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Mum’s the Word
(originally published in the May 2009 issue of Expat In Switzerland)

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Living in a foreign country certainly opens up new doors and challenges, but there is nothing like becoming a parent (particularly in a foreign country) for opening up a whole new universe! Once in this new phase in life one automatically comes into contact with others in the same boat, at the playground, swimming pool, play group, kindergarten etc and of course later at school. Hmm, school, what a strange system it appears to be in Switzerland, varying from county to county. Where we live, in Aargau, bordering on Zug and Luzern - so not even in deepest, darkest Aargau - the school system hasn't even discovered block times yet. This means that our son actually has different school hours on each day of the week, until the beginning of the next school year that is, when he will start with a brand new set of different school hours every day of the week ... Not only no block times but the children also come home for lunch every day, on the dot of 12. There was never a time in our lives when we needed our parents more I reckon - than upon the arrival of their grandchildren!

So how to cope with working and this seemingly precarious school system? Well, creativity, flexibility, management, networking all spring to mind. Neighbours and friends - which are often those other mother's you meet at the school gates are absolutely invaluable for support when you live far away from your own flesh and blood. Our son has been going to our neighbour's house for lunch once a week since he could toddle and likewise our neighbour's kids know my culinary boundaries as well as their own mother's. Something as simple as freeing up that one and half hour lunch slot in the middle of a school day can have a tremendous impact for a working mum - I can work 7 hours straight that day - that's one day sorted... Fathers of course are also slowly being given the chance to catch up with their counterparts in the rest of western Europeand I now know several fathers here who have been able to reduce their working hours to perhaps a four day week or at least include a home office day in their working week - that's another day sorted...

As a mum I understand the need for flexibility and as my business is centred around families and kids Saturday is a good day to accommodate them, another day sorted for me - dad's at home... There are of course some excellent child care options out there, but depending on where you live, what you earn and how much flexibility on offer, not suitable for everyone. To be fair some counties have already adopted the working mum friendly approach to schooling but here in Aargau we are still waiting for that all important reform; which, I believe, if it is goes through, will mean that the first kids to go through the new system with regular block times, school lunches, pre and after school care etc in Aargau will be the school leavers of 2025! So in the meantime, all of us in a similar situation need to keep networking with all those other mums - but its easy really, the kids lead us to them!

Linda Atschreiter

Linda is a regular contributor to the ExpatInCH.com newsletter and runs the Foto eMotion photographic studio in Zug. See www.foto-emotion.ch for more information.

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