Nathalie, part French and part Spanish, has been living and working in Berlin for the past eight years. When she had Baby N. almost a year ago and decided with Silvio to raise her in Germany, she knew it wouldn’t be easy . . . on any of them. How did she know this? Nathalie explains how her childhood as a “Francesa” in Spain may compare to her daughter’s in Berlin over three decades later.
(Translated from Spanish to English) Baby N.’s upbringing will be different in part because when I was young, I was the only foreigner in my class, and the others would tease me constantly for being French. In fact, when we were choosing names for the baby, I was very mindful of those that couldn’t be made fun of in Spanish, French, or Italian. She was born 32 years later in another place and time, Berlin, which is known for being very multicultural (in fact, it’s a treat to meet any Berliners in the neighborhood we live in). Therefore, her being a foreigner will be viewed as something positive here, above all being part Spanish and Italian.
But an experience we may have in common is not feeling complete in any one place; and I see this as an advantage and disadvantage. I always feel like a stranger everywhere I go, even in Spain. And I anticipate Baby N. will feel the same. She’ll have the advantage of being influenced by many cultures and the disadvantage of not necessarily feeling defined by any of them.
Keeping multicultural kids in touch with their roots
I think this part applies to all of us, not just multiracial and multicultural families. However, there’s a bigger burden on the latter, for fear that the children may lose their origins via over-assimilation into the dominant host culture and country. Naturally, this is a concern of Nathalie and Silvio’s. Both of them make efforts to keep culture in check.
Being French, Spanish, and Italian, they both love to cook, sit as a family, and savor home-cooked cuisines from their respective countries. In Nathalie and Silvio’s combined 18 years in Germany, they haven’t found German culinary traditions to be comparable to those of Mediterranean cultures. They also stay in touch with family and travel with Baby N. to each other’s home countries. And they do not speak German at home. . . .
What is the communication like in a Spanish / French / Italian home in Berlin?
Nathalie speaks to the baby in Spanish and sings to her at times in French. Silvio speaks to her in his native language, Italian. And the baby gets her German outside the home, mostly from her daytime caregiver, or “Tagesmutter,” while mom and dad are at work. Nathalie confesses it would be a “shock” to her if her daughter started talking to her in German. Ultimately, she does want her to be able to speak many languages, including German, naturally. (Don’t let the clown nose fool you, Nathalie speaks at least four languages.)
Working abroad as a traveling theater mom with a new baby
Nathalie works with children and adolescents in theater in Germany and all around Europe as an actress, instructor, and international projects coordinator. Sometimes she takes Baby N. with her to work — the kids love her, and the baby gets a kick out of the theater, but it’s not always convenient or possible. For Nathalie, being a theater mom is fulfilling, exhilarating, and exhausting. She has recently added another project to her schedule: clown workshops for adults in Berlin as a means to generate supplemental income to help support the little one.
Having a baby in Germany vs. the U.S.
Nathalie shares her experience having a baby in Germany, and some of it may surprise you.
- Pregnancy leave: Six weeks before you give birth and two months after, the German government requires you to take paid leave. I don’t know about you, but I never heard of anyone in the U.S. private or public sector insisting their employees take three months paid leave to rest, relax, and enjoy being a mom.
- Parent leave: In addition to the above, the mother or father may apply for up to one year of parent leave with 75% of salary.
- Family financial aid: During the paid parent leave, you may apply for supplemental financial aid. I’m seeing a pattern of prioritizing the family forming here.
- Automatic government child support: Anyone living in Germany five or more years and has a German-born child is entitled to 184 Euros per month until the child’s 26th birthday.
- Free child care: Whenever Nathalie and Silvio’s schedules preclude them from being with Baby N. during the day, she is taken care of for free by a “Tagesmutter” (literally “daily mother”) from 8am – 2pm. It’s a little less like daycare and more like a home setting with a babysitter and a couple of other kids. Did I mention it’s free, as in you don’t need two jobs to have your children supervised while you work to feed them?
- After three years of age, formal education is free. And the German education system is stellar. (See our article on free university for foreigners.)
- Qualifying German-born children eligible for multiple citizenship: Children born in Germany to immigrant parents who have lived in Germany for at least 10 years are entitled to German citizenship in addition to their parents’ citizenship. Nathalie and Silivio are currently applying for Baby N. to have German, Spanish, and Italian citizenship — that’s one jet setting baby!
Advice for families interested in moving to Berlin
After our article on free university for foreigners in Germany, and after finding out about all the perks of having a baby there (versus the States, anyway), I had to ask Nathalie what she would advise families who wanted to move to her current neck of woods.
- Learn the language. Although a lot of Berliners speak English, in order to fill out all of the required paperwork involved in the process of moving to Germany, you’ll need to have a firm grasp of the language.
- Take your time to plan and research before coming. It’s not as easy as backpacking through Europe or teaching English abroad before the kids were born. There is a lot of bureaucracy to navigate, and to do it right, you’ll need patience, planning, time, and information.
- If you need daycare or a “Kita,” you’ll need to start looking a year an a half in advance. Or get a Tagesmutter like Nathalie.
- Look into the many types of education Berlin has to offer the kids. As mentioned earlier, education after three years of age is gratis. And Berlin offers a variety of alternative modes of education, such as Walldof, Montessori, and others.
- Berlin is very family friendly. With its many parks, museums, and welcoming attitude towards children you’ll find Berlin to be large city that’s rather kid-friendly.
- Be prepared for less daylight. In winter, the sun sets around 3:30 pm! So, if you or anyone in your family is susceptible to S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder), that’s something to consider.
Whether you’re interested in traveling with the family throughout Europe, moving to Berlin, keeping your kids in touch with their roots, or you have a healthy fascination with culture, I hope you enjoyed tuning in to Nathalie’s international world!