Being a single parent does not preclude you from being able to work abroad. When I suddenly became a single parent, I feared that I would no longer be able to live the life that I loved.
By sharing my own story as a single parent abroad, I will attempt to give you a starting point in your journey and to help you to understand what the expat life involves.
You CAN succeed as a single parent abroad
Initially, life became more a matter of surviving than thriving, which left little room for creativity. But fast forward eight years, and almost 5,000 miles away, to see resilience and determination in action as I charted a successful new course for myself.
I never stopped dreaming and I held on tight to my understanding of who I was, even when the challenges made that unclear. If you are a dental hygienist in the same or similar circumstances, you will see that being a single parent simply forces you to be creative, resourceful, and adaptable.
While living overseas as a single parent will present unique challenges, you can certainly overcome them with the skills you already have.
Culturally, in Germany, mothers do not work while raising young children. Those who do work usually do so to provide a supplementary income. Therefore, I knew that a working and single mother would be seen as an anomaly and would be discouraged.
Undeterred, I found my inspiration to take on such an opportunity from the experience of a dental hygienist in Switzerland. I never met her but by the time her story reached my ears, she had become a legend. She had moved to Switzerland with two small boys to work in the French-speaking region. Whether or not the story was entirely true wasn’t the point. I figured that if she could move abroad as a single parent, there must be a way I could make it work.
My life as a single parent abroad
With no resources to turn to three years ago, I had to use my imagination. Based on what I knew, Switzerland and Germany both had stable social systems in place, which was my most compelling motivation. This would benefit me as an employee because:
- The law would protect my income, with a contract. For example, if you work in Germany for at least a year and then lose your job through no fault of your own, you will be covered by the unemployment insurance for an initial period of 12 months. (Depending on your immigration status, you may need to find other, replacement employment within three months.)
- Visits to the doctor, the hospital, or another provider are covered in your insurance plan and, thus, are virtually free. In other words, you’ll have no copay, or only a very minimal one.
- There are an abundance of public holidays that can be combined with the generous vacation allowance (around six weeks) to create bridges equalling longer than six weeks—thus, allowing for visits back home.
- My housing would also be protected through various nets as long as I contributed to the social system.
- Additionally, the German government gives each family with children a monthly allowance per child.
Though I would be moving abroad for employment, I knew that, as a dental hygienist, I would hardly work a 40-hour workweek. I would likely have at least one day off per week to take care of personal things. I’d also have loads of vacation time.
The generous vacation policy makes it possible to plan trips back home at least once per working year. This is necessary for children, so that they maintain close ties with their family members back home.
Childcare options for single parents in Germany
Understand that entrusting your child entirely to the childcare system is frowned upon here in Germany, as the culture encourages families to be responsible for childcare.
However, the system appreciates the unique circumstances of a single parent abroad and makes an effort to shield this vulnerable family unit. The law usually gives extra consideration and priority to single working parents.
Working parents have various government regulated childcare options available to them. This offers some peace of mind that caregivers have sufficient training and qualifications to care for children.
Examples of regulated childcare options
- Tagesmutter/Tagesvater (in-home baby-sitter)
- KiTa (or nursery strictly for younger children)
- Hort (after school care for school-aged children)
- Break camps (for school-aged children)
Each of these options has its advantages. However, you may not have access to all of these services, depending upon your child’s age. I have had experience with them all for different reasons.
A single parent can apply for the services of a Tagesmutter/Tagesvater via the local government. They can also get information about which KiTas are available from the local government’s child care office and apply directly at each one.
KiTas are in high demand and spots are difficult to come by. You should get on the waiting list for any child care service, especially the KiTas, as soon as possible. Some even enroll immediately after the birth of the child. You can find a more detailed post here.
The school system
The school system in Germany is completely different from that in the U.S. and shouldn’t be relied upon for childcare. Younger students usually go to school until 1 p.m., which means that you will need to arrange for some type of childcare for the better part of the day.
You will also need to manage snacks and lunch on your own. Kindergarten is not a part of elementary school but, rather, is part of the nursery school system. Elementary school ends in the 4th grade.
Fifth graders and other upperclassmen study together at different secondary schools. Your secondary education path is decided in the 4th grade, based mostly on your grade point average.
There are three types of secondary schools and each will determine which type of employment your child can access after the schooling is complete.
The three types are: Gymnasium (college-prep high school), Realschule (high school for professions that don’t require a college degree), and Haupt/Mittelschule (lowest-level secondary education) See this blog post for more details.
Income planning is crucial for single parents abroad
One of the best ways to start planning an overseas move is by determining how much your earnings will be.
Because dental hygiene is not a regulated profession, the salaries are also unregulated. You could expect to earn anywhere from €20-40/hour depending on where you work. See this blog post for a detailed explanation of how to plan financially as a dental hygienist in Germany.
As you can see, a move abroad no small feat for a single parent, but it is totally doable. It simply requires an understanding of what you are up against and how to use what is at your disposal to your benefit.
Never forget to use your in-demand status as a bargaining tool. Your future employer and his/her staff may be your best resources on the ground. They may be willing to do some legwork to get you working as soon as possible.
I learned to tap into all of my resources and use whatever was available to help myself along the way. I got loads of help as I went along! Now when people ask me how I manage to work abroad as a single parent, I simply respond, “Very well and thank you.”