A German bishop has sharply criticized government plans to improve childcare facilities, saying they reduce women to "birthing machines" who quickly have to return to work. The remarks even have conservatives up in arms.
There aren't enough places at German daycare centers for young kids
The Catholic Bishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa called government proposals to expand childcare facilities in Germany "harmful for children and families." Mixa said the plans enticed women with federal aid to entrust their children to state care shortly after birth, degrading women to "birthing machines."
Germany's Minister for Family and Youth, Ursula von der Leyen from the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) wants to significantly increase to 750,000 the number of places available at day-care centers for children under the age of three by 2013. It is the latest step in an attempt to boost the German birthrate, which at 1.36 children per woman is one of the lowest in Europe.
Mixa said von der Leyen's plans gave "top priority to recruiting young women as labor reserve for private industry."
"We need to create family-oriented jobs, not job-friendly families," Mixa told German breakfast television on Friday.
The minister's family policies elevated double-income marriages to a downright "ideological fetish," Mixa said.
Mixa's comments highlight the deep divide in Germany over the role of the modern woman in society. The battle lines are clearly drawn between those who support women juggling jobs with children on the one side and those who adhere to the more traditional image of the mother staying at home and feeding her kids.
Perverting the term "birthing machine"
The latter is reminiscent of the situation in post-war Germany in the 1950s when marriage and family were propagated as the sole aim in life for women. Previously, the Nazis had practiced a downright mother cult.
Children can have just as much fun in daycare as at home
Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels once said that the first and best place for a woman was in the family and the most wonderful task that she can fulfill is producing children.
During the 1960s and 1970s, many feminists in Germany used the term Gebärmaschine or "birthing m achine" to criticize women who stayed home after the war, producing one baby after another.
Today, the debate in Germany has focused on whether women should be encouraged to work or encouraged to stay at home. Women, in particular better educated professionals, may forfeit having children in order not to harm their career. Many single mothers or women from lower income families have to work to survive financially and are dependent on affordable childcare. But many analysts say it should be more about choice. But until there are enough places at day care facilities for under three-year olds, that choice does not exist.
Von der Leyen, herself a mother of seven, has also said early learning in daycare facilities by professional educators was beneficial for young children. But Mixa argued that the "real professionals" were a child's parents, especially the mother. The Catholic Bishop made no mention of the role of the father in his controversial comments.
Politicians shake their heads at Mixa's remarks
Politicians across the political spectrum have criticized Mixa's remarks. Christel Humme, the family policy spokeswoman of the Social Democrats, said childcare was no "work of the devil."
Ursula von der Leyen is fighting for more childcare in Germany
"Children need ideal support and encouragement from the very beginning," Humme said in a statement in Berlin.
Even conservative leaders appear to realize that Germany's family structures are changing, though they often project a traditional family role model.
A leading member of the CDU, Friedbert Pflüger, called Mixa's remarks "absurd and tasteless" in an interview with German television. Pflüger said no one in the CDU wanted to demean housewives and mothers. Rather, it aimed for choice.
Even Erwin Huber, economics minister of the Christian Social Union, the CDU's Bavarian sister party, said Mixa's criticism was "ridiculous." It was clear that Germany needed a wider range of childcare, Huber told the daily Hannoversche Allgemeinen Zeitung.
Mixa gets little support from clerical colleagues
Only Cologne's ultra-conservative cardinal Joachim Meisner said he agreed with Mixa. He said children should be raised in the family, and not in daycare.
Mixa says he is worried about women and their childrens' welfare
"In the bible, nurseries are actually just a temporary solution," Meisner told the Catholic radio station Domradio. "If you turn it into a permanent institution, quasi as an alternative to the family, then this is a misguided development." He said daycare was only necessary for emergencies and exceptional cases.
Mainz's more liberal cardinal Karl Lehman, however, said he supported the government's plans to improve daycare options and choice for parents. These sentiments were shared by Protestant bishop Margot Käßmann.
"I can in no way follow this criticism," Käßmann told the newspaper Passauer Neue Presse. "The Christian churches should do everything possible to make Germany child-friendly."
Germany could perhaps learn a lesson from neighboring France. Day nurseries for small children have been the order of the day there for years. More women work in France, yet they have more children than German women. A recent study showed that France, in part due to its healthy birth rate, is well on track to taking over as Europe's largest economy by the mid 21st century -- from Germany.