Moms Make it Work: Sarah | SAHM to Three in Germany

Today for the Moms Make it Work series, we have Sarah who is an American from Detroit living in Germany as a Stay at Home Mom to three children. I found this post especially intriguing, particularly the expectations that other German moms have in regards to the return to work (after a YEAR, none the less) being the 'norm'. I also loved reading about Sarah's children and their individual language preferences--so interesting! I'm glad Sarah is a reader of this blog and emailed me, asking if she could post for the 'international moms' category. Enjoy!


Hi there! I’m Sarah and I’m really excited to be participating in this series, as I’ve so enjoyed reading each contribution to it and been able to relate to some aspect of each mama’s life! I used to blog, but my blog is so dusty now, I’m not even going to include the address. Now I just mostly post pictures of my kids on Instagram under sarahdressler78. I live in Stuttgart, Germany with my husband and three children Noah (4.5), Charlotte (2) and Daniel (5 weeks).


I am a Human Resources manager at a Tier One German automotive supplier. I worked part-time between Noah and Charlotte, but have been on maternity/parental leave since Charlotte’s birth, making me a SAHM (more on that later). I’m sure my post is going to be way too wordy, but I’ve tried to include lots of pictures to lighten things up!

-What is your background story? What was your career/schooling before you became a mom? And where are you now?

I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and went to college downtown at Wayne State University. After changing majors three times (from Pre-Med to Speech & Language Pathology to German) and knowing that I was looking at a minimum of 5 years for my Bachelor, I went with the major towards which I already had the most credits (and that would therefore get me out of college the quickest) and ended up with Economics. I also minored in Business and German. During college, I had an internship at an Economic Development Office of a German state, which was responsible of supporting German companies interested in investment in the US and finding US companies interested in investing in the economy in Germany. Given the poor economy, I jumped on the job offer my boss gave me when I graduated. After a few months, though, I realized that it wasn’t where I wanted to be long-term, so I started looking for a new job. Through a friend of a friend, I heard about an opening for an administrative assistant in the International Human Resource department at a German automotive supplier and while I didn’t think that the job was one I wanted to do long term, the pay was a lot better. After less than a year, I moved into a HR representative position and that’s the field I’ve been in ever since, in various roles and capacities within the same company.

In 2006, I was offered the opportunity to take an assignment in Stuttgart for three years. I had been highly involved in the German community in Michigan: outside of work, I volunteered for the German Chamber of Commerce, was a member of the German Women’s’ Club and was close friends with several Germans. So, being single and not having anyone else to consider, it sounded like a fantastic idea and I was excited about the prospect of improving my German. My friends (and my brothers!) told me they were certain that I would meet a Hans or Sven "over there" and never return to Michigan. I laughed that idea off – having never lived away from the Detroit area, I was sure I was going to be back once my contract was over. As it turns out, they were right about everything but the name. In February of 2007 I met my husband Marc and by November the same year, we were married. Coincidentally, my husband works for the same company I do, which isn’t that unusual, though, given that it is a major employer in our area.


 -What are the best parts of your situations? What are the challenges?

The best part of my situation is probably the maternity and parental leave one is entitled to in Germany. Standard maternity leave starts six weeks before the due date and goes until the baby is eight weeks old. After that, the mother and father are both entitled to paternal leave until the child is three years old. The government pays the parents up to 14 months of the leave at 67% of their salary. During parental leave, I remain employed by my company and have the opportunity to work on a part-time basis, if I so choose, which I did between Noah and Charlotte, working 21 hours per week (a full-time work week here is 35-40 hours) once Noah was 15 months old. It was really difficult to find childcare here, as there are more children under three than daycare spots for them. (Once the children turn three, they enter preschool, which is called kindergarten in Germany. As each child has a legal right to a kindergarten spot, it is generally much easier to find childcare starting at age three.)

(My babies as babies: Charlotte on top, Noah on the left and Daniel on the right)

Once you choose to take parental leave, the company has the right to replace you, however they are legally required to offer you a position at the same pay level and with comparable tasks upon your return. The job I had after Noah’s birth was very different than the one I had before my leave and I didn’t especially enjoy it. Couple that with the fact that I had to do a lot of overtime to do my “part-time” job, which made me very unhappy and stressed, and that we didn’t want to have a large age difference between our kids, which resulted in Charlotte’s birth in 2012, after which we decided that I would try out staying home full-time. It turns out that I personally really prefer being home 100% rather than part-time, so this is the model we’ll continue with for the foreseeable future. Once Daniel turns three, I’ll have to decide whether I want to go back to work or ultimately quit my job, as my leave will end at that point. I feel so fortunate to be in this position!


The leave has also given us the opportunity to do some fun trips, because with each child, my husband has taken two of the 14 months off, during which time I was also off. When Noah was a baby, we spent a month in Michigan. And then in 2012, when Charlotte was almost 4 months old, we spent 5 weeks in an RV traveling the southwestern US, including parts of Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California.


(Grand Canyon)

And in 2013, we spent almost three weeks in Alaska (there’s an eight hour direct flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Anchorage!) for my brother’s wedding and traveling.

(Exit Glacier, Alaska)

Another excellent part of my situation is that my in-laws, whom my kids love, live just two houses down from us and are more than willing to pick up Noah from kindergarten or watch my kids while I go get a haircut, go to the doctor or when I just need a break. They are a huge help to me and I’m very grateful to have them so close with my family so far away.

(Charlotte with Opa)

Additionally, my brother-in-law and his family live in the same apartment complex that we do. So my kids go out into the communal backyard and play with their cousins. (Apartment living is really typical in the large cities in Germany, as the cost of land is so high that for most people, it isn’t feasible to purchase a lot large enough to put a house on. Added to that is the high population density in the cities, which makes it almost impossible to find an available lot on which to build a house!)

(Our backyard)

And finally, living in the city means that everything is close. We walk to kindergarten, the grocery store, swimming lessons, restaurants, the doctor, the bakery (there are three within a two-block radius!), the butcher, church and pretty much anything else you can think of.

(On the way to kindergarten)

And if we can’t get there on foot, we probably can get there with the subway or tram. This has made us a one-car family. My husband takes the car to work, but other than that, we pretty much only need it for trips to Ikea or our equivalent of Home Depot or to go on vacation. My “car” is a Phil & Ted’s stroller (which I love!).


The biggest challenge I have is being so far away from my family. I love my in-laws to pieces, but they’re not my parents. And they’re significantly older than my parents, so they can’t physically do a lot of activities with the kids, which my parents could. And my kids can’t have regular play dates with my brother’s kids. The distance is so great that it isn’t doable for a weekend and the frequency of Facetime or Skype chats is seriously limited by the six-hour time difference. We usually travel to the US once or twice a year (we’re really fortunate that thirty days of vacation is the norm here), but with the increasing cost of airfare and now having to pay for four tickets plus an infant, that frequency probably won’t be feasible to maintain. (Plus we will now have three kids to entertain during the flight and three kids who suffer from jet lag! That lessens my motivation to fly so often!)

(Our ridiculous pile of luggage for a seven-week trip to the US)

Languages are also an interesting challenge in our family. When Marc and I first met, we spoke English, because I felt very self-conscious about my German with this man in whom I was romantically interested. (And I think he wanted to practice his English!) But we soon switched to German, as Marc decided that I needed to practice all I could. And that became our relationship language.

13_N C

When it was clear that I would stay home with Noah, we decided to keep German as our family language, so that I could maintain the level I had reached. We further decided that we would implement the “one person one language” method, meaning that each parent would speak his/her native language to our children. While Noah’s daycare was bilingual, the primary language influence was definitely German. And now Noah speaks almost exclusively German, with a few English words mixed in. It’s only been in the last year or so that we’ve noticed that he can differentiate between the languages and consciously chooses to speak German. It’s only occasionally that he’ll speak to my parents (who understand almost no German) in completely English sentences, but that doesn’t last very long before he reverts back to German and I have to translate what he’s saying for them.


With Charlotte, we quickly noticed that she understands more English than German. This prompted Marc to start speaking more English with the kids, in order to encourage her to speak more English as well. She doesn’t yet speak fluently, but most of her vocabulary is definitely English, with the exception of a few German words, that are simply easier than their English counterparts (like “danke” instead of “thank you”). It’s sometimes difficult for me to have Noah respond to me almost completely in German, as I’d clearly like to hear my son fluently speaking my native language. My consolation is that he understands everything and I think speaking English will come with time and with spending more time in the US.


Another challenge is living in a foreign culture with kids, with the emphasis on foreign. While I speak fluent German, I didn’t grow up here and even after having lived here for eight years and having gotten used to a lot about the German culture, some aspects of it are still foreign to me. For example, general thinking here is that a child that is not dressed warmly enough is going to get sick. Therefore, you will almost always see the German children wearing hats (and potentially scarves) once fall begins. And if your baby is not wearing a hat or perhaps not wearing socks, because you don’t feel like it’s “that” cold, it almost never fails that a well-meaning older lady will point out that fact to you and in typical direct fashion, demand that you “remedy” it. This was a huge shock to me when I first had Noah and I truly had to learn how to deal with this kind of criticism of my parenting (at least that’s what it feels like). Or the doctors here tend to only prescribe antibiotics when they feel they’re absolutely necessary. So it was a pretty big surprise to me when Noah had an ear infection and the pediatrician said to place a paper towel packet filled with chopped onions on his ear. (It did work!)


(A sick Noah in 2012 with cotton balls soaked in Saint John’s Wort on his ears – another home remedy - under the hat.)

I was then a little less surprised, though, when Charlotte had a horrible seeping diaper rash and the remedy for that was to wipe her with cloth wipes dipped in strong black tea (causes the skin to constrict – it worked like a charm!). After almost five years of parenthood under my belt, I’ve become accustomed to a lot of things, but every once in a while, situations still occur that really surprise (and sometimes offend) me and give me something to chew on (or complain about).

17_c d

(Fortunately, this girl LOVES to wear hats – and represent Detroit on the playground! ;)

Lastly, there is a lot of pressure on women here to “have it all”, meaning a career and family. It is most typical to return to work when the baby is a year old. Given the fact that I worked after Noah and had achieved a decent level in my company, I was frequently asked how much longer I was going to stay home with Charlotte and got a lot of surprised (and some very critical) looks when I had no intention of going back before her third birthday. I regularly get asked if I miss work or if not working leaves a void in my life. And too often, it’s other moms that are doing the asking. I’ve learned to shrug it off, as I’m unendingly grateful for the opportunity to stay home full-time with my kids without having to quit my job. This is the right choice for our family in this season and I have no qualms about it. I don’t know yet know what model we’ll choose when this phase is over, but I don’t have to know that right now.


Is this how you expected it to be pre-kids?

Yes, pretty much. I always thought that I would stay at home with my kids. It seemed logical and familiar, because while my mom worked, but she either worked from home around our schedule or went to work when my dad was home. I’m glad, though, that I had the opportunity to work part-time, because I don’t have that “what-if” in the back of my mind.


-Is this your ideal situation? If not, what is?

It’s really, really close! Though, in my ideal situation, Marc would work less overtime and be home every afternoon at 4 p.m. And there would be a faster way to get back and forth to Michigan, so that we could go over to my parents house there for dinner and still sleep in our own beds. (I realize that my ideal doesn’t at all resemble any form of reality!)

-Do you see yourself making a career change (whatever that means) in the next 5-10 years? Or is this current set up staying put for the long haul?

Yes, definitely. I’ve worked in various positions in HR in my company and can’t honestly imagine any of them being truly part-time and compatible with our family. Ultimately, I’d love to start a small business, but I’m currently too hesitant and don’t yet have the perfect idea. (Note the “currently” and “yet”!)

-How do you handle mommy guilt?

Really, the only guilt I regularly feel is in regard to giving each of my kids what they need while balancing the needs of all three. A silly example is after having had a c-section with Daniel, I’m not supposed to pick Charlotte up for a number of weeks. And this is really hard on me, because I feel like I’m denying my little big girl something when she asks to be carried up the stairs into the apartment and I refuse and make her walk. I handle this by letting my rational side remind my emotional self that not being able to fulfill each need immediately (I let her crawl into my lap once we get into the apartment) won’t damage them long-term, on the contrary, it might even teach them something positive, like delayed gratification.


-Advice for new moms struggling with returning to work outside of the home? Or struggling to decide if staying at home is the right choice?

Follow your gut and try it out! But if the path you chose isn’t for you, admit it and make a change. (If you can. I know there are some moms that would love to stay at home, but can’t for financial reasons.)

-How do meals work in your family? Meal planning? How often do you grocery shop? Who is in charge of this task in your family??

I’m the primary cook in our family. In Germany, it’s normal to eat a dinner-type meal at lunchtime and then have cold cuts, cheese and bread for dinner. So I make a warm meal for Charlotte and I at lunchtime (Noah eats in kindergarten, Marc at work). And then I cook for the whole family on the weekends. I don’t meal plan, though I definitely like the idea of it. And we grocery shop about every third day, because our fridge is standard German-sized (or in other words, mini!):

(That’s a quarter gallon of milk in the middle for reference!)

Marc does most of the grocery shopping, because there just isn’t enough room in the basket of the stroller to store the grocery bags (which we bring to the store from home, by the way, as we would otherwise have to pay for the bags in the store). He really stocks us up about once a week and I go to the farmer’s market or the store about twice a week as well, particularly for fruit and vegetables.

-Tips on how you make your situation work for you:

First and foremost, I have an incredibly helpful and understanding husband. He (almost) never puts pressure on me to have the house tidy, the laundry be washed and put away or a home-cooked meal on the table every night (we aren’t above chicken nuggets or fish sticks with a side of veggies!). He pitches in wherever he can and even gets up in the night to give the baby his bottle. He is helpful, kind, the best dad my kids could have and truly my partner in all things. I wouldn’t want to do this life without him!

(A date at a soccer game)

Also, I get out of the house. When I first had Noah, I felt so isolated, because none of our friends had kids. I started attending a playgroup, went to baby swimming and did a baby sign language course with him. Now, even with three kids, I meet up with friends at least twice a week, whether it’s for the playgroup I host for English native speakers or just a play date at the playground. I also go out in the evenings, once a month with a big group of moms and about once a month on a date with my husband. We are really lucky to have a fantastic babysitter that our kids love.

(At a playground)

I also don’t worry so much about having a perfectly clean apartment. I try to tidy up the kitchen every morning and the living room every evening, but the kids’ room is often a sea of toys and my windows could definitely use a washing.

(My little “helpers” took every piece of clothing out of Noah’s dresser and threw them around the room!)

{Thank you, Sarah! Find the rest of the MMIW series here}


  1. So interesting to read about how languages work differently with each of your kids! Also, loved reading about the cultural differences and how you make that work for you. Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. Love the international posters! It's all so different - and yet the same?!

  3. I loved this feature - so interesting to read about an American in another country. I'm fascinated by the parental leave and the language - so interesting to thin that each child "takes" to one language over the other.

  4. Sarah,

    I loved your post! I'm a German mom that moved to the States 9 years ago, so the exact opposite of you. It is so interesting to see how you feel about certain things (the socks made me chuckle since we just spent 6 months back home and our daughter's kindergarten teacher did exactly this... gave me a look and told me that my child needs to wear socks. I guess I've gotten rid of this habit in the last 9 years ;-)).

    It is also very interesting to see how your kids pick up each language. I struggle with this since I want my kids to be bilingual but it is so hard. They were fluent while we were back home for so long but now 4 months in the States again are losing their ability to speak fluent :-(

    This post makes me totally homesick but it was so much fun reading it :-)

    Viele Gruesse ueber den Teich :-)

  5. So interesting. I don't know if it makes me happy or sad that German moms feel the pressure "to have it all" too. I thought maybe we were just "unlucky" here in the States to feel that pressure - but maybe it's a universal mom thing? That needs to change!

    And the natural remedies! While we're so used to thinking it's antibiotics or nothing around here, I love hearing that onions in the ears or tea on the butt actually WORK. As a mom of a chronic ear infection sufferer... well, I might be buying some onions!

    Thanks for writing!

  6. I found this so interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I found your article while searching for "moms in Germany" and really enjoyed reading this...I love other cultures and found this very interesting!


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