Category Archives: Parenting

“Make Me a German” on the BBC

Last night I watched the third and final episode of BBC2’s  Germany series. After dealing with German cars (a German’s favorite child) and then German cooking, they got down to brass tacks: Why is Germany more successful than Britain?

To find the answer they sent Justin and Bee Rowlatt and two of their children to Nuremberg to live for two weeks as Germans live. All fine so far. Except two weeks is no where near long enough to make anything but superficial generalizations. For Justin, a BBC journalist who took up a job in a pencil factory, it seemed to be a great adventure. He investigated what makes a German worker more efficient and more satisfied than a Brit.

For Bee, stuck at home with her two youngest children, it seemed a drag. I’ve just read about her on her blog (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tv/posts/Make-Me-A-German) and although she is half German, she had never lived there. She reckoned she was “predisposed” to liking what she saw, but it didn’t seem to me to be the case. The attempts to do everything that the average German does in a day or week left her wanting in the cleaning area. It’s a shame to have reduced “being a German Hausfrau” to the amount of time spent on housekeeping, laundry and cooking. There’s only so much of it in a two-bedroom apartment that’s only yours for two weeks.

Bee was greatly impressed with the Waldkindergarten that her 4-year-old attended but had no comprehension of why so many mothers stayed home not only with the under-threes but also with older children . She soon learned why: short school hours and no provision for nurseries for the under-threes. Everything in the system is geared to stay-at-home moms.

Of course, she was in Bavaria, the most conservative and Catholic Bundesland in the country. While Germany has just passed the deadline set for creating sufficient nursery capacities for a third of all children aged 1 and two, the Bavarian sister party to the national Christian Democrats blackmailed the federal government into paying mothers “care money” for staying home and minding their children there. To use Bavaria as a measure for all of Germany was perhaps a poor choice.

I’ve raised three children through the Kindergarten and school system in Germany and I was continually annoyed about so many aspects that they hold dear. To broach those issues would turn this blog post into an entire book. Suffice to say that since I had my kids in the system, the various counties and Bundesländer (the federal states are responsible for education policies – that means 16 different school systems!) have made huge (by their standards) strides forward. Kindergärten have become all-day affairs if you need it. Many elementary schools offer care till late afternoon. They call these all-day schools. However, the afternoons are not given over to class lessons. The kids are offered some crafts and sports options as well as help with their homework. It certainly isn’t a perfect solution but it’s progress nonetheless.

Going back briefly to my own experience: Firstly, we had kids because we wanted a family. What’s the point of giving birth only to drop the kid off at the child-minder for the first five years till school starts? There wasn’t a job out there (that I was qualified to do) that would have tempted me to leave my kids regularly with someone else. Especially since, as non-Germans, we had no family here to support our child-rearing. Most of our friends did have parents or siblings nearby to jump in when needed. Many moms did go out and do part-time jobs because they wanted to or had to.

Secondly, the system here is such that all sports, music and whatever extracurricular activities are all run independently of the schools by clubs and take place in the afternoon. Thus I spent my afternoons driving my kids to music lessons, football training, tennis, horse-back riding, judo, etc. If I’d had a full-time – or even a part-time job, who would have done that?

Bee and Justin’s experiment was a noble one. It was no doubt interesting to British audiences  to have a look at how Herr & Frau Durchschnitt (average) live. How much the Brits can learn from it about competing with the Germans is a different question. I am left questioning the validity and value of many of their conclusions. In the end the Brits have to find their own modus vivendi.

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Filed under Gender Questions, German History, Great Britain, Parenting

Princely Entertainment to Distract Us During this Summer Stupor

A little English boy has appeared on the scene to charm us.

Since the weather across great swathes of the northern hemisphere has finally decided to behave more seasonally, most of us have gone into vacation modus – regardless of whether we’re on hols or not. It’s the time of year to pretend it’s not at all important:

(1) That the NSA is keeping tabs on us across the world, listening in on our calls, tracking our emails, (watching every time we head for the bathroom).

(2) That Edward Snowdon, a man who opened our eyes,  is a hunted and haunted figure who may never ever feel safe again no matter what country finally grants him exile.

(3) That people are dying daily in their fight for self-determination in the Middle East and in many other parts of the globe.

(4) That terrorists somewhere are, as I write, planning the next attack on innocent bystanders.

At the same time, in London, a huge fuss is being made over a new-born.On the evening of his birth, he was the only news in Britain. Last night I tuned into the BBC and enjoyed watching Mr and Mrs Cambridge leaving St Mary’s Hospital in London, cradling their one-day-old son. Mr Cambridge opened the door for his wife so she could climb into the backseat of their black, upmarket SUV. Then he jumped into the driver’s seat. Waving to the staff and well-wishers, the Cambridges drove home to their modest apartment at Kensington Palace. These Royals are nothing if not modern.

As yet we don’t know his name. No doubt he’ll be christened with a half-dozen of them to choose from, like his fathers before him. And one day he’ll sit on Britain’s throne as head of state. He’ll possess no real power; at best he’ll wield influence.  He’ll be drop-dead gorgeous – that, too, is easy to predict! – just like his Mom and Dad. It may take 50 years until he is a reigning monarch, but in twenty years he’ll already bear the title of World’s Most Eligible Bachelor and cause girls of the right age to suffer from severe heart palpitations.

You can look on the royal birth – and everything else royal, for that matter – as something quaintly British and slightly past its sell-by date. Or you can see it as one society’s modus vivendi, their way of melding tradition with change. Like the British Constitution and legal system, the British Crown is a perfect example of evolution. I don’t expect to be around when this child steps up to that colossal gilded chair, but I am very curious about how his role will have evolved. And what state will Britain – and the rest of the world –  be in by the mid to late 21st century when he succeeds his father to the throne?

Not being a science fiction reader, I haven’t schooled my imagination to think along the lines of what could/would/should be in the future. It’s hard enough for me to think in reverse, i.e. to look back from 2013 to the early nineties when cell telephony, personal computers and internet technology were still in their infancy and realize that these developments now shaping our daily lives barely existed then.

But if I go beyond the inevitable innovations that technology will thrust upon us, I’m left wondering more about who we will become. Do all the changes change the people, too? And if so, for better or worse?

Perhaps it’s a blessing that here and there, some institutions, like the British Monarchy, persist, if only to remind us of how far we’ve come.

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Filed under Beginnings, Fiction and Other Truths, Great Britain, Parenting, Traditions

GUNS R US – Just for the Kiddies!

A five-year-old boy shoots his two-year-old sister.

Words fail me, but I will try anyway to express my disgust with a mentality that considers guns and rifles suitable gifts for children. They aren’t even suitable gifts for ADULTS!

This news item does not represent an isolated case either. In light of this occurrence, several other similar instances were highlighted where small tikes, who should be playing with dolls or cars, have gotten a hold of weapons that are just lying around and manage to kill someone with it.

LETHAL SURPRISE EGGS

Our newspaper today brought up another absurdity which I already wrote about in a December 2012 post: German chocolate “surprise eggs” (a chocolate shell containing a plastic egg inside with a little toy to assemble) are banned in the USA because a child might not recognize that the plastic part and toy are not edible. They could choke on it.  Okay, maybe that is some kind of argument.

BUT: guns and rifles in pink and blue, BIG ENOUGH NOT TO CHOKE ON – specially made for the children’s market segment — well, they are just fine. Let’s sell ’em – advertise them on Saturday mornings when the kids are watching cartoons — or let’s face it, they are watching TV ALL the time these days! Mom and Dad are off doing…..whatever….just not doing any parenting.

I’m sorry, but the whole time I’m writing, I’m just shaking my head in despair. Does a society get….the kind of society it deserves? They certainly get the government they voted for: see my post linking to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show on GUN CONTROL!

Forgive all my BOLDness here. But I’m mad!

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Filed under Endings, Fiction and Other Truths, Gun Control, Parenting, Politics