This study investigates how the availability and expansion of childcare services for children aged under 3 years relate to the subjective wellbeing of German mothers and fathers. It extends previous studies by examining in more detail the relationship between day-care availability and use, maternal employment and parental subjective wellbeing during early childhood in a country with expanding childcare services and varying work–care cultures. The empirical analysis links annual day-care attendance rates at the county-level to individual-level data of the Socio-Economic Panel Study for 2007–2012 and the ‘Families in Germany’ Study for 2010–2012. We apply fixed-effects panel models to samples of 2002 couples and 376 lone mothers. We find some evidence of a positive effect of the day-care expansion only on satisfaction with family life for lone mothers and for full-time employed partnered mothers. Transitions to full-time employment are associated with reductions in subjective wellbeing irrespective of local day-care availability among partnered mothers in West Germany but not in East Germany. These results suggest that varying work–care cultures between East and West Germany are more important moderators of the relationship between maternal employment and satisfaction than short-term regional expansions of childcare services.