Today, we are fully involved in a subject that, personally, interests me very much. Not only because it touches me completely. It’s because I think there’s a lot of smoke sellers around. Today I’m telling you about my experience of reconciling the work-life balance in Germany. My experiences and those that I have had to live close to. In short, everything that I have been finding out during these almost seven years living in Germany.
Work-life balance in Germany
When we talk about conciliation in Germany, we are referring to the reconciliation of work and family in that country. Let’s go to the website of the Real Academia Española to consult the definition:
“Balanced participation between women and men in family life and in the labour market, through the restructuring and reorganisation of the labour, educational and social resource systems, with the aim of achieving equal opportunities in employment, changing traditional roles and stereotypes, and covering the care needs of dependent persons”.
Royal Spanish Academy (RAE)
Key concepts of conciliation in Germany
The reconciliation of work and family begins to stagger with the arrival of children. Let’s start here:
Mutterschutz and Elternzeit
They are two words that come out very often in MYSPANISHSOUL. The first is maternity leave in Germany. It starts “obligatorily” 6 weeks before the due date. And it ends 8 weeks after giving birth. During this time you receive your full salary.
The second, Elternzeit, is the time you can take off. Both parents can do it. It can be extended up to three years. Although paid, it is only the time you take until your Mini reaches 12 or 14 months of age. This depends on whether both parents make use of this leave or just one. Important note: here you receive approximately 65% of your net salary, with a ceiling of 1,800 euros per month.
Kindergeld is more than a known help for those of you who come here regularly, it costs around 200 € per month per child. From the third, the amount increases. In the area of Bavaria there is also the Familiengeld. Another help for parents of children aged between 12 and 36 months. A further €250 per month, which increases from the third qualifying child onwards.
Nursery schools or Kindergarten
In some Länder in Germany, crèches are subsidised. However, this support only starts after the baby has reached the first year of life. In other cases, only from the age of 3. Previously, if you want to take your child to kindergarten (and you have a place), you pay for it. (Just like if you are in one of those cities where kindergartens are not subsidised). And you’d better have been cautious and searched early (sometimes while you’re still pregnant). A childcare place can take up to a year.
Another important fact: most of the kindergartens I know close at 4 p.m. or earlier. There are those that close later, yes. But it’s not the usual thing. That’s how kindergartens in Germany work.
What does all this mean?
Well, you’ll hardly find a place for someone to take care of your Mini before it turns a year old. It will have to be you or your partner who stays at home to do it. When it comes to deciding who does it, everyone’s salary will play an important role. The one who earns the most money will surely be the one who continues to work. The one who earns the least is the one who takes care of the baby. This, logically, will only increase the wage difference between the two. Counting on nobody finding a dismissal after the Elternzeit.
Statistics do not lie. In most households, it is the mother who stays with the baby for more than a year. A month and a half before giving birth, plus the following twelve months of rigor. This is a turning point in the professional projection of most women. The fact that the parents have help so that they can take care of their baby in the first year, seems to me to be great. But why, despite the fact that the year of leave can be shared equally between both parents, few families do it?
Early incorporation after Elternzeit or Mutterschutz
Are you thinking of going back to work before? There are three key aspects that will determine whether or not you can start working before the year:
First of all, it is not most parents who are willing to take more than two months leave or Elternzeit for the birth of the baby. The reasons are varied. They may not want to…
…Or it may be that the new parent’s employer won’t admit it. (Although it’s a right and in most cases has an obligation to give it to you). There you have to assess if you want –
…Or it may be that the new parent’s employer won’t admit it. (Although it’s a right and in most cases has an obligation to give it to you). There you have to assess if you want – and you deserve the penalty – to face.
Another possibility is that you can’t afford it. If you have a good salary, you will have a good life and bills to pay. Reducing a salary to 1,800 euros net per month can be a good snack on the family economy. A drop in income that you will surely be able to maintain for one or two months. For six months or more, maybe not.
Kindergarten or Tagesmutter
If I already told you that it is difficult to find a Kindergarten or nursery that has a place for your Mini from the first year. If you want to find someone to take care of you when you’re smaller, that’s more than a complicated task. And again, if you do, you’ll have to stick to the schedule. At four, they close.
One thing that caught my attention at the time is that if you get a nursery to agree to take care of your baby, for example, 8 months old. Not only do you stop collecting Elterngeld (because you stop being on leave of absence to care for your baby). You won’t be able to get financial support for the nursery. (Which you would have if you waited until your birthday). Only if you can justify that it is your company that asks you to return to work before the year, you will have options to collect it.
Work-life balance in Germany
If you are a parent in Germany, you have the opportunity to dedicate that first year to your child. The question is, does this make it easier to reconcile work and family in Germany? Or is it a turning point in working life from which you will have a hard time recovering? Let’s go back to the definition:
“Balanced participation of women and men in family life and in the labour market, through the restructuring and reorganisation of the labour, education and social resource systems, in order to achieve equal opportunities in employment, to vary traditional roles and stereotypes, and to cover the care needs of dependent persons”.
Whether the reconciliation of work and family is focused on laying the foundations for both men and women to participate in work and family life on equal terms. In the sense that both have equal opportunities in employment and we move away from traditional roles. I don’t know how you’ll see it, but I see it sucks.
Impact on the future
As we pointed out before, if you get pregnant earning less than your partner. Because of family finances, it’s probably your turn to carry most of the burden of child care. And the most worrying thing is that this wage gap will only widen with each new child you have. (It supports the career of the one who earns more money, you have to live something). With the repercussion that this will have on the retirement pension of those who stay at home. Less desire. Less contributions. You get paid less later. Everything is logical. This creates an economic dependence and the roles, far from being varied, are becoming more and more defined.
Long-term burden on children
The burden of childcare does not extend only to the first year. It begins in the Elternzeit or maternal leave. It continues with the kindergartens and their schedules. And it continues later in the schools. Where it is not uncommon to see children 7 years old and older, at 12:30 noon on the street because classes are over.
There are after-school activity centres (for which you also have to get a place), which take care (again the same thing) of your children until 4 o’clock. The timetables in Germany are different from those in other countries. But a full-time workday that ends at 3:30 so you can pick up your Mini at 4:00 is hard to find.
I think that all the above mentioned aids, what they really encourage is having children. Not the reconciliation of work and family between men and women. In order to achieve the latter, I believe that both partners should be encouraged to take their time caring for the baby during the first year. At the same time as facilitating access to alternative care for the baby, those families that cannot (or do not want) to stay at home for a year to care for them. On the part of the companies, it would also help a greater flexibility of schedules and options of work from home.
Here it is not a question of judging whether you are better off wanting to stay in the care of your baby the longer the better. Or quite the opposite. What we’re trying to assess is whether Germany is a country that encourages reconciliation of work and family. Like the rest of Europe. If the illusion of your life is to raise your children and raise a family, everything is perfect. But you have to think that there are women whose illusion goes in other directions. And they don’t want to give up all those years of study, effort and sacrifice invested during most of their lives, in order to become mothers.
Let us not leave the responsibility of reconciling others. It is clear that there are external factors that help (or do not help) to achieve this. But we also have to look at ourselves. And towards those around us. That is to say, our partners. Sometimes, we are our worst enemies and we take certain roles for granted as our own. As always, if it’s your decision to take on a certain, fantastic role. But never take for granted something you didn’t choose. There are always alternatives.
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