Parenting in Germany

Hello everyone,

Being a parent can be challenging, and even more so when moving abroad, but it can also be an enriching experience. Tell us more below about your role as a parent in Germany.

How are you experiencing your parental role in your new home? Has your move abroad changed anything in your parental perspective or approach?

On a professional level, have you been able to balance your family life and career? How so? Tell us about the benefits that parents can enjoy in Germany, such as maternity leave, etc.?

How do you deal with being a parent as an expat, without the support of your extended family in the country?

Do you have any advice on how to introduce the culture in your new country to your children, while maintaining the traditions and customs of your home country?

Thank you for sharing your experience.


Germany is one of the most family- and child-friendly countries, or at least I think so.
Mothers get 6 weeks before and 8 weeks after birth leave at full pay. In addition, parents (both father and mother) can take up to three years parental leave, with a job assured afterwards, and 14 months of these at approx. 60% of the prior income ("Elterngeld") - courtesy of the German government. Also, they get EUR200/month "Kindergeld" (child support) until the child turns 18 years old or finishes education - again by the government and with no strings attached. If a child is sick, the parent can take medical leave up to 10 days a year. There is a universal right for subsidized (half-day) child care from two years of age until primary school starts at 6 years - and all public schooling is free of charge and offers good quality teaching (universities do charge a small administrative fee).
Plus, working arrangements generally allow a good work-life-balance, with 40hrs/week and 30days paid leave a year being the norm.
That said, fathers taking advantage of all this (instead of working, as the traditional worldview demands) might still face stupid comments and occasionally worse - for example, I lost my job when taking a year off to care for my newborn son (but this is not allowed for an employer and thus eventually gave me a severance payment, after a nasty legal struggle, and I easily found a better job soon afterwards, thanks to the booming economy).
Also, despite all the benefits above, having a child is not cheap in Germany and easily gets a family to the financial brink. This is especially true for the growing number of single parents, who have to juggle caring for the child AND making a living. Despite part-time jobs being widely available, it is almost impossible to earn enough that way for an adult and a kid to survive - thus many depend on social security handouts ("Hartz IV"), which ensure they have a roof over their head and don't starve, but not much else.

More relevant for expat parents:
International schools exist only in the bigger cities, are non-subsidized and thus cost a fortune (typically EUR1500/month). If your employer does not cover it, please consider placing your child into a German public school instead: He/she might initially struggle with the language (many schools offer special introductory classes for foreign kids in this situation!), but will cope after a surprizingly short time and will later thank you for the chance you afforded them. It also helps to have a teenager who can translate all those confusing German texts for you!

We've spent 5 years raising our Son here in Germany. The best way to introduce your child to the culture is by "throwing them into the water" i.e. having them participate in public german school. We moved to Germany during the beginning of US summer vacation. This enabled our Son to interact with German children, get used to some of the culture & habits, before entering the school system later on.

Before I go on I want to mention that if you're a legal resident in Germany (living there on a valid visa), then the legal guardian is automatically provided with KINDERGELD (child raising budget) for each child. It's only around 200 USD per month, but it definitely helps, that's for sure. Guardians receive such KINDERGELD until the child reaches age 18.

If your child is in 4th grade or below ... REQUEST FOR YOUR CHILD TO BE KEPT BEHIND ONE YEAR in the new school. I cannot stress the importance of this enough for anyone who plans on making Germany a long time or even permanent home. The German school system has three different career levels of education. After fourth grade you may enter fifth grade *HAUPTSCHULE* which most kids leave after 8th grade in order to pursue a three year career training education for basic professions (Construction, Mechanics, etc.) Alternatively, after fourth grade your child may be placed in *REALSCHULE* (standard for most parents) which will provide a better career path at the end of Realschule, higher paid 2 - 3 year apprenticeship options, etc. Finaly, the third alternative for those who are certain that their child will pursue a university education (not even remotely as important or costly as in the US), a child may get into *GYMNASIUM* which is completed after 12 years, just like the US High School System.

There are several reasons why it is critically important for a foreign child to repeat a grade before entering Realschule or Gymnasium in Germany. In Germany it's considered somewhat of a privilege to be part of the better educated who went to either REALSCHULE or GYMNASIUM. Consequently there's an expectation of participation & performance. It's not too much of an expectation, unless of course you don't speak/comprehend the language well enough. Then the perfomance expectation becomes a very real burden on the child. So by having your child repeat a year ... which can easily be taken care of with a written request to the principal ... hopefully he or she will be learning mostly things that he or she is already familiar with anyway, thereby making the job of learning during the first year much easier, while also being able to focus much better on learning the German language itself. Language skills are vitally important because if the child's performance is too low, the school may legally recommend for that child to attend HAUPTSCHULE instead, which could greatly diminishes the amount of career opportunities later on.
So repeating a year voluntarily ... is actually a good thing! :)

Last but not least ... I would never recommend sending your child to Private or International school here in Germany. Not just because of the cost, but also because it makes integration into the German culture so much more difficult & time consuming for your child. We moved with our Son at the end of his 4th year in US school. He then visited in a class at his local school for a few weeks before their summer vacation actually started ... just to get a feel for school and to meet some of the local children in a more controlled environment. He then repeated his 4th year in German school, at our request, to provide him with the best *FAIR* opportunities when that important switch from 4th to 5th grade takes place. As a parent, you have very little say in the German school system. If the belief is that your child can't handle REALSCHULE or GYMNASIUM, then he or she will be recommended to attend the Hauptschule. So do your child a favor, by allowing him or her to repeat a year while learning the language at the same time.
Our Son loved it. Children are much more versatile than us adults ...

Thanks, Freejack, for this very well written, thoughtful and, above all, REALISTIC description of the situation.
Obviously, you did everything right to enable your child to live up to its potential!

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