I am raising my baby abroad – there are tradeoffs, but there is also health care


Before I even knew I wanted to have kids, I knew I couldn’t afford to raise them in the United States, at least not as babies. So when the time came and I got pregnant three years after what was supposed to be a temporary stay in Germany, I felt like I had no choice but to have my child here. .

I was 4,000 miles and one ocean away from any family, but at least I had maternity leave. At least my prenatal checkups, labor and delivery, visits and vaccinations from my child’s healthy pediatrician, and all other medical expenses would be fully covered.

If parenthood is a series of compromises, the compromises I made having my daughter in Germany seemed like impossible choices to me. Did I want my mom to be with me in the delivery room or did I want to be paid for maternity leave that included six weeks before and eight weeks after giving birth?

The answer the German state gave me was that a midwife would make daily home visits for the first few weeks of the baby’s life, essentially replacing anything a grandmother could do to help in those early days. Besides, my mother was still years away from retirement; she only had 10 days of vacation each year to take care of me and the baby.

The tough decisions persisted. Did I want to be paid to stay home for the first year of my child’s life (at only two-thirds of my salary, but still paid) in Germany or did I want to return to the States -United and give the majority of my salary to a daycare?

It wasn’t like I had a job in Germany that I could have come back to after those first 12 months. Theoretically, I should have benefited from family leave of up to three years after the birth. In fact, I had been asked, in a non-negotiable manner, to relinquish my post as a university professor after revealing my pregnancy. (Although it is technically illegal to fire someone to have children, it is not forbidden to simply not renew their employment contract.) Again, I made a compromise by agreeing to spend his time. first year in Germany before returning to the United States and its unsubsidized child care centers.

That plan fell apart when my marriage did, even before my child’s first birthday. My return to the United States had not only been based on my search for a daycare space and a well-paying job, but also on the economic privilege of being in a two-earner marriage. Having no way to pay both rent and child care in the United States, I stayed in Germany.

Now, after more than a decade of parenting here, it’s clear to me that while some progress has come in the form of seemingly family-friendly policies, this is not a country for women, young or old. old.

Raising a child in a culture that is not mine could be adventurous, I thought to myself. She would be bilingual, bicultural, comfortable between two worlds. And I had believed everything I read about Germany in the American media; with a chancellor in charge, I certainly expected him to have a feminist policy.

Now, after more than a decade of parenting here, it’s clear to me that while some progress has come in the form of seemingly family-friendly policies, this is not a country for women, young or old. old. Although many state policies towards children seem enviable to parents in the United States, they are often based on structures scaffolded by heteronormative nuclear families with traditional gender roles.

Take family leave, for example, which is also available to mothers and fathers of children under 6 (although only the first 14 months are paid). In 2019, the number of fathers taking leave doubled to 1.6% of working men with children under 6. While there is some discussion as to why so few fathers take time off, most modern couples I know make the choice to have the lowest paid stay at home that first year because the allowance paid by the government capped at 1,800 euros per month.

Of course, like in most other Western countries, this low-income person is almost always the woman: 90% of women in Germany earn a net income of less than 2,000 euros per month (not enough to live in a big city). Having a child here will not even reduce a man’s income, but it will lower your income if you are a woman – 10 years later, a mother’s average income will not have recovered to what it is. were before the child.

Until 1977, women in western Germany still needed their husbands’ permission to work outside the home; even after the law changed, the cultural expectation did not change.

It can be easy for an American like me to forget about these monetary disadvantages when there are other social supports that make life easier. In Germany we have sliding scale childcare services and guarantee a place for children aged 3 to 6. In Cologne, where I live, the monthly fee for a full-time public childcare place is around 500 euros for high income earners. (In Berlin and the old east, it is even more subsidized, making childcare almost free for everyone.)

As a new single mom on a very fixed income, this access to reliable child care seemed like a lifeline, even though I couldn’t find a full-time job to work those hours. Because, although I couldn’t financially afford to work anything other than a full-time job, I found it impossible to find an employer interested in meeting my need to leave before 3:30 p.m. each day to reach the final of 4.30 p.m. pick-up time. I was told in interviews (by fellow mothers who would be my supervisors) that some positions were not open to people with young children because they required shift work or were too stressful or required spontaneous work trips.

I may have been naive in many ways about what it meant to raise my child in Germany, but as a daughter and granddaughter of clearly non-hausfrau women, I never even thought that being a parent would put me at such a disadvantage in the job market. Not with fluency and fluency in the language.

Yet in Germany only a third of women children at home work full time. (In the United States, two-thirds do). I don’t know of middle-class mothers who have returned to full-time work after having children. Even teachers, whose classroom schedules match those of their children, or doctors and lawyers with their own practices, keep work weeks shorter. These remarkably successful women all relied on their mothers, who had often been stay-at-home moms themselves, to care for the children.

As good as some of the policies we have in place – and I think every parent should have subsidized child care and universal health insurance – they cannot make up for the losses that arise for women when men don’t pull their own weight.

Until 1977, women in western Germany still needed their husbands’ permission to work outside the home; even after the law changed, the cultural expectation did not change.

The rest of us use patchwork babysitting services and swap play dates with each other, alternating which house the kids will play in when school closes. The majority of fathers do not contribute as many mothers of my generation hoped. Even standard visitation agreements reflect this dynamic of men being the breadwinners – fathers have alternate weekends that start on Friday afternoon and end on Sunday evening. Moms are fully responsible for most of the rest of childcare and weekday work.

As good as some of the policies we have in place – and I think every parent should have subsidized child care and universal health insurance – they cannot make up for the losses that arise for women when men don’t pull their own weight.

Although we have had a woman as chancellor during my entire stay in Germany, gender equality always seems to be a pipe dream. The ministers of Merkel’s family (who have all been women) may have made contemporary child rearing a little easier for parents today, but it’s still not enough. I have learned while living here that government policy cannot solve all problems if this society is not willing to reflect on its own misogyny.

To make parenthood a more viable option in the United States and Germany, there must be a radical change in society, in which children and their parents are valued and invested – financially and emotionally.

While the pandemic is not quite behind us in Germany yet and elections for chancellery – and Angela Merkel’s successor – are coming soon, the role of the family has become a very controversial political issue. School and daycare closures have decimated the already volatile careers and incomes of most mothers in Germany over the past year and I have seen no plans to recoup those losses.

To make parenthood a more viable option in the United States and Germany, there must be a radical change in society, in which children and their parents are valued and invested, both financially and emotionally. So far, German politicians have shown no sign of interest in doing so.

As a father told me quite harshly before the pandemic even struck, our children are the first generation in Germany to be seen as individuals with their own needs and not just raised like cannon fodder; it is therefore up to us, as parents, to make a difference for them, both politically and culturally.


About Norma Wade

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