Raven mothers

Garden snail reaches for a drop of dew on the grass

The other night I went out with a new German friend who had not long returned after living in the US for several years. When I asked her how she found life in Germany, she said the most difficult thing to do here was being a mother. I was intrigued and asked her to elaborate …

‘Well,’ she said, ‘in the US both my children went to daycare from the age of six months. Daycare closed at 6pm, and that’s when I picked them up. Once a week, our babysitter would pick them up and put them to bed while my husband and I went out. This was perfectly normal. In Germany, the Kita closes at 5:15pm. If I pick up my daughter at 4:45pm, she’s one of the last children there.’

So we established there was a certain undercurrent of ‘expected motherly duty’ in German society that causes mothers to be extremely hard on themselves – and judgemental about one another. In Germany, it is not uncommon for complete strangers to comment on your childrearing practices.

Another German friend living in Belgium reports that, there, it is perfectly common for your child to go to crèche from the age of three months. This seems to be the case in most European countries. According to the public study Familienleitbilder from 2015 on how parenthood and family are perceived in Germany, more than 80% of Germans reckon it is not okay for an 18-month-old child to be in care for more than 6 hours a day.

We Germans seem to be unable to shed our quintessentially patriarchal image of motherhood. We even have a word for ‘underperforming’ mothers: Rabenmütter.

On the other hand, there may also be surprisingly positive aspects about being a parent in Germany, as American mum Sara Zaske writes in TIME magazine. I recommend Tom Hodgkinson’s The Idle Parent for further reading.

Should you ever be tempted to think of yourself as a Rabenmutter, or Rabenvater, I invite you to adopt my four-year-old’s pragmatic view. In an episode of classic cartoon series Biene Maja, a snail, upon urging her young to venture out into the world on their own, was dubbed a Rabenmutter. My daughter cast a skeptical glance at the telly and declared, ‘Das ist keine Rabenmutter, das ist eine Schneckenmutter!’

Next week, learn which classic of film history most Germans don’t know.

The Pommes Buddha says: You’re not a raven mum, you’re a human mum.

> Audio version

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