A Family that suits your Needs
“Other people have children out of love, we have them out of friendship” – the co-parenting concept can be compared with a patchwork family: the biological parents aren't together. The difference is that the trauma of divorce and the negative emotions of a failed relationship can be avoided with the first model.
By Katarzyna Brejwo
Christine + Gianni = MillaChristine Wagner is 36, she wears a pinafore dress and a girlish smile. She leads me into the kitchen, which is dominated by a long dining table and several chairs – all belonging to a different set. “Gianni loves cooking for his friends”, she says. “When we first met, he warned me: “I’ve got lots of friends, so if that bothers you it’s better that you look for a different man to father your child.”
The kitchen is light and spacious, the balcony overlooks trees and the roofs of neighbouring buildings. This is where the family has breakfast, and where they receive guests. And this is where their four-and-a-half year-old daughter most enjoys spending her time. The door on the right leads to Gianni’s flat, the door on the left to Christine’s. During the day they leave the doors open so that Milla can run about freely between the two apartments. They only shut them when their daughter goes to bed.
To begin with they lived separately, but Christine didn’t want Milla to grow up like the child of divorced parents, who has to relocate from one parent to the other every week. But how do you live together without being a couple? An architect friend of theirs spread her arms in bafflement: the housing market doesn’t have any solutions suitable for families like yours. In the end they were helped by a coincidence: they found two separate but neighbouring apartments in Berlin-Neukölln.
“We decided that Gianni’s kitchen would become the heart of our home and the link between our two flats – all we had to do was build an extra door. And we converted my kitchen into a child’s bedroom,” says Christine. “Our lives instantly became easier. I don’t have to keep calling Gianni every time I needed to go out for half an hour. And if I fancy going for a run in the park, I just put on my running kit and go.”
As recently as ten years ago, this district was predominantly inhabited by Turkish immigrants, but now lots of trendy clubs and cafés have sprung up in between the kebab shops. There are also green spaces, playgrounds and nice neighbours. Gianni works as the manager of a theatre group, Christine is a doctor. They like to go out and meet friends after work.
“Are there arguments sometimes?” I ask. “Once we had a disagreement,” Christine admits. “It was about Milla’s childcare after parental leave. Dropping her off at the crèche took a lot of time, so Gianni wanted to find a childminder. I was against it. Other than that, there isn’t really anything we could argue about. It’s much easier bringing up a child with a friend,” she adds. “You don’t have all the expectations that automatically arise in a romantic relationship. Or maybe we’re just compatible with each other?”
Gianni, an Italian by birth, is rambunctious and spirited, Christine is calm and relaxed. “You’re the authority figure to my clown,” he says jokingly when they decided to have a child. When they first met, she was doing her doctor’s residency to become a surgeon. After she became pregnant, she switched to the internal medicine department, because she wouldn’t have to do night shifts or work a sixty-hour week there.
“How did you know that Gianni was the one?”
“It’s like falling in love,” she says with a wry grin. “The chemistry has to be right. Actually I was certain that things would work out with Gianni after meeting him for the first time.”
She went to their first meeting with her partner Miriam, because the original plan was that the two women would bring up the child together. They told their friends that they were looking for a man, preferably a gay one, who would like to become a father. When no one came forward, they took matters into their own hands. “If so many couples are meeting on the internet nowadays,” thought Christine, “then why not people who want to become parents together?” Internet portals for this already existed in the USA at the time. Familyship – the name Christine and Miriam gave to their project – was supposed to fill the gap on the German market. The first wanted ad was posted by the founders themselves. And one of the first men to contact them was Gianni.
They met up with each other for a year, like any other couple who want to get to know each other better before deciding to have a child. They went to the theatre or art exhibitions together to make sure their views were compatible enough so that they wouldn’t be arguing about every little thing in the future. “A staunch Conservative would find it hard to get on with someone who votes for the Green party,” says Christine.
Christine started to have her first doubts when Miriam unexpectedly backed out of the arrangement. “After we separated I was faced with the question of whether it’s possible to completely separate parenthood and romantic love from one another.”
A few months later she answered “yes” to this question, marked her fertile dates on the calendar and flew to Moscow, where Gianni’s theatre group was booked for a show. Milla was born two months before the calculated due date. Christine and Gianni took turns keeping watch at the incubator. When the nurse wanted to push their beds together in the hospital, they said almost simultaneously: No thanks, that won’t be necessary.
“Does Milla know that you…” I search for the right words, “aren’t quite a typical family?”
“We speak very openly with her about everything,” replies Christine without hesitation. “Of course in language that she understands.”
A short while ago, one of the staff at Milla’s daycare centre asked Christine and Gianni to come in for a meeting: Milla had told them that her father had a new boyfriend. “That was shortly after Jan came into our lives. I explained to the childcare assistant that Milla’s father is gay and had just found a new partner. Jan spends a lot of time with us, and Milla likes him a lot, she treats him like a member of the family.”
Christine has to think for a moment.
“I tend to be more introverted. I view Jan primarily as Gianni’s partner. But Milla likes it best when we’re all together. Because of that we even want to spend a month in South America this year: Gianni, Jan, Milla and I.”
The childcare assistant at the children’s centre thanked Christine for explaining the situation, she didn’t even seem particularly surprised.
“What about Milla?” I enquired.
“We’ve got such diverse friends that I don’t think she even realises that we’re any different from other people. A lesbian couple in our friendship circle recently had a daughter,” remembers Christine. “And Milla told me at bedtime: ‘She has two mummies, and I’ve got a normal family!’– ‘Well, not quite,’ I began, ‘because Babbo and I aren’t married, you know.’ Milla calls Gianni Babbo, it’s the Italian word for Daddy. ‘And why don’t you get married?’ I explained to her that Babbo would prefer to marry Jan, and I’d rather marry another woman.”
“And what did Milla say to that?”
“She said, ‘Ah, okay‘. Children take the world as they find it.”
Father with an uncle role“Do you want children, maybe you’re single, lesbian or gay? You can meet people who want to start a family on a friendship basis here. Whether you’re interested in co-parenting, a rainbow family, multi-parenting or single parenting: you can start the family that suits you!” I read on the homepage of the Familyship.org website. With co-parenting, people come together because they want to share the creation and upbringing of a child without having a romantic liaison. Sometimes the terms Partnered Parenting or Platonic Parenting are used for this approach to starting a family. The idea that you can have children without getting married emerged back in the sixties, during the cultural revolution. The American Rachel Hope, who decided twenty-five years ago to have a child fathered by a man with whom she didn’t have – or want – a romantic relationship, is considered a pioneer in the field of co-parenting. Both of them were the children of divorced parents and thought that a friendship would make a better basis for establishing a family than the hormonal cocktail we commonly refer to as love. Today Rachel Hope also has a four year-old daughter from another co-partner as well as her now-adult son. She’s written a guide for people who want to follow her example. That’s become much easier since the internet’s been around.
“I’m looking for a sperm donor who would also like to be a father. I’ve already got two older children. I expect a sincere and friendly contact and fair distribution of tasks,” writes Esra2018 from Thur in Germany on Familyship (she states her role as “mother”).
“I’m a heterosexual, single woman, full of warmth and love. With me, relationships end at some point, but the desire to have a child remains,” writes Wittke from Cologne (role: mother).
“We are a lesbian couple (37 and 40), and we already have two children. Their ages are 2 and 6, and we really enjoy the highs and lows of family life with its day-to-day chaos”, write service users ErlangerFamilie from Erlangen (role: mother), who are hoping to expand their family.
“The traditional family model seems overloaded to me. It’s meant to fulfil too many requirements: friendship, material security, progeny, sex and common interests,” s_glisse from Zurich explains his motivation (role: sperm donor, father with uncle function, active father).
Anyone who wants to register as a user on Familyship has to pay a fee (19 Euro for one month, 29 Euro for six months and 79 Euro for a lifetime membership) and define their required role. The choices are: active father, father with uncle function (with less intensive contact to his child than an active father), sperm donor, active mother and mother with aunt function. And anyone who is also looking for a potential partner above and beyond family planning can also state this in their profile.
Christine actually wanted to close the website as soon as she had found a father for her child. But within a few months, several hundred people had registered on Familyship. Today the site has four thousand registered users. “I wouldn’t have expected so many people to have a similar problem to me,” she says. “And certainly not that so many of those people are heterosexual women. I always thought they wouldn’t need co-parenting to have children. Today they are our most important target group, and represent the largest proportion of our users, around sixty per cent.”
Jennifer + Mathilda’s father = MathildaJennifer and Mathilda | © Jennifer Sutholt, private collection Jennifer Sutholt waves to me from her table in the Japanese bar, and I think she looks a lot like Claudia Schiffer. And that I’d better not say that to her, because as a cabin crew member she’s sure to get plenty of compliments of that nature. We talk about children: how to get them to sleep, when to wean them. There are plenty of children still out and about here, even though it’s already after eight o’clock in the evening. One couple, who have just ordered sushi, take their baby out of the pram (“Five weeks old,” they explain, smiling). A few tables further on, a woman breast-feeds her slightly older baby while her boyfriend sips his beer. The Berlin district in which Jennifer lives is very popular with parents who don’t want to miss out on their evenings out just because they’ve had a child.
Her daughter’s at her father’s overnight today. Jennifer seems relaxed, even though she’s about to go on her first flight since maternity leave.
I’d like to ask her why she – a young, heterosexual woman – has opted for a co-parenting arrangement, so we conduct the rest of the conversation in Jennifer’s flat next door. The apartment is on the ground floor, you go through a glass door into the living room directly into a small garden. There are fairy lights in the trees twinkling down over a sandpit and playhouse: the little kingdom belonging to eighteen month-old Mathilda.
“Given the choice, I would rather have had a traditional family: the love of my life, wedding and children,” explains Jennifer, while she pours me a glass of water with a slice of lemon.
Her last relationship ended two years ago. Her boyfriend wasn’t sure whether he even wanted children. She had the feeling this would be her last chance.
“And you didn’t want to look for a new partner?”
“I worked it out: I’m thirty-four. What are my chances of meeting someone right now? And that the relationship will work out so well that we decide to have children? How long will it take me to become pregnant? I know that plenty of women still have children when they’re over the age of forty. But my mother went into the menopause when she was only forty-two.”
A work colleague told her about co-parenting: “If you decide to do that, I’ve got someone for you.”
“I’d got to the point where I was ready to take a sperm donor,” says Jennifer. “But working as airline cabin crew is difficult to balance with life as a single mother. When I’m on a flight, I’m often away from home for three or four days in a row.”
She liked the potential father right from the start. A gay man aged just over forty, he worked as cabin crew just like her, and he even came personally recommended so she could be sure that he wouldn’t give her some fairy story about himself. “It was also important to me that the chemistry was right. I knew I wanted a man with whom I could go to bed under different circumstances,” she said. “Even though of course we opted to use the specimen pot method.”
I’ve already read about the specimen pot method on Jennifer’s blog about co-parenting (planningmathilda.com). “The art of home insemination: how do you create a child without sex?” is the most-read post on her blog. The specimen pot method is very popular because unlike artificial insemination in a clinic it doesn’t cost anything and offers more intimacy. The man ejaculates into a pot, and the woman uses a syringe to insert the sperm into her vagina. You can even create an atmospheric mood with a shared meal, candles, music … Jennifer and her co-partner made their first attempt during a holiday together. “Then I did the pregnancy test in a hotel in Seattle between two flights,” she says. When I saw the second line I was in Berlin and it was the middle of the night. But I really wanted to pick up the phone and tell everyone.”
The cornerstones of her future life were already decided at that point: during the first year, Mathilda would live with Jennifer so that she could breast-feed the baby. They would go to hospital together, but Jennifer alone would decide whether her co-partner would be present in the delivery room. After all, a birth is one of the most intimate of all experiences, and they weren’t a couple.
Jennifer and Mathilda | © Jennifer Sutholt, private collection In the end, Mathilda was born by c-section. “That wasn’t what we planned,” emphasises Jennifer. “There came a point when she stopped growing, and doctors decided on surgery.”
During the operation, only her mother was in the room. Mathilda’s father only came in once the baby had already been born. Finally it was just the three of them: first Jennifer hugged the little child close, and then he did. How did she feel about that? Quite normal – everyone was in their rightful place.
In the first four weeks after the birth, her mother lived with her. “She tends to have traditional views, and also she brought up three children herself in a functioning marriage. When she first heard that I wanted to have a child with a man I’m not even together with, she put her head in her hands,” laughs Jennifer. “It wasn’t until I was pregnant that she gradually got used to the idea, because I was becoming happier and more relaxed by the minute.”
There were no problems with the other members of the family. “The other grandma, the mother of Mathilda’s father, had already encouraged him to take this step beforehand. Her granddaughter loves her more than anything.”
When her mother returned to Frankfurt, Jennifer was on her own with Mathilda. Looking back, this time seems almost magical to her: a baby has a rhythm all of its own, all you have to do is follow it. What if Mathilda’s hungry in the night? Jennifer puts two pillows under her elbow, sleeps in a semi-sitting position and feeds the little one on each breast alternately. What if Mathilda’s only quiet when she’s picked up? Jennifer walks around the flat with her in a baby sling. “I started to have my doubts when Mathilda began to wake up at half past two at night,” she admits. “But then I thought: okay then, we’ll just start our day a bit earlier. A snack for breakfast, two cups of coffee, a little play and at seven o’clock a quick nap. And at six o’clock in the evening we just went back to bed. That only worked because I didn’t have a partner coming home from work at that time and demanding all my attention.”
The husband of a friend who had also just had a baby complained that they didn’t have any time left for themselves. Another moved first out of the bedroom and then out of the flat they shared.
With Jennifer and her co-partner the role distribution was agreed right from the start: whenever Mathilda’s father didn’t have to work, he came round at midday and spent three or four hours with his daughter. During this time, Jennifer was able to cook, clean or have a bath in peace. They gradually spent more time in his apartment, so that Mathilda could get used to her second home. They are currently trying to coordinate their flight schedules in such a way that one of them is always at home. They all celebrated Mathilda’s birthday together – with the parents and siblings of Jennifer and her co-partner.
“As a couple it wouldn’t work at all for us, but as parents we complement each other very well. I’m always analysing, I have to have everything planned thoroughly. He’s happy to drift along. I brought a list of things that were important to me along to our first meeting. He had just one condition: shared custody,” says Jennifer. “We’ve only argued properly once, and that was actually completely pointless. About politics. A moment later we realised – why are we even arguing? After all, we’re not a couple, so we don’t need to have the same opinions about everything.”
Jochen + Fritzi’s mum = FritziJochen König | © Jochen König, private collection “I always wanted a big family,” laughs Jochen König. “I imagined myself in old age sitting in front of the fire, surrounded by a whole horde of children and grandchildren.”
Jochen is thirty-six and has two daughters with three different women. He doesn’t have a live-in relationship with any of them, but despite that Jochen believes that they all form a happy family together.
First Fritzi was born. In what you might call the traditional way. An unexpected pregnancy. Admittedly Jochen and his girlfriend wanted to have children, but so soon? They had only been a couple for a year and hadn’t even lived together. He was twenty-seven and worked as a social education worker, she was just finishing her degree. The following year they wanted to spend a month travelling through the USA, and in a few days they had a camping trip to France planned. They just about had enough time to take advantage of the statutory counselling session, which is mandatory in Germany before a termination (in Germany it’s possible to have a termination up to the twelfth week of pregnancy without giving reasons). Just in case. After lengthy discussions about what their family might look like, they finally agreed on the key points: Jochen’s girlfriend would go ahead with the pregnancy and have the baby. Jochen would take parental leave for a year after the birth and take care of the child. They would continue to live separately. And they wouldn’t worry what other people thought of them.
They celebrated their decision with a bottle of alcohol-free Prosecco on a beach in France.
“Why did you decide on this model?” I ask.
“Fritzi’s mother wasn’t sure whether she even wanted to have children. She was just embarking on her career and could hardly wait to start her first job. I was older than her and could afford to take a break,” says Jochen. “Also the baby was both of ours. Why should it always just be women who make the sacrifices?”
Fritzi is born on time, right on her due date. The three of them leave the hospital and go straight to Jochen’s shared house. They share Jochen’s room there for the first two months, while Fritzi is breast-fed. Then Jochen stays there by himself with Fritzi, and Fritzi’s mother looks for a flat nearby.
“How wonderful that there are still men like that about!” enthuses the property management lady, when Jochen enquires there about accommodation for himself and his four month-old daughter. Her own son was about the same age when the father moved abroad and broke contact.
It’s too much for the housing office administrator to handle. Jochen wants to apply for a certificate of housing entitlement, but the application form does not cater for a situation in which a child lives with the father.
Jochen himself is not sure how to describe his role. Lone parent? That sounds so hopeless, when in fact Jochen chose this course of action quite intentionally. Single father? Or a father who is a mother at the same time? That’s not right either, because after all Fritzi’s mum has the baby once a week. On the other hand it’s Jochen who feeds Fritzi, changes her nappies, gets up in the night and looks out for her first teeth. The only thing he can’t bear to do is cut her little fingernails. The book he wrote about his experiences bears the title Fritzi und ich: Von der Angst eines Vaters, keine gute Mutter zu sein (Fritzi and I: the story of a father’s fear of not being a good mother).
“I’ve only come across three fathers like you in Germany,” a sociology student from Mainz, who’s writing her thesis about paternity leave, tells him. Of these, one doesn’t even really count, because although he took parental leave for a year, his wife was at home too. And the other one? Jochen often thinks about him: how is he coping?
In a parent-child café – in Jochen’s neighbourhood several of these have opened recently – he listens enviously to the young mothers chatting. He would enjoy a conversation with others about sleepless nights and endless nappy changing too, without feeling guilty that there must be more interesting things to talk about. His mates don’t have kids. And any that do aren’t full-time parents.
His daughter fascinates him and moves him to tears: he never would have thought that it was possible to love anyone so much. On the other hand, the constant stress and lack of sleep are becoming noticeable. The doctor diagnoses “burnout syndrome”, and refers him to the psychologist.
At this point, Jochen is starting to argue increasingly with Fritzi’s mum as well. Once a child appears on the scene, there’s hardly any time left for the relationship. That was too much for us to cope with,” admits Jochen. “We tried to save our relationship, to step back from it for a bit so that we could gain control over the negative emotions. But how are you supposed to take a break when you’ve got a child together? That’s when I first had the idea that these two things – children and relationship – can be separated from each other.”
When Jochen and Fritzi’s mum ended their relationship, Fritzi was eighteen months old. Four years later, Lynn was born.
… and Jochen + Marie and Cora = Lynn“I told all my friends that I was looking for a woman with whom I could have a child,” continues Jochen. “I didn’t want to wait too long. Fritzi was getting bigger, and I wasn’t sure whether I would have enough energy again in the future to get up in the night all the time. I already knew Marie: we did Gender Studies together at university in Frankfurt an der Oder. Originally the intention was that the two of us would bring the child up jointly, but we soon realised that we couldn’t leave Marie’s partner Cora out. In the end, Marie’s pregnancy became an event for her too.
Jochen and Marie are Lynn’s legal parents, but in practice the three of them are bringing up the child. They make decisions together, and share costs. “We discuss everything: how much money we have, how much we have to spend and how we share it out so that everyone has enough left to live. One of Lynn’s mothers doesn’t earn as much, so she pays less.”
Jochen works on a freelance basis: he writes, runs workshops for young people, and works as a museum guide, Fritzi goes to school, and Lynn to kindergarten.
They already worked out a schedule eighteen months in advance detailing who cares for Lynn when. “If someone invites me to a concert, I have a quick look in the diary and I can say straight away ‘Sorry, I’ve got the kids’ or ‘Great, I’m free that night’. If it’s something important, of course each of us is willing to help the other out. Normally Fritzi’s with me for eight days and then spends six days with her mother. With Lynn it’s the other way around: six days with me and eight with Marie and Cora. So I’ve got both girls at home with me for six days, then two days on my own with Fritzi and then six days child-free. During this time I can work, go out for the evening, do things for myself. And miss my daughters.”
The legal side“A co-parenting relationship works like a patchwork family: the biological parents don’t live together, they might have other partners, but they do care jointly for the child. The difference is that there’s no traumatic split, and no injured pride,” explains Stephanie Wolfram, who is manager of Germany’s first centre for rainbow families. She encounters all possible combinations in her job: a lesbian mother and a gay father. Two mothers and one father. Two mothers and two fathers. And increasingly even a heterosexual mother and one or two homosexual fathers.
“Recently we received a call from a mother who had recently given birth to twins. She was looking for a gay man or a couple with whom she could establish a co-parenting family because it was too stressful for her by herself. But that’s the exception,” emphasises Stephanie Wolfram. “Most people who opt for a co-parenting relationship reach this decision quite deliberately. They are educated, professionally successful and often have conservative views – for instance they believe that a child needs contact with both biological parents, the mother and the father.”
Stephanie Wolfram gives them a form spanning one-and-a-half pages, with questions that need discussing before they reach a decision. The most important one is what role will each of the co-partners play in the child’s upbringing? Will the father involve himself to the same extent as the mother, or will he be a sort of uncle who visits the child sometimes at weekends? With whom will the child live? Then come the details: what are your opinions on vaccination? Should the child be baptised? Should the child attend a state or private school, or a Montessori school?
“The parents don’t have to agree on every point,” explains Stephanie Wolfram. “The important thing is that they are able to discuss these things calmly, because that means they’ll be able to reach an amicable agreement in the event of any future differences in opinion as well.”
Almost 500 people used the services provided by the rainbow family centre over the past year. They attend the counselling sessions offering psychological support and advice on family law, as well as the self-help groups and meetings for rainbow parents and their children. The biggest problem, according to Wolfram, is the lack of legal provisions. In German law, a child can only have two parents, yet in co-parenting families there are often three or even four.
“We had the following case: a lesbian couple had decided on a co-parenting relationship with a single man. They had agreed jointly that the child would live with them, and he would visit from time to time at the weekend. They put his name on the birth certificate as the father, which automatically put him in a stronger position than the second mother. After a while he moved into a bigger place, decorated a bedroom and demanded that the child lived there in future. The court found in his favour, because he had a right to shared custody as biological father – despite the fact that the three co-parents had previously agreed something different.”
That’s why the Lesben- und Schwulenverband in Deutschland (Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany; LSVD), the largest organisation for gays and lesbians in the country, is campaigning for a reform of the family law that takes the special situation of co-parenting families into account. The key point is for it to be possible in future for a child to have two legal mothers. If a child is born into a lesbian marriage today, only the biological mother has mother status, her partner has to go through the complex process of adoption first. So far, the Greens and the Left Wing have supported the project, after the parliamentary summer break in 2018 the LSVD planned to discuss the matter with the SPD.
Free choice“Mum, Mum, my mum’s here!” yells Fritzi one afternoon when Jochen comes to the crèche to pick her up.
“Haha, that’s not your mum,” one of the other mothers corrects her.
Fritzi pauses in annoyance: “Who else could it be if it isn’t my mum?” Next minute, tears are rolling down her cheeks.
“I hugged her and told her: of course I’m your mum. Or your Dad, whichever you prefer,” remembers Jochen. “If that’s what she wants to call me, why not? It doesn’t impinge on my masculinity. And after all I really have been doing all the things that a mother usually does.”
I ask him how Fritzi reacted to the news that Marie, Cora and Lynn were going to join her family – which already wasn’t very typical anyway.
“She was delighted to be getting a little sister. And the fact that her sister would have two mothers? We talked about it a lot, but the situation was quite normal for her: that’s just how our family is. Now she’s started school, she’s certainly gradually becoming aware that we’re a bit different from other people.”
“And no one teases her because of it?”
“Not so far. Fritzi is a strong, confident girl. Once they told me that she’d been boasting to her friend in the playground: ‘My family’s got more mums than yours!’ And when a classmate tried to convince her that a child could only have one mother, she retorted that it wasn’t true at all, because her sister had two.”
Jochen can remember one unpleasant situation: “When we enrolled Lynn at the crèche, we told them a bit about our family so that Lynn wouldn’t have to keep explaining herself. ‘My goodness,’ commented one of the childcare workers. ‘If this carries on, I’ll have to apologise for being in a completely normal marriage soon.’” Luckily he doesn’t work there anymore.
Jochen’s parents needed a bit of time to get used to the situation. “Now they can see what fantastic children I have, they no longer doubt that I thought my decision through properly.”
What effect does co-parenting have on the children? To what extent are they different from their peers growing up in traditional families? So far there have been no scientific studies that can provide a definitive answer to this question. However, analysis of the living situation of children in same-sex co-habiting relationships shows predominantly that their emotional and social development progresses quite normally. In Germany, homosexual couples have been allowed to adopt children since 2005, and to get married since 2017.
Nevertheless there is also criticism of co-parenting – regardless of whether the partners involved are homosexual or heterosexual. Two accusations in particular seem to keep on being voiced. The first one is that parents decide to have a child not out of love but for selfish motives (the term “ego-family” was coined especially for this phenomenon). “As if normal couples decided to have children purely for altruistic reasons,” groans Jochen. “They have children because they want them, and we have children because we want them. Their basis is a loving relationship, our basis is a friendship. Is that really so bad?” – “Exactly,” I say, “some people claim it is. Children should know that their parents love each other, that’s how they learn to love themselves.”
When I quote the second frequently-voiced criticism of co-parenting, my interviewees roll their eyes: “We hear that all the time!”
“First of all,” says Jennifer, “our children are wanted and loved – if they are lacking in anything, it certainly isn’t love.”
“Secondly,” says Christine, “there are also grandparents, relatives and friends in their social environment – so if they actually do need role models to learn how to form a functional relationship, they are sure to find them.”
“Thirdly,” says Jochen. “Where does this certainty come from that a child in a traditional family learns to love? We all know plenty of people who had to suffer because of the difficult relationship between their parents.”
And fourthly – they all agree on this one – the concept of family is changing constantly. Marriage used to be a contract: the man was supposed to bring in the money, and the woman was supposed to bear children (there was no mention of love in this arrangement). The idea that parents have children because they love each other is comparatively new: it came about in the 20th century as part of the emancipation of women, who were increasingly breaking away from the legal and financial guardianship of men. “If you look at history, it isn’t co-parenting that’s the actual revolution,” argues Christine, “it’s more the fact that we have the choice today: everyone can start a family that suits their needs.”
To protect her daughter’s privacy, Jennifer has asked us to refer to her as Mathilda in this article. In real life she is called something else.