The changing face of motherhood in Germany
Motherhood in Germany appears to be approached in a more traditional way than in many of its neighbouring European countries. Mothers are expected to focus on caring for their children rather than pursuing their own professional career. Women who do choose to take on busy work schedules are often under societal pressure to justify their decision to spend less time with their family.
This conflict that exists between home and work life means that motherhood is seen as an increasingly unattractive option for many German women. The German government is making steps towards ensuring that ‘family-embedded’ motherhood is more financially attractive, while also giving women more options by supporting paid paternity leave initiatives. There also exist German NGOs which are fighting for issues such as more flexible work-arrangements for mothers, better conditions for single parents, more involvement of fathers in the child rearing process, and for the proper recognition of housework as an economic activity. Despite the prevalence of a traditional image of motherhood which limits mothers’ choices, Germany is placed 11th in the Save the Children State of the World’s Mothers 2011 rankings, suggesting that in international perspective being a mother in Germany is a very good thing.
The contemporary German attitude to family life still sees the mother as its most important component. It is seen as preferable for mothers to work part-time so that she can be at home for the children as opposed to relying on day-care or other institution based alternatives. Indeed, German attitudes can still be seen to conform to more traditional notions of gender-based role division. This is partly rooted in ideas stemming from early 17th century Protestantism, when women were expected to observe the ‘three Ks’ of social and family like: Kinder (children), Kirche (church), and Küche (kitchen). Early Lutheran ideology saw marriage-based family life as ‘heaven on earth’. Women were supposed to be obedient, self-sacrificing mothers who were solely dedicated to the education and rearing of their children. Luther founded the ‘Muttermythos’ (‘mother’s myth’): parents who raised their own children were doing a service to God. At once this both glorified the role of women as mothers, while at the same time significantly limiting the other roles that were available to them…
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The Changing Face of Motherhood research was commissioned by Procter & Gamble (P&G)