Mums Abroad: The 7 Differences Of Raising Children in Germany
Germany and Ireland, while geographically not far apart, have some major differences when it comes to raising children. Life as an emigrant can be tough; leaving family and friends, building a new family, making new friends - not to mention learning the local words for epidural, nappies, schoolbag and playground!
After almost eight years of motherhood in Germany, Irish mum Fionnuala has now adapted to life there. She tells us there are some things that she wouldn’t like to give up, but a few she could live without too;
1. Staying home
The German approach makes life a lot easier when your child is young. With 14 months parental leave on partial pay and a further two years unpaid parental leave available for both parents to share, it is possible to stay at home for up to three years without having to resign from your job. If you can afford it, that is. However, not taking all your leave can leave you open to criticism from male colleagues, who tend to have a very traditional view of family life.
In Germany health insurance is compulsory by law. You have to have it and the cost is based on your income, with 7 per cent of your gross pay being deducted for your monthly contribution. The more you earn, the more you pay. Once you get over the shock of paying such a huge amount for healthcare, it is actually a very good service. If your child is sick, you take them to the local paediatrician and your insurance covers it. If they are prescribed medication, you don’t have to pay for it. Children’s prescription medication is covered by your health insurance.
With temperatures from June to August generally between 30 and 40 degrees, it is a godsend to be able to retreat to the local open air pool or one of the many swimming lakes in the area after work and school.
The 8am start is tough on the whole family, but especially the children. The 12pm finish (yes, only 4 hours of school per day!) is hard on working parents. That plus the sudden school closures in summer on days when the weather goes above 36°C make it almost impossible for both parents to work without outside help.
Being a member of a sports club or a gym is a big part of people’s lives here. Children mostly have an extra-curricular sport at least once a week, starting at the age of three with athletics. By five or six they have moved on to swimming, football, tennis, or karate. There is a national programme to promote walking to school. Children here grow up with this sporty lifestyle.
Everything is closed on a Sunday, so it is a family day. You go on a day out or take it easy at home. The concept of spending Sunday doing the rounds of a shopping centre just doesn’t exist. While the shop-free Sundays force you to relax (which is a great thing) it also means that you need to be organised. A Saturday afternoon check that there are sufficient nappies, coffee, milk and bread in the house is essential.
We are lucky to live 10km from the German border with France. We can pop over for dinner or to do the groceries if we fancy it. A two hour drive south through the Black Forest brings us to Switzerland and three hours north takes us to Holland. We recently took a holiday in Italy. While it meant spending a full 12 hours in the car each way, it is wonderful to be able to pack up the car and hit the road, travelling through four countries in one day. On the return journey we took the scenic route which took us from sea level to 1600m above sea level and from 14 degrees and sun to 2 degrees and snow. The children get to see so much more than if we were to fly.
Fionnuala is a Project manager and mama to three bilingual boys living in Germany. Coffee in hand, she is usually found minding the children, planning projects, writing or cooking, all while keeping an eye out for vintage treasures and taking photos for her brilliant Three Sons Later blog blog.