Thursday, 28 April 2016

Saying goodbye to being a mother in France, with a tear in my eye

Having recently swapped palm trees for potatoes, here's my story of why I'm refusing to fit the mold of the German "super mum". And why, incidentally, searching for German humor is like searching for Atlantis.

I never did try to hide my ambiguous relationship with the French Riviera. But when I made my pink cupcake announcement, there was one tiiiny other thing I forgot to mention. In fact, we we were soon to leave behind those indestructible palm trees and spotless beaches covered in artificial sand and red English people. The palm trees have been replaced by smoky chimneys of the heavy metal and chemical industry, and rather than consuming fluffy baguette and rosé wine on the beach, our daily fare now tends to include more beer and potatoes.

Germany! My fatherland, my home country, my native land... Boy, it's weird, and wonderful, to be back. Weird, when visitors from abroad demand to eat German food all the time, and I just want to scream
"pleeeease, if I have to eat ONE more pork joint or sausage I might actually DIE!" 
:-) Wonderful, because we've settled in a region full of lovely, welcoming people. And wonderful, because to an extent, I still am German, even though after 13 years abroad I have become a hybrid. People regularly ask which country I'm from, actually. No wonder, considering I've got a Welsh fist name and my surname sounds like it could be Anglo-Saxon. I doubt British people ever thought my surname was English though. Instead, they thought it was hilarious, because to pass wind = to fart.

Anyway, it would seem that now, Mrs Gwendolyn-Farting-Machine is a foreigner no matter where she goes. Weird. I mean, I have an accent in German, but it's a regional accent. Actually I'm almost grateful a lot of people choose to believe I'm foreign instead. I say I'm grateful, because I'm from a rural region of Bavaria, and if you're going to admit you're Bavarian outside of Bavaria, you might as well say you're an asshole. If anyone asks, I say I'm from the Austrian border. I hadn't realised just how unpopular people from Bavaria were in the rest of Germany because I had never lived in another region of Germany. Hell, even within Bavaria, most people hate us. When I took the long, 8-hour train journey to my home town, there was this guy telling everyone who cared to listen how his region, Franconia, came to be annexed by Bavaria, and what a tragedy that was, and how the nasty Bavarians had seized all their artifacts and never returned them.

Apart from the hostility towards my regional background, there are a couple of things that I've not liked so much so far: German humor (or lack thereof?!), and being a mother in Germany. 

So, first of all no-one seems to get my jokes. Instead, I seem to offend people! I'm starting to understand what people mean when they say Germans have no sense of humor. Of course I'm telling myself I've just forgotten how German humor works and I've just got to find it again. But I've got this nagging suspicion that I might as well be searching for Atlantis.

The second challenge has been the hardest. Being a mother in Germany basically seems to involve either putting your career on the back burner, or giving it up entirely, giving up your hobbies and any other trace of adult life, to make room for one role: motherhood. And because I'm very very pregnant right now (baby, pleeeease come out, I'm going to explode!!!), and I haven't been able to go back to lecturing yet as a result, I'm suddenly the main carer, homemaker and all that kind of stuff, while my husband's stuck with the role of the breadwinner. So the lovely arrangement my husband and I used to have, which meant that we both worked part-time and were able to be equal parents, is over.

Whereas in France, it was perfectly normal for me to go back to work after three months' maternity leave, here, it's rare to even find childcare for a baby under the age of one.
It's funny, because I got hired as a full-time teacher at the University of Nice when Momo was 3 months old and no-one, and I mean: no-one, bat an eye. My husband and I chose a lovely childminder, and I went back to work. End of story. Good luck pulling that off in Germany. Here, we're not even entitled to state support for a childminder or crèche unless my husband and I can justify why we need childcare for a baby under the age of 1. That is an entirely alien concept to me. In France, women just go back to work after 3 months. Or they take a few months to relax at home while their child's with a childminder or at a crèche during the day. And they don't feel bad about it at all. As I told you last time, I didn't always find it easy to be a working mum, especially when Momo was just a tiny baby, but I still think it's wrong for the state, or society, to pressure women to stay home.

Here, I keep hearing things like "children under the age of 1 should be with their mother 24/7". Dare do anything that deviates from that norm, and you're branded as a bad mother.

Anyway, because of this huge cultural (and bureaucratic) difference, I've still not been able to sort out childcare. I've found a lovely childminder whom I trust, but the council refuses to give sufficient financial support because "a baby under the age of one should be with its parents". Our baby's due in a few weeks' time, and I'm starting to get a bit nervous... Maybe moving back to Germany wasn't such a great idea after all?

Despite all this, I've started training as a sex therapist and I've been learning some really interesting stuff. As part of my training, I've got a lot planned for my return from maternity leave. In fact, one of the first things I'll do when I get back is go on a workshop run by one of Germany's most renowned sex therapists. So that's something exciting to look forward to.

It's not that being a mother is not exciting. It is. But I refuse to accept what German women are supposed to accept: that my children should be the centre of my universe, while my partner gets to enjoy the full spectrum of adult life. Why should German women have to focus exclusively on being a mother? Why can't they, like French women, be entitled to being a part of the professional community, pursue hobbies, and maintain an romantic relationship with their partner? Even when their child is under the age of 1?

For anyone interested in the perks of being a mother in France, I recommend Pamela Druckerman's French Children don't throw Food. Her book Lust in Translation is also very interesting. I just read it as part of my training. It's a comparison of attitudes towards adultery in a variety of countries...