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After the birth of our son, I (husband) chose not to take parental leave (Elternzeit), which in Germany is guaranteed by law.

My boss asked if I would want to go, and I said "no".

However, my situation has changed now that our son is a few months old and I need to take half a year of parental leave.

I am an old employee here, and many old things can be done only by me effectively. But my position is fragile: This half-year will be roughly enough for the company to teach others to perform my tasks.

Can I change my decision after I've said to them that I don't want to go? How do I communicate it with the least possible loss of face?

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    @Iris Ok, thanks! But, the marriage happens on the law of another country, which is only recognized by Germany. Furthermore, in the case of a baby, no court will allow me to see him. Furthermore, "joint custody" means typically in the case of the fathers, that they can be with their child only for every second weekend. – Gray Sheep Jan 10 at 10:47
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    Ok, I found this, so you need to act quickly. "Maternity or paternal leave must be applied for through the employer seven weeks prior to the planned leave period." Can she wait that long? Also, what about marriage counseling? or counseling through your church? Also, if she really wants you to take time off, she'll have to do her part and see a medical doctor at least, even if it's just for a doctor's note to allow you to take time off to take care of her. It's ultimately her choice. She doesn't have to be treated if she doesn't want to, but her getting a note would help her get what she wants. – Stephan Branczyk Jan 10 at 11:13
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Stephan Branczyk Jan 10 at 11:22
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    @GraySheep: I had a similar situation a few years ago. We waited too long before we got help from mental health professionals. The postpartum depression was just the beginning and it took a long time to recover. Seeking help should be your top priority now. I wish you all the best. – Eric Duminil Jan 11 at 17:20
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    You might be able to find specialized centers for postpartum depression in which the mother can spend a lot of time with the child. schatten-und-licht.de/index.php/de/mutter-kind-einrichtungen – Eric Duminil Jan 12 at 12:33
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About the workplace aspect of this:

  • The law (Bundeselterngeld- und Elternzeitgesetz) entitles parents to take up to 36 months of parental leave (Elternzeit) per child (this is for both together, and only 24 months may be taken after the child turns three) - so no problem there.
  • To actually take this leave, you must notify your employer seven weeks in advance. You can choose the duration of the leave (within the limits above), but you must commit to this duration - so there is no right to return early or extend the leave.
  • Instead of taking complete leave, you may work part-time (up to 30h/week). Companies with less than 15 employees may refuse to offer part-time work.

The rules above are the legal minimum - employers may offer more (for example flexible duration of the leave). That is up to you to negotiate.

In practice, what you should do is:

  • Figure out whether you prefer staying at home or working part-time - depending on how you can best balance your family's and your workplace's needs.
  • Then sit down with your boss as soon as possible and explain your situation. They may or may not accomodate you, maybe even allow you to start your leave before the 7-week notification period, or allow you to only commit to a few months of leave with an option to extend it.
  • If you cannot come to an agreement (or if that is your agreement), you can always fall back to your legal rights and just formally request Elternzeit, as explained above.

About the family aspect:

This part is off-topic for this site, but as I had a similar situation, I feel including it may help.

You write that

By law, she can divorce me any time

This is true, but mostly irrelevant, because in Germany divorce has almost no bearing on child custody.

and take away my son.

I understand that you are worried - but this is wrong. If you were married when your son was born, you (almost always) have joint legal custody (Gemeinsames Sorgerecht) for your son. That means neither of you may unilaterally make decisions about the child, such as moving out with them.

If she does move out with him without your permission, that is generally illegal, and if you go to court she will likely be ordered to send him back, unless she can show a good reason for taking him away (such as abuse). However, if it comes to this, you absolutely, positively need a) a good family lawyer, and b) to act as quickly as possible, because in child custody matters, every day counts. I hope it does not come to this - but rest assured, even if it does, you can do something.

she is having a difficult time and I can't talk to her about this.

This is the crux, I fear. You will have to find a way to talk about this, and/or find help from trusted family, friends, a counselor, whatever.

In the meantime, you will need to take care of these matters, and most importantly, take care of your son. Hopefully your parental leave will allow you to do this. Best of luck!

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    For the aspect of talking with the wife, maybe the interpersonal stackexchange can help OP further: www.interpersonal.stackexchange.com – kscherrer Jan 10 at 13:53
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    +1 for mentioning the part time option. Also, you really do have to talk to your partner about this. My partner and I alternate work days and baby care days because we'd both go crazy as stay at home parents and love the change of scenery every other day. – Sumyrda - Reinstate Monica Jan 11 at 6:19
  • The meaning of "joint custody" is this: dad can have every second weekend with his son. – Gray Sheep Feb 17 at 0:23
  • @GraySheep: That totally depends on circumstances. "Every 2nd weekend" is usually the minimum, but it can be more, e.g. "Wechselmodell" (50/50) or even only every 2nd weekend with the mother. But we are digressing - that is a different question. – sleske Feb 17 at 8:02
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My boss has asked if I would want to go, and I said "no".

So, your boss doesn't seem to be completely against you taking a parental leave. You didn't lie to him, and it's okay that your circumstances changed. You can just tell him that your wife wants to return to work earlier, or something like this.

I am an old employee here, and many old things can be done only by me effectively. But my position is fragile: This half-year will be roughly enough for the company to teach others to perform my tasks.

In Germany it's very hard to get fired just because there is someone else who can do your job. What exactly are you afraid of?

  • I am afraid of this: because I leave for a half year, the company will need to employ someone in my place. After I will come back, this employee will already sit on my place (and did likely many things very differently as I did). The likely outcome: I will get other tasks, where I will be either good or not. If not... – Gray Sheep Jan 10 at 16:33
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    This is something that a lot of parents have to do, and of course it rarely makes employers happy. It is, however, perfectly normal, and it's also very common that both parents spend some time with children, not only women. Did your wife take a parental leave? She might have the same concerns about her future. – lawful_neutral Jan 10 at 19:21
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    @GraySheep If I'm not completely mistaken, you, as a parent, have the right to return to your working position after the parental leave. The company usually cannot just move you to a different position when you return. – QueensKnight Jan 11 at 12:12
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My boss has asked if I would want to go, and I said "no".

And that was correct at the time. But you never signed away your right to parental leave (which I think is not even legally possible), you just expressed an opinion. Your opinion has changed. That happens.

Can I change my decision after I've said to them that I don't want to go?

Absolutely. Life happens. Decisions change. Remember years ago in grammar school when girls where icky and you never wanted to play with them? That changed too, didn't it? Life is not constant and a child is certainly a life-changing event.

How do I communicate it with the least possible loss of face?

There is no face loss at all either way. You schedule a meeting with your boss and you tell them "Hey, I know I said I did not want to take parental leave, but oh boy having a child is way more than I expected. I would like to take parental leave. What do I need to do?"

There is two types of bosses: those without children, who will think "what do I know, it certainly sounds like it's a lot" and those with children who probably sit there smiling, thinking "I could have told you". Anyway, it should not be a big deal. It happens all the time.

  • They have children and understand the problem, but they are profit-oriented company and they want a productive team. If they teach a new employee for my tasks, there will be no reason for them to switch everything back after I come back. I will likely get other tasks. What if I won't be very good in them? – Gray Sheep Jan 10 at 17:36
  • @GraySheep That bridge would require crossing when it would be reached. It's probably more healthy to accept some sort of loss and see it as a sacrifice for doing what needs to be done and deal with things as they come as best you can. People do incredible sacrifices for their loved ones. – brett Jan 11 at 11:38
  • @GraySheep: As brett explains, this is a risk, but nothing is without risks. Also, getting other tasks can also happen without parental leave, and you might even like the new tasks more than the old tasks :-). So I don't think it make sense to worry too much about this aspect. Finally, if you are worried about losing your position in the company, maybe working part-time is a solution for you - that gives you more time for your family, but still allows you to "keep your foot in the door" at work. – sleske Jan 13 at 11:30
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If I don't do that, she will likely divorce

It's a big red flag. You need to improve your relationship with your wife and find out why she's so strict. Maybe you could see a family psychologist.

Can I change my word after I've said to them that I don't want to go? How to communicate it with the least possible face loss?

You can change the word, and that's okay. You should talk to your manager and explain the situation(if needed). I would also talk to HR for more information.

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    That's why I would recommend to visit a doctor together. Good luck – Andrei Suvorkov Jan 10 at 11:17
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    Should OP really explain the situation to their manager? I feel like OP should first try asking.. maybe the manager doesn't need / shouldn't hear all of the details. – dustytrash Jan 10 at 13:21
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    @dustytrash maybe I wasn't clear enough. Yes, explain only if asked – Andrei Suvorkov Jan 10 at 13:32
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    +1 This is the best answer imo, the real issue at play here is much deeper than getting leave. – eps Jan 10 at 22:42
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    @GraySheep I wouldn't push a god in. You both have obligations to the little creation of yours, no divine entity is needed there. By the way, with loyal employees a company can survive several years in red numbers but without them it falls down with just a signal of harder times. Those small helps make people loyal. It does not need to be a charity but a reasonable help. – Crowley Jan 11 at 21:36
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Honestly, the way you describe it I would be worried for the health of my kid. Get help, now! If she really threatens with a divorce that's not a joke.

Then get the parental leave as soon as possbile. The 7 weeks rule can be skipped if the employer agrees, otherwise she will have to wait a while, as long as she knows it is coming that should be okay.

I wouldn't explain everything to the employer in detail, just that it is getting too much and your wife asked for you to take the leave, so she must be really desperate alone.

Your leave will end sooner or later, so make sure your wife gets the medical help she needs and that she is really ready when you start working. Also prepare for the case where she might not be. Part-time, working from home, changing your job, getting her a job while you stay home, a nanny/aupair, there a lots of possibilities.

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    I think there are two parts of your answer that got your answer downvoted. First is the assuming there is something wrong with OP's wife. Without knowing the exact circumstances any assumption can be wrong. Second is the fact that you would normally not expose anyone in order to make a case for yourself. You would definitely want to not expose your spouse in front of your boss, and that's why explaining all the details is wrong in my book. The second and fourth paragraphs in your answer contain good, actionable advice. – brett Jan 11 at 11:53
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    @brett Normally yeah, but the situation in the question does seem a bit on the severe side. At that point it is pretty normal to explain that one cannot work now because one has to be there for one's spouse / child. – jpa Jan 11 at 12:08
  • A generic "family issues" or "family situation" would suffice. I was talking about this formulation: [...] and your wife asked for you to take the leave, so she must be really desperate alone. There's no need to go into details about OP's spouse with the employer, especially not in some way that would put blame on her or tarnish her image. – brett Jan 12 at 11:37
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Why would you be of the risk of losing your face?

Giving a child a birth is not like buing a car or TV set. It is a complete gamechanger. Nothing will be same as it used to be.

Good manager can understand that.

If the company does not understand that, they are not worth your time and effort.

Just the side note; Your position is not fragile. The new trainees may know all tools you are using but they definitely lack the most crucial quality you do have - you know the in-house background and know many custom-tailored workarounds that may seem simple but actually needed a lot of expertise.

Enjoy the time with your wife and son as much as possible, anything else is just a small money.


Edit after reading deleted details:

You may lose nothing when asking. The law says that when you ask for a maternity leave the employer is obliged to allow it within certain time. It does not say they cannot allow you tomorrow.

Ask for the maternity leave or adjusting your work (half time, contractor, home office) and seek help as soon as possible.

Besides, your work is not worth a "weekend kid"

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