This text comes from the family newsletter of the Süddeutsche Zeitung. You can subscribe here.
I recently accompanied my daughter to a children’s birthday party, there were cakes in rainbow colors and a disco with scraps of toilet paper that the children threw around in the air, in short: I wasn’t really in demand there. So I sat down on a bench in front of the house and got hold of the first warm rays of sunshine of the year. A pedestrian took a seat next to me and we started talking. The man was 32 years old, a few days ago, he tells me, he bent over with his girlfriend about her positive pregnancy test, congratulations, how nice, and so on.
I talked about the children’s disco in the house, and then it started, how we do “that” with the division of the family and how much he wants to do “it” differently than his father and grandfather did: Be there for the child, at least half of the parental leave, “if not more”. I persuaded him how great I think that was and remembered my seven months of parental leave, but above all to the tweet of my department colleague Vera Schroeder: “Does that affect you, men?” – she asked on the occasion of a current survey, which showed once again how unequally childcare and housework are divided up in many families.
Of course, I can’t speak for all men. But it really does affect me and many other fathers around me, so much so that some people are very worried – not least about the empty family wallet, as my colleague Malte Conradi commented a few years ago: “Fathers are on parental leave today a middle-class phenomenon. Low earners as well as high earners cite one reason above all why they do not apply for parental allowance: they don’t have enough money.”
But even in the middle class it very often really doesn’t work out at all. A few days ago, the authors summed up the problem in a report published by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs: “Often one first takes on something different than one then lives,” said Allensbach boss Renate Köcher at the presentation – which can be read in the text my colleague Miriam Dahlinger.
The report was about family pressures, and I thought of these words as I sat on the wooden bench with my random Sunday afternoon acquaintance: What people set out to do when they have children. How great the desire is to organize everyday life on an equal footing – and finally, under the pressure that weighs on families, to throw good resolutions overboard and look for pragmatic solutions. Unfortunately, this often leads – I know it myself – to slipping into a (re-)traditionalization, sometimes unnoticed or involuntarily, as the report puts it.
The reasons, explanations and causes are complex, varied, we have about that in the Süddeutsche Zeitung already frequently reported. For example, this search for clues by Lisa Seelig is recommended. It ranges from wanting to being able, of course also from ignorance to fear to the cerebral hemorrhage of a friend of mine, which almost cost him his life and now in many moments of the day his fatherhood, because sometimes he needs all the strength not to fall over again.
In other words, the road to equality is hard, rocky and branches out differently in every family, rarely straight and paved. To be honest: I don’t know of any patent solution either, other than making a conscious decision every day as a family and also as a father to want to go the way, no matter what the cost, as long as it is somehow possible.
Of course, I didn’t tell my neighbor at the bank all of this. The last thing I wanted was to upset his plans. Important when becoming a parent, I thought to myself, is this sometimes almost naïve magic that is as precious as gold dust. Unfortunately just as fleeting, so just don’t blow it away. Instead, I wished him good luck and strength and said to him when I said goodbye: “We also try to live 50/50 as much as possible, so you are not alone!” He didn’t answer, he smiled.
Have a nice weekend