In the name of the father

German men have become the weaker sex. Not even the Constitutional Court decision opening the way for unmarried fathers to gain joint custody of their children can change that. But that doesn’t make fathers any less important, writes Tissy Bruns from Der Tagesspiegel.

In the name of the father
Photo: DPA

Every child knows that mum and dad are different and boys and girls need, want and love those subtle differences between parents. Adults, on the other hand, are pretty unsure about what the guiding principles of parenthood should be.

During break-ups and custody battles, women, whether they are housewives, employed, or single parents, are seen mainly as ‘mothers’ in Germany and they usually win the legal battle by virtue of this.

Our ideas about what is motherly and what motherhood means are much clearer than they are about ‘fatherhood’ and ‘fatherly’ qualities. Men choosing to be fathers have become the weaker sex in modern German society.

The Constitutional Court ruling on Tuesday cannot suddenly suspend this crucial distinction, despite making it easier for unmarried father to win joint custody of their children. But the father is still important – because the emphatic lessons and experiences of women’s emancipation count for fathers too. More rights mean more responsibility – in this case taking care of children.

Traditional father roles have been steamrollered, first by the catastrophes of the last century and then by the women’s liberation movement. The authoritarian patriarch, who thinks dealing with small children is unmanly and is mainly responsible for handing out punishments, is long since outdated.

The patriarchal figure is even disappearing among Germany’s immigrant populations, which have often grown up with such archetypes. Nowadays young women with children have few qualms to leave such machos. This female victory march has also destroyed the idea of the “family-breadwinner,” a figure who dominated the first decades of post-war Germany, despite the enshrinement of equality in the constitution.

And the ideal of the fatherly “protector” – the man who shows the growing child the world and guides him along the path to working life – is no longer untouchable either. Mothers can and do perform this role too – and much too often they do it alone.

But an ideal “androgynous” parenthood, in which parents are not only equal before the law, but actually equal, has not yet been established despite a growing number of “modern” fathers. The more diffuse our image of fatherhood has become, the clearer we see that fathers, or father figures, are missing from our families, our childcare facilities, and our schools.

The lack of a father is a disadvantage that many single mothers feel painfully because they cannot make up for it, despite their best efforts. That a lot of mothers engage in long legal battles to separate children from their fathers only makes matters worse.

Perhaps young girls and boys have a better idea of what makes a good dad than men and women. But adults should at least know that fatherhood only develops and proves itself worthy through interaction with children – it does not come out of the economic, social or legal domination of women. Fortunately the old patriarchal roles have disappeared.

But that makes room for a new, hopeful development that can be seen in court custody battles, in applications for parental leave benefits, and in many families. Men really want to be fathers, not patriarchs, breadwinners or disciplinarians.

The fundamental differences remain, however. In all cultures and societies, mothers have been given the role of looking after children. Mothering means love, care, and self-sacrifice. But until the invention of paternity tests, there was not even the slightest certainty about what and who a father should be.

Instead, there were just powerful cultural mores that have changed enormously over the centuries. It is also a kind of emancipation if men can be fathers without having to be patriarchs and breadwinners first. But mothers have to want that too.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

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How much does it cost to bring up a child in Germany?

Most Germans say that family is the most important thing in their life - but what are the realities of raising children in Germany? We take a look at the outlook for families, and how much it really costs to raise a child.

A young girl with a piggy bank
A young girl with a piggy bank. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Patrick Pleul

The outlook for families in Germany

According to a recent report on families and finance by German payments provider Mollie, there are 11.4 million family households in Germany at the moment. Around 35.6 percent of these households have just one child, while 26.5 percent have two, and the rest have three or more.

Children under the age of 18 live in 8.2 million family households, and in the remaining 3.4 million households, families live with adult children. 

When it comes to the birthrate, Germany general falls in the middle of other European countries, with each woman having an average of 1.54 children. 

The so-called lockdown baby boom may be having some impact on the numbers: in March 2021, more than 65,000 babies came into the world in Germany. This is the highest number of newborns the country has seen in a single month since 1998. 

However, the authors of the study say the link between the birthrate and Covid may be a little more complex than that. While there were indeed record births in March, the birthrate only crept up by around 1.4 percent in the first part of the year as a whole. 

“This suggests that the pandemic has had little to no impact on family planning,” they explained. “Though families and couples may be keeping a closer eye on their finances and planning their spending more carefully since the pandemic.

“However, since there also hasn’t been a dramatic decline in births, current financial constraints nevertheless don’t seem to be having an impact on births in Germany either.”

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about parental leave in Germany

Cost of raising a child

Many parents will tell you that you can’t put a price on having children, but the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) would beg to differ. According to the latest data, raising a child in Germany will set you back around €148,000 by the time they turn 18 – and the costs increase along with the child’s age.

Here are the average annual costs of raising a child by age, according to Destatis:

  • 0-6 years old: €7,000 per year
  • 6-12 years old: €8,200 per year
  • 12-18 years old: €9,400 per year 

So, what are the main expenses involved in raising a child? According to Destatis, food, education and the cost of childcare in the first years of life all make a major dent in the family budget. Then, as children get older and develop other hobbies and interests, spending on leisure, entertainment and culture tends to also increase.

When comparing affluent families with low-income families, there was a clear difference in how much was spent on raising children. In 2018, poorer families spent an average of €424 per month on each child. Wealthy families, on the other hand, spent €1,212 euros – almost three times as much.

What about pocket money? 

Though it’s definitely not the largest expense involved in bringing up a child, many parents grapple with the question of how much pocket money to give their children. Luckily, the German Youth Institute (DJI) has recommendations on that, conveniently divided into different age groups as the chart below shows.

Chart showing recommended pocket money for kids

Chart showing the recommended pocket money for children at different ages. Source: German Youth Institute

For small children under the age of six, for example, €0.50 to €1 a week is the recommended pocket money, while teenagers aged 14-17 years should get between €26 and €63 a month, depending on their exact age.

By giving children pocket money each month, parents can teach them how to manage money better at an early age. With a fixed monthly amount, they ideally start to understand what they can afford and what they can’t, and also learn to prioritise the things they want or need the most. 

In addition to pocket money, DJI also suggests parents set aside a monthly budget for the child’s other expenses that can be managed by either them or older children. Adjusted for inflation in 2020, this budget includes €30-50 a month for clothes and shoes, €20-30 for eating out, €15-20 for public transport, €10-20 for a phone contract or credit, and €5-10 for stationary and toiletries respectively.

What financial help is there?

Though raising a child may feel financially unmanageable for some, Germany does have a wide range of government benefits available – especially for lower income and single parents.

Parents in Germany can access child benefits (Kindergeld), maternity benefits, parental allowance and tax relief while bringing up a child. From Kindergeld alone, parents receive €219 per child for their first and second child, which goes up to €225 for the third child and €250 for additional children after that. 

A mother and child
A mother looks after her child while working from home. There are many sources of financial help available for single and low-income parents in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

Single parents also have the option of getting an advance on maintenance payments from the government if the other parent fails to meet their obligations. The Federal Foundation ‘Mother Child’ (Mutter Kind) also offers help to mothers with small incomes in particular. 

The state also provides special support for families with low incomes, such as stipends for education and participation so that the child can take part in cultural and educational activities.


Financial support for pupils and students

For 50 years now, the Federal Government has been providing students with financial support for their education.

Regardless of the financial situation of their parents, young people receive BAföG, the so-called Federal Training Assistance Act (Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz), during the period of their training and studies.

Since the start of 2020/21 Winter Semester, the maximum BAföG stipend has been €861 euros per month, provided the student doesn’t live with his or her parents and financial assistance from the family is no longer possible.