Mummy, what’s a Rabenmutter? German mothers face pressure not to work full time

by Claire Hamilton

I blogged recently about the bus ads in London which heaped the guilt on working mothers. Well, now German mamas have got a guilt trip all their own.

An article in the New York Times tells how working mums there are getting persecuted for going back to work full time. In Germany, primary school kids traditionally come home at lunch time and so do their mothers. More and more now those mothers are staying at work longer and the schools are extending their hours.  

Some mums who’ve made that choice have taken some flak. Manuela Maier was branded a bad mother. And in Germany they have a special word for that – a Rabenmutter, or raven mother, after the black bird that pushes chicks out of the nest. Manuela was ostracized by other mothers, berated by neighbors and family, and screamed at in a local store after signing up her 9-year-old for lunch and afternoon classes — and then returning to work. “I was told: ‘Why do you have children if you can’t take care of them?’” she said.

The half-day school system’s been around for hundreds of years in Germany, but now, in the face of economic necessity, it is crumbling. Since 2003, nearly a fifth of Germany’s 40,000 schools have phased in afternoon programs, and more plan to follow suit.

“This is a taboo we just can’t afford anymore; the country needs women to be able to both work and have children,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the German labor minister. The spread of all-day schooling in Germany, a trend she considers “irreversible,” is a sign of the times, Ms. von der Leyen said in an interview. “The 21st century belongs to women.”

Working women seek not just a paycheck, but also fulfillment of ambitions, both personal and professional. “I love my son, and I love my work,” said Manuela Schwesig, 35, the new deputy leader of the opposition Social Democrats, who is the mother of a 3-year-old. “I am a more fulfilled mother for working and a more motivated politician for having a child.” It’s interesting that Germany has Angela Merkel as it’s leader – the most powerful woman in world politics. She’s presided over tax credits for child care, more nursery places and ‘parent money’ AND encourages parents to share 14 months of parental leave. Before this, only 3 per cent of new Dads took paternity leave – not that’s risen to 60 per cent.

I know many mothers across the world for whom the idea of a half day at work and half day at home lifestyle could be the perfect balance – but if you’re the highest earner in your house, can this really be sustainable?

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