the fruits of my labor

In my other life (the one where I work behind a desk in an enormous pink-and-white building veined with gray-office-lined hallways) this past month, I needed to write a few articles about parenting in Germany, and, accordingly, I did a lot of reading on the subject. Expat parents. Custody law. Statistics. Averages. Birth stories. Studies. Interviews. At the end of it all I had four articles and one conclusion: if you’re going to spawn, Germany is an incredibly pleasant place to do so.

While some countries still allow employers to not only dismiss pregnant women, but to dismiss them on grounds of being pregnant (coughtheUSAcoughcough), Germany has a lovely law called the Mutterschutzgesetz (Maternity Protection Act). Women cannot be fired while they are pregnant. They do not have to work during the six weeks leading up to their due date (unless they want to), and they are not allowed to return to work until at least eight weeks post-hatch (though women can take up to three years leave)—and all of this is paid. And employers must provide appropriate breaks and break rooms and flexibility and and and. Basically, it helps lessen discrimination against mothers and mothers-to-be at work. (Father’s could still use a bit more support in this department however.)

The German government will also pay you a stipend for every kid you have. Monthly. Until the kid turns 21 (or 25, depending on student status). That’s a lot of fucking money. For kid numbers one and two you’ll receive 184 euro per month per child, and for every subsequent child you’ll receive an additional 215 euro/month. And new parents can take up to three years maternity or paternity leave and expect to find their jobs waiting for them when they return. And you can expect to be paid a percentage of your salary during the first year.

So why does the German government deem it prudent to throw enormous sacks of money into the wallets of parents? Historically the Kindergeld program (aka those payments I mentioned) was created by a bunch of racist fools interested in helping more “Aryan” families breed. But the program exists today because the population is shrinking, and that means the taxpayer base is shrinking, and that means that soon there will be more retired folks than there are young people paying into the health insurance and pension plans that support them.

Herein lies one of the (environmentally) fatal flaws of this sort of government: overpopulation is making our species even more unsustainable than its cultural habits already were, the planet (and we) are the worse for it, and yet, because governments require citizens (and therefore children) to function, they are offering bribes to anyone willing to breed in hopes of continuing with business as usual. And yet it seems that Germany has accidentally stumbled upon a great way to deal with overpopulation/reduce population numbers—by offering a situation in which both people who choose to have children and people who choose not to have them have a thorough support network.

The question of dealing with overpopulation is an incredibly touchy one, and I for one would fight to the death with rabid wolves before I’d let the government tell me or anyone else how many children we were allowed to have. And of course Hitler-esque “solutions” are despicable, not to mention unthinkable. (And yet when you get to discussing how population numbers could be reduced, somebody in the room always makes a snarky comment about the Third Reich.) Yet a first step in reducing overpopulation has nothing to do with eliminating people who were already born, but giving people the tools they need should they choose not to give birth to any more people (or choose to only have one child instead of five, etc).

Sure, in Germany you’ll find more than adequate support for parents (more than in the United States in any case), and that’s great. But there is also plenty of support for people who don’t want to have children—access to birth control, abortion, and education—and I’d bet that has something to do with the fact that no bribe has been able to stop the birth rate here from decreasing. Give people the tools and the support they need to make a decision either way and coercion is out of the equation.

If German parenting culture interests you, here are the fruits of my very metaphorical labor this month at work. Sure, my usual writing style has been neutralized into government-compliance, but facts abound.

Parenting in Germany: An introduction

Expat parents

Mothers in Fatherland

Re-defining fatherhood

NOTE: A friend recently told me about a study that I really wanted to mention here, but couldn’t find to cite. Story was, birth rates decreased in direction relation to an increase in education levels among women. As way of offering a bit of “proof” for this hypothesis.

0 Comments on “the fruits of my labor

  1. I’ve heard that fact as well. I am fortunate in that I decided long before I got married that children were not in my cards, much as I love them. I have a heart issue, and on top of that, spent most of my adult life (so far) as a single person. I married for the first time at 41, which I think is a bit late to be starting a family. Some people don’t think so, and they do it anyway, but I think that’s kind of selfish.

    I think that whether we control the population of the planet or not, eventually it’s going to be controlled, and if the planet does it herself, it’s going to be pretty ugly. I am not counting on Social Security for my retirement. I don’t think that putting the burden of payment on younger generations will work infinitum and am expecting it to be completely broken by the time o I should be retiring. Plus- I don’t have a job now, so there’s big chunk of my future not getting paid for (theoretically, because I’m not paying in now, so my future bennies will be reduced). So, I’m doing what I can to prepare other ways: spending less now so we can pay the house off early; building a food growing system into the backyard; re-roofing the house in metal so we can have a rain catchment system, etc. I’m doing what I can so that I don’t have to rely on my government, at any level. And Social Security, if there is a check, will be beer money.

    France is also supposed to be a great place to spawn.

  2. Sorry, you’ve stumbled onto my main pet peeve about Germany. My experience is that Germany is a horrible place to be a working mother, especially if you have any sort of education. I’ll mention just a couple of points.

    First, discrimination. That Mutterschutzgesetz and 3 years guaranteed leave are expensive for employers, and to minimize those costs they discriminate against women before they get pregnant. Not so much if you’re easily expendable, like a secretary or a store clerk, but employers think twice before giving a woman a position with responsibility where she might disappear for 3 years or more, and be guaranteed a comparable position when she comes back. It’s no accident that Germany has a very low (if not the lowest) percentage of women in management among all OECD countries.

    And if you do come back to work, who’s going to care for your child? The state has Kindergarten slots for less than half of eligible children, so you either need to apply early and be lucky, or be able to pay for private care.

    And once your child is school-aged, it gets worse. Schools in Germany are traditionally half-day, so someone’s got to be home at 1:00 pm to make the child lunch and help with her homework, a schedule that doesn’t really fit with a professional career.

    So how did I and my wife, a hard-working professional, manage to raise a child while she pursued her career for the past 11 years. First, she worked for a US company that saw working mothers as an opportunity rather than burden. Second, her income was enough to be able to afford private care once our son was 1 year old. Third, she had a husband that was willing and able to reduce and arrange his work schedule to keep her back free, and still does to this day.

  3. Ooops, didn’t mean to sign in with first, middle, and last name. Blame auto-fill in the browser! You can call me Scott. 🙂

  4. Definitely interesting stuff…glad you posted this!
    Today on NPR they were discussing the tax breaks afforded to people with kids, and it definitely got me thinking of the pros and cons of these sorts of situations.

  5. Good points Scott. I’ve heard that from a number of others as well. Do you think it is even possible to end you-might-someday-get-pregnant-so-fuck-it discrimmination against women in the workplace? I have to wonder, because as long as businesses see it as a bad thing to support someone’s need of a long-ish leave from work, it’s going to keep happening. And yet, within the framework of this economy, how could you convince a business to see it any other way? The two thoughts–business for profit and social support for parents–don’t really jive. The maternity protection laws are, I’d reckon, a step in a positive direction, but as you point out they’re far from perfect. Not to mention the fact that if you’re a freelancer, you get none of the leave benefits, you’re just plain fucked. But freelancing pretty much puts you in a corner on a lot of issues.

    I’ve ranted about the school hours issue as well. That is def something that needs to change if Germany is going to get behind what it’s constantly preaching about supporting mothers and them being able to go back to work and blah blah blah. Did your wife have to deal with any of that Rabenmutter (translation for anyone reading this who doesn’t live in Germany: this means raven mother and is thrown around as an insult for mothers who return to work soon after having a child) trash talking shit? Seems pretty wolfish to me, for mothers to go around talking shit about women who choose to go back to work, yet I hear people mention having been called that a lot as well.

  6. @Jane: Yeah it is, isn’t it? I’m always glad to hear about people helping each other out, so supporting people who want to be parents seems like a pretty decent thing to do. And yet I’m not a big fan of the fact that single folks or married folks who decide not to have children don’t get to share in any of these benefits. If I had my choice I’d rather have a very very different sort of “government” and none of these benefits at all. But, alas, I probably won’t live to see that happen.

    @Paula: Yeah, I mention that a lot too when the topic of overpopulation comes up: the more we focus on getting the population down in humane ways now, the less heinous things will be when the weather gets even funkier and starts taking more of us out. Love your attitude about social security, too. Hells yeah sister.

  7. I find this intriguing. I live in the US and got fired because of “medical issues” preventing me from working (essentially because of the pregnancy). I went to the proper officials to say WTF and they told me that although it was definately discriminatory they could not do anything as the place I was working was tribally owned, not american owned.

    Mostly I find it odd about the Raven Mother comments you mentioned. I’ve been getting a great deal of slack for wanting to be a stay at home mom and homeschooler vs going back to work and trusting the government to teach my DD. I keep hearing how a family cannot survive on one income when I have to ask how they can on two considering housing, cars, and childcare costs that become assosciated with two incomes.

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