Where do mothers find community

Family policy

Sarah Diehl

Sarah Diehl lives as an author of non-fiction books and novels in Berlin. She is involved with the organization Ciocia Basia in the field of international reproductive rights of women and has shot the award-winning documentary "Abortion Democracy - Poland / South Africa" ​​and published two anthologies. Her last non-fiction book "The Clock That Doesn't Tick" about the bad image of childless women was published in 2014 by Arche Verlag.

The small family is considered a place of security - this almost inevitably includes children. But this model is an invention of the bourgeoisie, and it doesn't even work. Divorce rates are high, as is childlessness. Why don't we finally question our ideas of "natural family life"? This is what the author and cultural scientist Sarah Diehl asks herself. In this opinion piece she writes about the specter of childlessness, why motherhood is isolated and childless women are considered lonely.

The nuclear family as the dominant family model often fails, and for many women motherhood means isolation. Two reasons that prevent some from having children. So why not try out new ways of living together? Because to raise a child, it takes an entire village. (& copy Julian Hilligardt / photocase.de)

It is a common notion that the need for love and security can be realized in the small family, especially with one's own biological child. Biologically, i.e. sharing genetic material, is differentiated from a social and responsible relationship between children and adults. Precisely because something essential such as the need for love is addressed with the small family, it seems plausible to portray it as the only natural form of coexistence. Even though this model has been an invention of the bourgeois world over the past 200 years.

A woman around 70 years old told me that she grew up on a farm characterized by an extended family and employees. She described a happy childhood in which she had several stable caregivers and not just a mom crouched at home with her. In our conversation, the nuclear family seemed like a historical accident, because the inherent isolation seemed inhuman to us. But how did this historic accident come about? Firstly, it is a consequence of the demand for efficiency in the workplace, secondly industrialization and urbanization, and thirdly, a sexist pedagogy that led to the strict division between private and public space.

When the male breadwinner model established itself, childcare was completely passed on to the women who were supposed to stay at home for it. That was practical because, as a result of industrialization, more money was earned outside of one's own home and no longer on an estate. In order for all of this to work cost-effectively, male educators such as Rousseau and Leibniz invented the talk of the maternal instinct, which was supposed to pin down that only the biological mother can instinctively take care of the child properly and that she finds her only fulfillment in life in it - without remuneration or support. In this way, women could be tied to the house as housewives and mothers, so that they could change diapers there alone and provide their husbands with love and warm food. The nuclear family as the core cell of capitalist society was born.

Motherhood means isolation

Today women know the problems of multiple workloads and the compatibility of work and family very well, because we have banished childcare to the private sphere, where it is supposed to function on the back of women. To this day the misunderstanding persists that equality is achieved when women can participate equally in the work areas of men. It is forgotten that equality can only work if men also take on the work that women do: care, care, household chores and childcare. It is only since women are increasingly entering wage labor, universities and other institutions in the public sector that the question of whether a daycare should be connected has arisen. Because if the women get into the public domain, they have to take the children with them. So it should become a matter of course that your support can take place right next door - within the company, factory, university and parliament.

One of the main reasons why women do not want to have children is: They want to avoid isolation through motherhood, because motherhood is still oppressive in Germany. The saying "It takes a whole village to raise a child", that is, the natural division of labor and thus relief for parents in childcare, is not viable in Germany. By isolating the nuclear family, we learned to perceive children as a nuisance rather than a normal part of our everyday life. We have forgotten how to take responsibility and care for one another. Instead, it is viewed critically when people other than the biological mother take care of the child and current attempts to establish social parenting are reflexively portrayed as unnatural and bad for the child's wellbeing.

Social parenting is considered unnatural. Why?

But isn't the much-lamented isolation in our society the result of people no longer wanting to live in the old-fashioned formations while new concepts are still too marginalized? Childless therefore also represent a kind of reset button. They make the dissatisfaction with the current family concepts and gender relations clear and establish thinking about alternatives that enable cohabitation with children again, even if it is not one's own biological one.

In Canada, a law was passed last year that allows up to four people to be parents of one child, regardless of marriage and heterosexuality, but with the same rights and obligations as biological parents. The responsibility for a child rests on several amicably joined shoulders no more uncertainly than on the often fragile one of a pair of lovers. The local divorce rate between 30 and 40 percent speaks for it.

Many women will continue to withdraw from the nuclear family as a golden cage. In the past 50 years, the achievements of the women's movement have eliminated many of the economic and social constraints on women who chained them to the nuclear family, because they can now survive economically without a husband. So now other means of pressure are used to hold on to an image of women that they should continue to do unpaid care work in the small family. In a pseudoscientific wash-up, old-fashioned notions of biology, psychology and "naturalness" are used to make women believe that their life is devoid of meaning and that they become depressed if they do not have a child. That they have to regret not having started a family. The outdated, but currently being brought out again, attachment theories and the need to breastfeed then do the rest to make women accept that childcare is their main burden, with all the losses in their hard-won freedom.

Childless women are considered tragic - childless men are not

Care should no longer be portrayed as tied to a gender, but as a general human quality. Women do not have more caring skills than men. But in order to adhere to the gender division of labor, women are constantly made aware of the urgency of their family planning - which is why they tend to force it - while men are not constantly held responsible for becoming impotent, declining sperm count and quality, getting older and exhausted are for children. This myth that men have endless time to start a family persists, but is not confirmed: It only persists in the exceptional cases of talk shows and celebrity magazines.

The majority of men, like women, no longer have children when they have passed the age of 40 without children. The advantage seems to be a psychological one and it is used to attest men more emotional independence, that they can meet their need for self-development in different ways and are more able to cope with childlessness. The childless woman, on the other hand, is portrayed as tragic and lonely. Her urge for independence is allegedly not good for her if she gives up her "natural" desire to have children in return. A self-confident woman is thus made a victim of women's emancipation who can no longer see her "natural" needs.

The mother ideal should distract, nobody can fulfill it anyway

Since this rhetoric is emotionally charged with projections on nature and love, many women find it difficult to see through how manipulative it works. This affects them all the more when they flee back to the domestic sphere from the overwhelming conditions of neoliberal working relationships and double burdens and begin to romanticize them as natural as a justification. Their own offspring is portrayed emotionally and economically as meaningful for a bourgeois existence; they become part of the female success biography in a competitive society. Since women still receive less public recognition - in political participation as well as in professional life - than men, they seek this as usual in private life: in love relationships and motherhood.

In the private sphere, the fight for recognition is fought with great severity, even between women. But the mother ideal is unrealistic, it cannot be fulfilled at all. So we treat mothers with relish when they do not completely sacrifice themselves, as when they are too involved as helicopter mothers. If everyone beats you up because you don't do anything right as a mother, you can only upgrade yourself by devaluing other mothers: "Look, they don't do anything right either!" This "mother's war" is the perfect diversion to avoid having to analyze what is behind the idea of ​​the mother ideal, which makes all women unfree. The time has come urgently to question our notions of "natural family life", which prevent us from establishing new forms of solidarity that many people long for.