How to Parent Like a German, According to Time

1. Hang your children off a wooden dragon 20 feet above a sand pit.

2. Huddle with all the German parents drinking coffee and don’t pay attention to your kids.

3. Ignore Amis screaming “Achtung, Nein!” like the lunatics they are.

4. Do not be stereotypically strict (whatever that means) but instead “place a high value on independence and responsibility.”

5. Do not join the free range parenting movement because you’re already free range (tell that to the local news media here, which has just discovered the free range trend).

6. “Don’t push reading.” Or, in other words, let your kid’s teachers teach them how to read at school.

7. Don’t freak out when your kid gets two (two!) breaks to play outside during 4.5 hours of instruction (well aware of all the studies saying kids’ concentration levels dip after 45 minutes and are at a bottom after 90.)

8. Let your kid light off  fireworks on New Year’s.

9. Let your kid walk to school without you. Worry about traffic and not kidnappings.

10. Celebrate the kid’s first day of school.

11. Go outside everyday (see 1).

How’s your ranking on this list (condensed from and based entirely on this truthful bullshit in Time Magazine)? I failed miserably. Those Ami lunatics screaming Achtung get me every time.

Alleinerziehend: Today’s #dailydeutsch

I am exhausted. Again.

A couple of years ago, at an outing with all of the parents at the Kita, one of the dads turned to me and said, “Gosh, raising your kid all alone must be tough.” To this dad, who had never met my ex, I was doing everything by myself, hence his word choice: alleinerziehend. There’s not really another word for a single mom (which is why the English phrase single mom has, to my chagrin, been adopted here in Germany).

On my other side sat another dad, one who also didn’t know my ex but who’d had a kid and then separated from his baby mamma and then continued to raise his kid with her, co-parenting so that both of them had the kid 3-1/2 days each week. And so this dad, based on his own experience, answered for me. “It’s not tough. She’s not alleinerziehend. She’s not doing it all on her own.”

Oh. Um.

Compared to my friend, whose baby daddy lives in LA and doesn’t ever visit or pay child support, he’s right: I am not completely alone. Diva’s dad every so often has picked her up to go have fun in his garden and he pays his laughable minimum according to the Duesseldorfer Tabelle (doesn’t get any more frugal than that, with a maximum per kid payment of 334 Euros if you’re an upper bracket earner). I guess I really haven’t been doing all the work myself.

However.

A kid is around 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And I’m having a hard time believing that I’m not in it alone, as I am currently doing all the housework and getting the finances in order and working and looking for new work and making sure Diva gets all the love and attention she needs while also getting her ready for her future school days, not to mention making sure she is cleaned and bathed and fed and well-slept each night while her dad has, once again, gone off the radar. Since January, he has seen her five times. Five. My lawyer tells me this is not enough. She tells me Diva needs to see her dad more.

You see, Germany has adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and as a result, one of the firm beliefs in German custody laws is that the child needs to have both parents in his or her life. So technically, on a legal level, there should never ever be an alleinerziehend situation. At least not on paper. And if, then only because the kid was placed in severe danger by one of the parents or paternity was absolutely unknown. And so, even when Diva is living with me and spending 24/7 with me, we are technically legally splitting custody 50/50. There is no way around this.

However.

Erziehen is translated as the process of raising a child. Custody is not erziehen; it has nothing to do with instilling morals and values nor on where and how a kid is brought up. So although legal custody is limited to who can decide which school a kid goes to and who can sign her passport application — if there are two names on a birth certificate, both of those signatures have to be present on all official documents — erziehen falls under the everyday nonsense that comes with bringing up a kid and that is not necessarily decided on by a court but by the parents. And unless the parents get along and are willing to do the so-called “Prenzlauer Berg” model in which a kid shifts homes every Sunday, spending one week with mom, the following with dad, the erziehen really is done by the person with whom the kid stays the most.

In our case, me. And so when her dad isn’t around, as has been the case for over a month now, I don’t understand how this cannot be called alleinerziehend. I’m alone. I’m raising her. Five out of 120 days doesn’t feel like 50/50. So how is this not alleinerziehend? Is this a semantic issue or what am I missing (besides sleep)?

Latte Macciato Mums

A couple months back, I was walking down the street with a friend of mine who’s been trying unsuccessfully for years to have a kid. It always sucks a little bit to talk to her because our conversation always has something to do with kids and seriously, what do you say to someone who’s dealing with infertility issues? “Oh hey, I see you’re not pregnant yet. Still trying? Let me just bitch a little bit about my little darling so you don’t feel like you’re missing out.”

On this occasion, it was especially awkward because my friend was taking me to a partners’ massage at the Thai Massage studio which meant that in T-5 Minutes, we were going to be seeing each other naked, which I am still a bit shy about. So anyway, just as we were about to walk into the massage parlor, I realize another Mom from the Kindergarten is standing right by the door locking her bike. What’s the proper protocol for this greeting? Acknowledge the mom with a nod and a smile? Say hello and continue walking? Attempt small talk (which I despise) despite our rush? We never saw each other outside of the kindergarten but since it’s a tiny parents’ run Kita, we see each other there every month at parents’ night.

I decided to say hello and keep walking, noting that if she seemed offended, I could explain later how uncomfortable I was and how we were running late. So I said hi. And she did nothing. Not a nod. Not a smile. Not a word. She just looked right through me. And since we were like two feet away from each other and I am totally unique, it’s not like she didn’t recognize me.

“That was weird,” my friend said. “Who was that?”

“A mom from the kindergarten.”

“Oh man,” she said. “That’s why if I do ever get knocked up, I’m not raising the kid in this neighborhood. These moms are bitches.”

For like half a second, I defended the mom. It’s a habit I’m trying to create — to not talk shit about people or get offended by what I consider impoliteness. After all, this woman was probably feeling just as awkward as I was, right? I let it drop but made a note to try to play nice with this mom at the next parents’ night. Because one of the things I’m learning beyond the it’s not just me philosophy is that these moms who are bitches are probably going to be in my life for a while. If Diva wants to play their kids, I gotta be nice to them. If Diva doesn’t want to hang with their kids but we still have to keep seeing each other at playgrounds and soccer games, I gotta be nice to them. Cologne is small like that. My neighborhood even smaller.

And I have spent most of the last year in a selfish haze of bad fucking moods that I am sure has made a few people wonder what bug crawled up my ass so I have to start trying to make good with the mummies here again. The sun is shining and I have to hit the playgrounds with Diva again. Imagine my difficulty, then, when I overheard one of the new moms at the kindergarten talking about our kindergarten at the playground and the phrase “Latte Macciato Mamas” was used. Clearly this woman did not know that I was one of the Moms in question — we hadn’t yet attended a parents’ night together because I have been avoiding those like the plague this year — and the statement made me take a step back. It’s bad enough that people who know me don’t like me but at least I get that. I’m not always fun to be around. I’m not everybody’s cup of tea. But a pauschal hatred based on the Kindergarten I chose to send my kid to? A judgment about me because of the neighborhood I live in or the clothes that I wear?

I have a sense of humor. I can make fun of myself. Self-hatred is not a uniquely German trait. But how do you address this without sounding like a complete asshole? Hu-hu, heard you call me a yummy yuppy and just wanted to let you know, I’m just as broke as you! Whatever. It’s not important what this new mom thinks. We’re out of the insanity of the kindergarten next year and into the strangeness that is the German school system, complete with its own PTA problems so I don’t really need to prove I’m too lactose intolerant to be a latte drinker or that the Armani sunglasses I hide behind were an appeasement gift given years ago by a woman who felt guilty for flirting with my husband.

But the experience does have me thinking a bit about these relationships we’re building with the people we encounter every day. What are we doing to each other by cutting each other down? What purpose does this mummy hate serve? What are we teaching our kids when we’re throwing around casual judgments and talking smack when they’re in earshot? I understand the harm this does and though I haven’t been at all perfect, I am going to try to be better. Kill ’em with kindness. Starting now.

Fuck Parents’ Night.

When I signed Diva up for a parents’ run kindergarten, every other mother I knew warned me against it.

“It’s too much work.”

“The parents are demanding.”

“No, really, those parents are insane.”

But I wanted to be a part of the day care process. I wanted to stay involved in Diva’s life so I did it. I applied for a spot at a tiny parents’ run kindergarten and I put on the old song and dance at an interview and I got one of the much-coveted spots at a nearby Eltern Verein.

At first, it was great. It still is. But now I know what all those warnings were about. I’m not one of the people involved in the day-to-day operations and I’m not elected to a post so I don’t have to handle human resources or budgetary concerns, but it is exhausting. Not because of the work. The parents. Ugh, the parents.

As part of the official bureaucracy behind the parents’ run kindergarten, we have to have meetings every month. More often if there’s an issue. The people on the board meet even more frequently, so I know I dodged a bullet by not having to run the show. But these parents nights are the absolute worst. There are all sorts of jokes about them online. The writer Juli Zeh put together a bullshit bingo card for parents’ nights at her kids’ school and though kindergarten’s a bit different, it gives you some idea of what these discussions entail.

ElternabendbullshitbingoAt our kindergarten, thankfully, there are a few things written into the founding constitution that make some of these discussions obsolete. We can only serve vegetarian food. The kids can only wear slippers inside. They go outside every day.

I’ve had friends who’ve wasted hours of their time at these meetings because someone wants to serve only organic food and another person is against paying the extra 20 bucks a month it costs for only organics. I had another friend whose kindergarten completely imploded because the manager was incompetent and the employees were bullying each other but none of the parents could agree on which employees to fire when and how to do it according to German law. And while it was imploding, one of the parents embezzled a huge chunk of money, bankrupting the kindergarten. So I am definitely thanking my lucky stars to have found such a nice place for diva to spend her days.

But as it is, even when things are going well, people can still find stuff to bitch about. And that’s why these parents’ nights suck so royally. We spend hours every month debating the stupidest shit. Can we build a new bench on the playground? What can we plant in the garden? Are the kids getting outside enough? Shouldn’t we be teaching them English — or French — or Swahili?

The longer that I’ve been there, the more difficult it’s become to bear. It could be that my rose-colored glasses have come off or it could be that the mood at the kindergarten has changed but either way, what at first felt neat and quaint and cozy has devolved into a night I dread every month. It doesn’t help that my social anxiety prevents me from behaving in large groups. I do great one-on-one. I can give speeches to rooms filled with hundreds of people no problem. Put me in a room with a dozen people I have to see again and I will stick my foot in my mouth so hard and act like such a major bitch that even my friends pretend not to know me in the moment. I literally ask when we can all head to the bar and grab some whiskey even though I don’t drink and I deplore bars. That’s how bad my anxiety gets.

And for some reason, two of the other mothers have recently taken the idea of the kindergarten being a democratically-run institution too far, insisting that every time they don’t get their way, we have to put it to a vote. “All in favor of singing Backe Backe Kuchen every morning at breakfast, say aye.” It drives me fucking insane. And of course, in full anxiety mode, I don’t even bother to hide my disdain at this bullshit. So instead of playing nice with the other mummies, I roll my eyes and say, “Das kann ja doch nicht dein ernst sein?” It’s my favorite German phrase because even if it’s not grammatically correct, it gets the point across: “You cannot be fucking serious?” I may be American and Amis may have invented democracy as we know it but sometimes, seriously, we need a dictatorship. Someone who will stand up and say, “We’re singing pattycake at breakfast from now on, Mamacitas, so deal with it.”

Last month, it got so bad that three of the dads just got up in the middle of the meeting and were like, yo this is over, let’s go watch the football game. Which, irksome though it may have been at the time, seems to have been genius. Because without a platform, some ideas just go unaired and maybe it’s better that way.

What Men Should Never Say to a Single Mom

A couple of weeks ago, a guy I knew announced he was splitting from his wife. It shouldn’t have surprised me. Dude had been flirty for months but since we hardly knew each other, I’d assumed that I was reading these situations incorrectly (not impossible, given that women only recognize flirtation 1/3 of the time) or that he was maybe a little unclear on the touchy-feely boundaries (also not impossible, given that I am American and people in Germany seem to think that means that I like to be touched. I don’t. You put your hand on my arm and I will burn a hole in it with my eyes until you remove it.) This guy really liked to put his hand on my arm. And the small of my back. And ask me if I was dating anyone. Clearly, he was expressing interest but I was too caught up in his being married to notice.

When I finally did notice it, I asked, “How long have you been talking about splitting up?” Because I have ethics and before I can even look at a guy to determine if he’s cute or not, I have to know that he is not attached to someone else. I’m told I’m unusual that way, but whatever. If you’re with someone else, you got no business trying to get in my business.

“Six months,” he said.

They say it takes three years to get over a divorce. Six months would still be a rebound. But rebounds can be fun, right?

“Why are you splitting up?” I asked him.

“It’s her decision. I have no idea.”

Ruh-roh. This could go both ways — she could have someone new in her life or he could be completely tone deaf during their arguments. So I asked her why they were splitting up and she very nicely but not without a lot of hurt in her voice explained that she wasn’t happy with him and that she knew she never could be and that the decision had been a long time coming. Fair enough.

Before I could get interested, though, I needed to know more about their situation so we sat down to chat. I was expecting something similar to what the ex had said, perhaps a confession that he’d found her with another guy. Instead, he proceeded to call his ex an asshole, claim that he had done absolutely nothing wrong in the marriage, and accuse her of being out for his money. Lots of anger. But that wasn’t what bugged me most. It was how familiar it all sounded.

You see, just the week before, I’d sat down with a couple of dads I knew who’d split from their baby mamas so that I could get their perspective on things. Because while in some ways, Diva’s dad is a nice fixture in her life, his presence in it brings me a lot of unnecessary headaches and I’m trying to iron out the wrinkles in the way least detrimental to diva. I thought maybe getting a man’s perspective would help me understand what needed to be done and since her dad and I can’t communicate, maybe these guys would give me some good advice.

After I asked them how they envisioned their roles in their kids’ lives and how best to attain those ideal roles, it became clear very quickly that a) these dads had zero idea of what their baby mamas were juggling at home in terms of responsibilities, that b) they thought the baby mamas were only out for their money, and c) that they personally had done nothing wrong to lead to the demise of the relationship because d) the baby mamas were batshit insane and completely illogical. Also, there was the big statement of entitlement on their parts: “I made this child with my sperm, therefore I am entitled to it.”

It shouldn’t have surprised me. Those are the exact sentiments Herr Lederhosen has. And while I agree wholeheartedly with all the psychologists who say that children need to have their fathers in their lives, I cannot abide men who lack the self-awareness to say “Here’s how I fucked up, this is my role in this situation and here’s what I’m doing to make it better.” I cannot abide any more men who diminish the difficulties that mothers, both single and married, face when raising a child or children while juggling a job. Nor can I ever tolerate hearing again that your child’s mother is “acting crazy for no reason.”

No, she is not acting crazy. You’re not listening.

That’s ultimately what I told that dude with the interest. No one is completely innocent when a marriage comes apart. It might be her request to divorce — and the last stat I read said 2/3 of divorces are initiated by the women because men are too lazy to move out — but that doesn’t mean you didn’t fuck up in some way. That way could be that you couldn’t love her the way she needed to be loved but calling her an asshole (or a Tussi or a bitch, insert your favorite degrading curse here) ain’t going to change that. Sorry, sweets, but it just makes you look bad.

Next time you’re trying to impress the divorcee single mom, admit your mistakes. Show how active you are in your kid’s life. For heaven’s sake do not disparage your ex wife to everyone. Save that for your best friend or your mom.

And here’s the last part, which I can’t emphasize enough: instead of hammering on and on about what sucks in your relationship with your ex and how that impacts your visits with your child, ask her what you can do to make life easier on her. Because nothing is sexier than a guy who, despite all the hurt, actually acknowledges the difficulties of the mom raising his kid mostly alone and does something to lighten that load.