vibe off of various mothers in various schools that my children attend, and even from people who themselves aren’t parents! For the most part, I shrug it off. Everyone makes their choices and every person should be able to raise their family the way that works for them. But sometimes, it gets to me.
The last time I got this impression was from a woman in her late fifties that is a sort of acquaintance of mine. A good friend sometimes meets up with other women for a Stammtisch at the Greek restaurant she owns and she often invites me along to spice up the evening (these ladies are not always especially stimulating). This person does work and I am not sure whether she worked when her child(ren) were small, but as soon as I told her about my new job — which I love, by the way, and which is full time — she said, “Was machst Du mit den Kindern?” (What do you do with the kids all day?) That ruffled my feminist feathers. It sounds like I am sending them out into the street while I am being selfish and going off to work.
But I still find myself justifying my choices to other people, which annoys me beyond belief when I think about it afterward. Now mind you, my children are 16, almost 14, 6 and 5. They are not tiny babies. I took a year off with each of the last two thanks to Elterngeld and then only returned to work full time when we moved to Ireland. But many an American mother is forced to return to work well before anything I would consider a “good time” to leave a baby. The choices we make (and sometimes they aren’t choices, but something that has to be done to keep the family afloat) are nobody’s business but our own. I cannot imagine having to put a 6-week-old baby into daycare or to even leave one that small, but my sister had to do that to return to teaching yoga because she was self-employed in the US and there was no other option. She suffered greatly, but at least she had my mom taking the baby for the few hours that she taught.
So back to the Rabenmutter. The system here in Germany does offer more social nets and benefits than anything that is offered in the US, but the school system still seems to operate based on the that someone is home at 12.30 to feed the children (see Jane’s recent blog on the warm meal). And on top of that, even first and second graders have lots and lots of homework. We aren’t talking coloring here. We are talking multiplication and writing and memorizing long poems. Moms (and a few dads) are expected to sit next to their kids and monitor their homework. We check the school bag for notes, fill out forms, and heaven forbid, also make sure that nothing unhealthy dare be put into the Pausenbrotdose. Didn’t you know that peanut butter and jelly is the junkiest of junk foods, even if it is on healthy seeded German bread and made with peanut butter from the Reformhaus and Oma’s homemade jam?
My kids go to Kita (all day) and Hort after school. I am so grateful for that place. When my 6-year-old comes home, her homework is done, for the most part. Have you ever tried to do math problems or memorize poems with someone who has been gone all day and worked and played hard? It is a killer. And we are both not up to it at that time of day. Both she and her brother love their respective childcare places. The two share a building and the kids are outside twice a day, rain or shine. Olivia has a quiet place to do homework and someone to supervise it. She has a small group of less than ten kids in a much larger group that makes up her home for the day. Her Erzieherin (a sort of after-school teacher) remains the same throughout the four years she will be in Hort. She knows what to expect, she gets her warm lunch at the Mensa, and she loves the Ferien (school holidays) when she gets to go on outings almost every day. When I try to pick her up at 4pm instead of 4.45, she asks me to go home and come back.
So if I am a Rabenmutter, so be it. I love my job. I have a husband who is an equal partner in all family issues. He does the laundry – all of it. He takes the kids and I pick them up. If one of them is sick, it is a toss up as to who stays home. It isn’t a given that the mom will do it. I am a better mother because I work. I know many moms who are great at home and love being there. I need both kinds of stimulation in my life — family time and intellectual challenges. And my husband respects that. My job is flexible and I can come and go as I wish. I can work at home if I feel like it or need quiet. Not everyone has that luxury, I know. But let’s stop judging each other, shall we? Especially here in Germany. Maybe someday the school system will catch up with the way families work nowadays.