Germany constantly rates high on the scale of great places to raise children, with expats continually impressed by the emphasis on family and family values in the country. Most cities have many activities for children and families, and it is not unusual to see mothers, fathers, and children all playing games, visiting museums, and eating in restaurants to spend quality time together. In fact, parents hiring a babysitter and going out for “date night” as many do in the U.S. is nearly unheard of in Germany.
Pregnancy as an Expat
The emphasis on family starts from pregnancy. There are special rules in most industries regarding working women who are pregnant or nursing. For instance, in industries other than healthcare, hospitality and agriculture, pregnant women are not allowed to work between 20:00 and 6:00, nor are they to work Sundays or holidays. Many other safety regulations are in place as well, such as not allowing pregnant women to lift heavy objects or work in certain dangerous conditions.
Those regulations, and others, came about with the Maternity Protection Act of 1968. The act also makes allowances for nursing mothers. If a woman is nursing, by law, she is afforded breaks throughout the day for that reason. Break times vary with the length of the work day, but the time taken for nursing activities is not to be deducted from the mother’s pay, nor is it to replace any other breaks, such as a lunch break, normally given to employees.
Early Child Care and Child Allowances for Expats
There is also a child allowance given to Germans for each child they have. Expats who fit the criteria are also eligible for these allowances which continue at least until the child is eighteen. At the age of 3, childcare is free and a spot is guaranteed. Kindergarten starts at the age of 3 and runs until the age of 6. The emphasis of free play helps expat children by allowing them to learn the language at a slower pace. Expats should be aware that not only could learning the language be a challenge for their children, but the differences in culture could prove frustrating as well. It is always said that children are resilient and adaptable, and while this may be true, expat children may have a hard time adjusting to school in Germany.
A Quality Education as an Expat Child
Many expats also enjoy the quality of education their children receive in Germany. One expat in particular was excited about the world history lessons her son would receive. She stated that, in her home country, the United States, most of the world history she learned was about America, and how it fit into and influenced world history. Her son would learn a different slant on that type of history, she stated. Overall, education, and child care in general, are less expensive and of a higher quality than that found in America.
Choosing a School for Expat Children
This brings up a question many expats have when moving to Germany with their children, and that is whether to enroll their children in an international school or a local school. Many international schools are set up in Germany, such as the DoDEA school for U.S. military children. The benefit of an international school such as this is that children will more easily assimilate back into their own culture, if the family chooses to move back to their own country at some point. However, many families believe that local schools allow children to become more globally competent and to be more tolerant of cultural differences. If your children are older, there are a number of prestigious international universities that offer expat students the chance to easily assimilate, and excel at school.
Cultural Differences Expats Will Encounter
In general, Germans can be more direct than people from other cultures and can come off as rude to those who are not adapted to the culture. This is but one of the issues that expats will encounter as they raise their children in Germany. It is not unheard of for an expat with a child to be approached by a well-meaning German and chastised for the child being under – or over – dressed for the weather. However, there are integration classes available for both adults and children to help the entire family become more familiar and comfortable with a culture that can, at times, seem more harsh than needs be.
As with any move an expat could make with children, it is important to remember that children are not simply smaller adults. Parents may struggle with certain things that children adapt to quicker and vice versa. The benefits of not only schooling as an expat, but learning a different culture by living it on a day-to-day basis are wide ranging.
Language Is the Cornerstone to Raising Expat Kids in Germany
No matter the reason for an expat finding him/herself about to raise children in Germany, be it due to work, love, or life changes, learning the language is important. As soon as you find you are pregnant, most agree, your language skills will need a drastic improvement or refresher. With doctors appointments and paperwork on the horizon, a strong grasp of the language is essential. Also, if you have school-aged children, or children that will be entering kindergarten or day care, you will need to interact with teachers and childcare providers. German can be a difficult language to learn for both adults and children, but it can be done. Learning the language as a family prior to landing in Germany will help an expat family settle in much more quickly.
All in all, most expats believe Germany is a good place to raise children, and state that the country as a whole is very family-oriented. If the chance is available, take some time to evaluate the different cities in which you may choose to live, and check into available child care programs. And, of course, learn the language. Making friends and being able to communicate with childcare professionals and schools will be one of the most important things you will do while raising children in Germany. Contact us to brush up on your German before heading over. You (and those you interact with while raising your family) will be glad you did!