She loves me more than anyone

Co-parenting
The family that suits you

“Other people have children out of love, we out of friendship” - the co-parenting concept can be compared to a blended family: the biological parents are not together. The difference is that the former avoids the trauma of divorce and the negative emotions of the failed relationship.

By Katarzyna Brejwo

Christine + Gianni = Milla

Christine Wagner is 36 years old, she wears a pinafore and has a girlish smile on her face. She leads me into the kitchen, which is dominated by a long dining table and several chairs - each with a different set. “Gianni loves to cook for his friends,” she says. "When we met, he warned me: I have a lot of acquaintances, if that bothers you, you'd better find another father for your child."

The kitchen is bright and spacious, and the balcony overlooks the trees and the roofs of the neighboring buildings. This is where they have breakfast and receive guests, and this is where their four-and-a-half-year-old daughter Milla loves to spend her time. The door on the right leads to Gianni's apartment, the door on the left to Christine. During the day they leave the doors open so that Milla can walk unhindered between her apartments. You don't close them until your daughter goes to bed.

At first they lived separately, but Christine didn't want Milla to grow up like a divorced child and have to move from one parent to the other every week. But how do you live together without being a couple? A friend, an architect, spread her arms helplessly: The housing market does not offer any suitable solutions for families like you. In the end, luck helped: In Berlin-Neukölln they found two neighboring, separate apartments.

“We decided that Gianni's kitchen would become the heart of our home and the link between our two apartments - we just had to add an extra door. And we converted my kitchen into a children's room, ”says Christine. “Our life became suddenly easier. I no longer have to call Gianni every time I have to go away for half an hour. And when I feel like running in the park, I put on my training gear and start running. "

Ten years ago, mostly Turkish immigrants lived in this area, now many hip clubs and cafes have sprung up between the kebab shops. There are also green spaces, playgrounds and nice neighbors. Gianni works as a theater group manager, Christine is a doctor. After work, they like to go out and meet up with friends.

“Do you sometimes have arguments?” I ask.
“We had an argument once,” admits Christine. “It was about taking care of Millas after parental leave. The trips to daycare took up a lot of time, so Gianni wanted to look for a childminder. I was against it. Otherwise there is really nothing to argue about. It's much easier to raise a child with a friend, ”she adds. “There aren't all the expectations that come automatically in a love relationship. Or maybe we just fit well together? "

Gianni, a native Italian, is loud and spirited, Christine is calm and serene. "You make the authority figure and I do the clown," he said jokingly when they decided to have a child. When they met, she was doing her specialist training as a surgeon. After she became pregnant, she switched to the internal medicine department because she didn't have to work night shifts or work sixty hours a week.
"How did you know Gianni was the right one?"
“It's like falling in love,” says Christine with a smile. "The chemistry must be right. After our first meeting I was actually sure that it would work out with Gianni. "
She and her partner Miriam attended their first meeting, because the original plan was for the two women to raise the child together. They told their friends that they were looking for a man, preferably a gay man, who would like to become a father. When no one answered, they took matters into their own hands. "If so many couples get to know each other on the Internet these days," thought Christine, "why not people who want to become parents together?" Corresponding Internet portals already existed in the USA at that time. Familyship - that's what Christine and Miriam called their project - should close the gap in the German-speaking market. The founders placed the first search advertisement themselves. And one of the first men to get in touch with them was Gianni.

For a year they met like any other couple who want to get to know each other better before deciding to have a child. They went to the theater or to exhibitions together and checked whether their worldviews were compatible enough that they would not argue about every little thing in the future. "A right-wing Conservative will find it difficult to get along with someone who votes for the Greens," says Christine.

First doubts arose in Christine when Miriam unexpectedly left the arrangement. "After our separation, I was faced with the question of whether parenting and romantic love can be completely separated from each other."

A few months later she answered this question with yes, marked her fertile days in the calendar and flew to Moscow, where Gianni's theater group was currently engaged. Milla was born two months before the calculated date. Christine and Gianni took turns watching next to the incubator. When the nurse was about to put her hospital beds together, they replied almost simultaneously: Thank you, no need.

"Does Milla know that you ...", I'm looking for the right words, "are not a typical family?"
"We talk to her very openly about everything," replies Christine without hesitation. "Of course, so that she understands."
Recently, an educator in Milla's children's group asked Christine and Gianni for a conversation: Milla said that her father had a new boyfriend. “That was shortly after Jan came into our lives. I explained to the teacher that Milla's father was gay and had just found a new partner. Jan spends a lot of time with us, and Milla is very fond of him, she regards him as a family member. "
"And you?"
Christine has to think for a moment.
“I'm more of an introvert. I see Jan primarily as Gianni's partner. But Milla prefers it when we are all together. That's why we want to go to South America for a month this year: Gianni, Jan, Milla and me. "

The teacher in the children's group thanked Christine for explaining the situation to her, and she didn't seem particularly surprised either.
"And Milla?" I ask.
“We have such different acquaintances that I don't think you realize that we are different from others. A lesbian couple we are friends with recently had a daughter, ”recalls Christine. "And Milla told me before going to bed:" She has two mothers and I have a normal family! "" Well, not really, "I began," Because, you know, Babbo and I are not married. " Gianni Babbo, that's the Italian word for papa. "And why aren't you getting married?" I explained to her that Babbo would rather marry Jan and I would marry another woman. "
"And what did Milla say about that?"
""AHA OK". Children take the world as it is. "

Uncle father

“Do you want to have children? Could you be single, lesbian or gay? Here you will get to know people who want to start a family on a friendly basis. Whether co-parenting, rainbow family, multiple parenting or single parenting: Create the family that suits you! ”I read on the homepage of the Familyship.org portal. In co-parenting, people come together who want to father and raise a child together without having a love relationship. Sometimes the terms partnered parenting or platonic parenting are also used for this form of family formation. The idea that you can have children without marriage came up during the cultural revolution of the 1960s. The pioneer of co-parenting is the American Rachel Hope, who decided twenty-five years ago to have a child with a man with whom she did not have a love affair - and did not want to have one. Both came from divorced families and believed that a friendly relationship is a better foundation for starting a family than the hormone cocktail commonly known as love. Today Rachel Hope has a four-year-old daughter from another co-partner in addition to her adult son. She wrote a guide for people who want to follow her example. Since the internet has existed, this has become a lot easier.

“I'm looking for a sperm donor who wants to be a father too. I already have two older children. I expect a warm and friendly contact and a fair distribution of tasks ”, writes Esra2018 from Thur in Germany on Familyship (she has specified“ mother ”as the role).
“I am a straight, single woman, full of warmth and love. Relationships with men end at some point, but the desire for a child remains, ”writes Wittke from Cologne (role: mother).
“We are a lesbian couple (37 and 40 years old) and we already have two children. The two are 2 and 6 years old, and we really enjoy the ups and downs of family life and the everyday chaos, ”write the users of the Erlanger family from Erlangen (role: mother), who would like to expand their family.
“The traditional family model seems too overloaded to me. It should meet too many needs: friendship, material security, offspring, sex and common interests ”, s_glisse from Zurich explains his motivation (role: sperm donor, father with uncle function, active father).
If you want to register as a user on Familyship, you have to pay a fee (19 euros for one month, 29 euros for six months and 79 euros for a lifetime membership) and specify your desired role. You can choose from: active father, father with uncle function (who has less close contact with his child than an active father), sperm donor, active mother and mother with aunt function. And anyone looking for a potential partner in addition to family planning can also state this in their profile.
Christine actually wanted to close the portal as soon as she found a father for her child. But within a few months, several hundred people had already registered on Familyship. Today the portal has four thousand registered users. “I didn't expect so many people to have problems like me,” she says. “And certainly not that there are so many straight women among them. I always thought they didn't need co-parenting to have children. Today they are our most important target group and, at around sixty percent, make up the largest proportion of our users. "

Jennifer + Mathilda's father = Mathilda

Jennifer and Mathilda | © Jennifer Sutholt, private collection Jennifer Sutholt waves to me from her table in the Japanese bar, and I think that she bears a great resemblance to Claudia Schiffer. And that I better not tell her that, because as a flight attendant she must have had enough of such compliments. We talk about children: how to get them to sleep, when to wean. There are still many children around us, even though it is already past eight. A couple who has just ordered sushi takes a baby out of the stroller (“Five weeks old,” they explain with a smile). A few tables away, a woman is breastfeeding her older baby, while her boyfriend is sipping his beer. The Berlin district where Jennifer lives is very popular with parents who do not want to forego going out in the evening just because they have had a child.

Your daughter is sleeping with her father today. Jennifer seems relaxed, even though she has the first flight after her parental leave tomorrow.

I'd like to ask her why she chose co-parenting as a young, straight woman, so we'll have the rest of the conversation in Jennifer's apartment next door. The apartment is on the ground floor and a glass door in the living room leads directly into a small garden. In the trees hang lamps that shine down on a sandpit and a playhouse: the little kingdom of the one and a half year old Mathilda.
"If it had been up to me, I would have preferred a traditional family: love, marriage and children," explains Jennifer as she pours me a glass of water with lemon.
Their last relationship ended after two years. Her boyfriend wasn't sure he wanted children at all. She felt this was her last chance.
"And you didn't want to look for a new partner?"
“I did the math: I'm thirty-four years old. What is the chance that I will meet someone right now? And that this relationship works so well that we choose children? How Much Time Elapses Before I Get Pregnant? Sure, many women today still have children when they are over forty. But my mother went through menopause when she was forty-two. "

A work colleague had told her about co-parenting: "If you should decide to do so, I have someone for you."
"I was ready to use a sperm donor," says Jennifer. “But working as a flight attendant is difficult to reconcile with life as a single mother. When I have a flight, I'm often not home for three or four days in a row. "

She liked the potential father straight away. A gay man, a little over forty, who worked just like her as a flight attendant, with a personal recommendation, so she could be sure that he wasn't telling her any fairy tales about himself. “It was also important to me that the chemistry was right. I knew it should be a man I could go to bed with under normal circumstances, ”she says. "Even though we naturally opted for the cup method."

I already read about the cup method on Jennifer's blog on co-parenting (planningmathilda.com). “The art of home insemination: How is a child born without sex?” Is the most-read post on her blog. The cup method is very popular because, unlike artificial insemination in a clinic, it costs nothing and offers more intimacy. The man ejaculates into a cup and the woman inserts the sperm into her vagina using a syringe. You can also create an atmospheric atmosphere: a dinner together, candles, music ... Jennifer and her co-partner made the first attempt during a holiday together. “I ended up doing the pregnancy test in a hotel in Seattle, between flights,” she says. “When I saw the second line, it was the middle of the night in Berlin. I really wanted to pick up the phone and tell everyone about it. "

The most important cornerstones of her future life were already clear: During the first year, Mathilda was to live with Jennifer so that she could breastfeed the little one. They would go to the hospital together, but Jennifer would decide alone whether her co-partner should be present in the delivery room. After all, childbirth is the most intimate of all experiences - and they are not a couple.

Jennifer and Mathilda | © Jennifer Sutholt, private collection Mathilda was finally born by caesarean section. “It wasn't planned that way,” says Jennifer. "At some point it stopped growing and the doctors decided to have an operation."

During the operation only her mother was in the room, Mathilda's father only came in when the child was already born. Finally the three of them stayed behind: First Jennifer hugged the little body, then he. How did she feel about it? Quite normal, everyone was in their place.

Her mother stayed with her for the first four weeks after the birth. “She has more traditional views, and she has raised three children herself in a functioning marriage. When she first heard that I was going to have a baby from a man I wasn't even with, she grabbed her head, ”laughs Jennifer. "It wasn't until I became pregnant that she gradually made friends with the idea, because I instantly became more relaxed and happier."

There were no problems with the rest of the family.“The other grandma, the mother of Mathilda's father, had already encouraged him to take this step. Her granddaughter loves her more than anything. "
When her mother returned to Frankfurt, Jennifer was left alone with Mathilda. In retrospect, this time seems almost magical: an infant has its own rhythm, you just have to follow it. Mathilda gets hungry at night? Jennifer puts two pillows under her elbows, sleeps in a semi-sitting position and puts the little one from one breast to the other. Mathilda only calms down when she is carried in her arm? Jennifer walks around the apartment with her in the baby wipe. "I had my doubts for a moment when Mathilda started to wake up at two-thirty in the morning," she admits. “But then I thought to myself: Well, our day will start a little earlier now. A quick breakfast, two cups of coffee, a little play and a little nap at seven o'clock. And at six o'clock in the evening we went to bed again. That was only possible because I didn't have a partner who would come home from work at this time and expect me to give him my attention. "

The husband of an acquaintance who had also had a child had complained that they had no more time for themselves at all. Someone else had first moved out of the bedroom and then finally out of the shared apartment.

With Jennifer and her co-partner, the distribution of roles was agreed from the start: When Mathilda's father didn't have to work, he came around noon and spent three to four hours with his daughter. During this time, Jennifer could cook, clean or take a bath in peace. Gradually, they began to spend more time in his apartment so that Mathilda could get used to her second home. At the moment they are trying to coordinate their flight plans so that one of them is always at home. They all celebrated Mathilda's birthday together - with Jennifer's parents and siblings and their co-partner.

“As a couple, we wouldn't function at all, but as parents we complement each other very well. I am constantly analyzing, I always have to have everything planned out. He likes to drift. When we first met, I brought a list of things that were important to me. He only had one condition: shared custody, ”says Jennifer. “We only really fought once, and it was basically completely pointless. About politics. In the next moment we realized: Why are we actually arguing? After all, we are not a couple who have to have the same opinion on everything. "

Jochen + Fritzi's mom = Fritzi

Jochen König | © Jochen König, private collection “I always wanted to have a big family,” laughs Jochen König. "I imagined sitting in front of the fireplace when I was old, in the midst of a whole crowd of children and grandchildren."
Jochen is thirty-six years old and has two daughters with three different wives. He is not in a relationship with any of them, but Jochen is of the opinion that they all make a happy family together.

First Fritzi was born. In the - let's call it - traditional way. An unexpected pregnancy. Jochen and his girlfriend wanted to have children, but now? They had been a couple for barely a year and hadn't even lived together. He was twenty-seven and worked as a social worker, she was just finishing her studies. The next year they planned to travel the US for a month and then to France to camp in a few days. They just found time for the mandatory counseling required by law for an abortion (in Germany you can have an abortion carried out up to the twelfth week of pregnancy without giving a reason). Just in case. After lengthy discussions about what their family could possibly look like, they finally agreed on the most important points: Jochen's friend would carry the child and bring it into the world. Jochen would take a year of parental leave after the birth and take the child with him. They would continue to live separately. And don't care what others think of you.

They celebrated their decision with a bottle of non-alcoholic sparkling wine on a beach in France.
"Why did you choose this model?" I ask.
“Fritzi's mother wasn't sure if she wanted to have children at all. She was just starting her professional life and couldn't wait to get her first job. I was older than her and could afford a year off, ”says Jochen. “Besides, it was our child after all. Why should only women always make the bigger sacrifices? "

Fritzi is born punctually on the calculated date. The three of them drive from the hospital directly to Jochen's flat share. During the first two months in which Fritzi is breastfed, they share Jochen's flat-share room. Then Jochen is left alone with Fritzi, and Fritzi's mother looks for an apartment nearby.
“How wonderful that such men still exist!” Enthuses the woman from the property management team when Jochen asked her about an apartment for himself and his four-month-old daughter. Her own son was about the same age when the father moved abroad and broke off contact.
The clerk in the housing office is overwhelmed. Jochen wants to apply for a housing entitlement certificate, but the case that a child lives with the father is not included in the application.

Jochen is not sure how to describe his role. Single father? That sounds so desperate, but Jochen made a conscious decision to take this path. Single father? Or a father who is also a mother? That's not true either, because Fritzi's mom takes the little one with her once a week. On the other hand, it's Jochen who feeds Fritzi, she changes the winds, gets up at night and looks for the first teeth. He just can't bring himself to cut her little fingernails. The book he wrote about his experiences and which is entitled “Fritzi and I: A Father's Fear of Not Being a Good Mother” has now also been published in Polish by the Warsaw publisher Feminoteka.

“I have only found three fathers like you in Germany,” a sociology student from Mainz tells him, who is writing her diploma thesis on fathers on parental leave. Although one of them doesn't really count, because he has taken a year of parental leave, but his wife is also at home. And the other? Jochen often thinks of him: How is he getting along?

In a parent-child café - several of them have recently opened in Jochen's Kiez - he enviously listens to the conversations of the young mothers. He would also like to talk to others about sleepless nights and constant diaper changes without feeling guilty that there are certainly more interesting topics. His buddies have no children. And if they do, then not full-time.

His daughter fascinates him and moves him to tears: He never thought that you could love someone so much. On the other hand, the constant stress and lack of sleep make themselves felt. The doctor diagnoses “burnout syndrome” and recommends a visit to a psychologist.

In addition, Jochen is arguing more and more with Fritzi's mom. “When a child appears on the scene, there is hardly any time left for the relationship. That was too much for us, ”admits Jochen. “We tried to save our relationship, to take a break to get the negative emotions under control. But how do you take a break when you have a child together? It was then that it occurred to me for the first time that these two things - children and relationships - can be separated from each other. "
When Jochen and Fritzi's mom ended their relationship, Fritzi was one and a half years old. Lynn was born four years later.

... and Jochen + Marie and Cora = Lynn

“I told my friends that I was looking for a woman with whom I could have a child,” Jochen continues. “I didn't mean to wait too long. Fritzi got bigger and I wasn't sure if I would have enough energy in the future to get up all the time at night. I already knew Marie from earlier: We had studied gender studies together in Frankfurt an der Oder. It was originally planned that we would raise the child in pairs, but it soon became clear to us that we could not ignore Marie's partner Cora. After all, Marie's pregnancy was an event for her too.

Jochen and Marie are Lynn's legal parents, but in practice there are three of them raising the little one. You make decisions together and bear the costs together. “We discuss everything: how much money we have, how much we have to spend and how we divide it up so that everyone has enough to live on. One of Lynn's mothers doesn't earn as well as she pays less. "

Jochen works as a freelancer: he writes, leads workshops for young people and works as a museum guide. Fritzi goes to school, Lynn goes to kindergarten. For a year and a half in advance, the co-parents worked out a plan of who will look after the two girls and when.

A year and a half ago they worked out a plan of who will look after Lynn and when. “When someone invites me to a concert, I quickly look up the calendar and can immediately say“ Sorry, I have children ”or“ Great, I have time off ”. If there is something important, we of course also step in for the other person from time to time. Usually it looks like Fritzi lives with me for eight days and then with her mother for six days. With Lynn it's the other way round: six days with me and eight days with Marie and Cora. So I have both girls at home for six days, then I am alone with Fritzi for two days and then I have six days without children. During this time I can work, go out in the evening, do something for myself. And long for my daughters. "

Legal

“Co-parenting works in a similar way to a blended family: the biological parents do not live together, they may have other partners, but they take care of the child together. The difference is that there is no traumatic separation and no injured vanities, ”explains Stephanie Wolfram, the director of the first German center for rainbow families. In her work she encounters all possible constellations: a lesbian mother and a gay father. Two mothers and one father. Two mothers and two fathers. And more and more often a straight mother and one or two homosexual fathers.

“The other day a mother called us who had just given birth to twins. She was looking for a gay man or couple to co-parent with because it was getting too stressful for her alone. However, that is the exception, ”emphasizes Stephanie Wolfram. “Most people who choose co-parenting make that decision very consciously. They are educated, professionally successful and often have conservative views - for example, they are of the opinion that a child needs contact with both biological parents, the mother and the father. "

Stephanie Wolfram gives you a one and a half page sheet of questions that should be discussed before making a decision. The most important: What role will each of the co-partners play in raising the child? Will the father get involved as much as the mother or will he be more of a kind of uncle who visits his child every now and then on weekends? Who should the child live with? Then come the details: What is your opinion on vaccinations? Should the child be baptized? Should the child attend a public or private school or a Montessori school?

“The parents don't have to vote with each other on every point,” explains Stephanie Wolfram. "It is important that you are able to talk calmly about these things, because that means that you can also settle any differences of opinion amicably in the future."

In the past year, almost 500 people took advantage of the Rainbow Family Center. You attend the psychological and family law consultations, the self-help groups and the meetings for rainbow parents and children. According to Wolfram, the biggest problem is the lack of legal regulations. According to German law, a child can only have two parents, and in co-parenting families there are often three or even four.

“We had the following case: A lesbian couple had chosen to co-parent with a single man. They had jointly agreed that the child would live with them and that he would visit them on weekends every now and then. They put him on the birth certificate as the father, which automatically made his position stronger than that of the second mother. After a while he moved into a larger apartment, set up a nursery and demanded that the child live with him from now on. The court agreed with him because, as a biological father, he was entitled to joint custody - although the three co-parents had previously agreed otherwise. "

That is why the Lesbian and Gay Association in Germany (LSVD), the nationwide largest organization of lesbians and gays, advocates a reform of family law that takes into account the special situation of co-parenting families. The most important point: In the future it should be possible for a child to have two legal mothers. If a child is born into a lesbian marriage today, only the biological mother is considered the mother; her partner first has to laboriously adopt the child. So far, the project has been supported by the Greens and the Left, after the parliamentary summer break, the LSVD wants to start talks with the SPD.

Free choice

“Mama, Mama, my Mama is here!” Calls out Fritzi one afternoon when Jochen comes to the day care center to pick her up.
“Haha, that's not your mom,” she is corrected by the mother of another child.
Fritzi pauses, confused: “Who should that be if it's not my mom?” The next moment, tears roll down her cheeks.
“I hugged her and said,“ Of course I'm your mom. Or your papa, whatever you want, ”Jochen remembers. “If she wants to call me that, why not? It doesn't scratch my manhood. And I actually did all the things that a mother usually does. "

I ask him how Fritzi reacted to the news that Marie, Cora and Lynn would be joining her - already rather untypical - family.
“She was happy to have a little sister. And the fact that her sister will have two mothers? We talked a lot about it, but for her the situation was completely normal: this is what our family looks like. Now that she's going to school, she's starting to realize that we're a little different from others. "
"And nobody annoys you about it?"
"Not yet. Fritzi is a strong, confident girl. Once I heard her boast in front of her friend on the playground: “There are more mommies in my family than yours!” And when a classmate tried to convince her that a child could only have one mother, she replied to him, that's not true, because her sister has two. "

Jochen can remember an uncomfortable situation: “When we registered Lynn for daycare, we told a little about our family so that Lynn doesn't have to constantly explain herself. "My goodness," commented one of the educators. “If this continues, I'll soon have to apologize for being married as normal.” “Fortunately, he no longer works there today.
Jochen's parents needed some time to get used to the situation. "Now that you see what fantastic children I have, you no longer doubt that my decision was well thought out."

How does co-parenting affect the children? To what extent do they differ from their peers who grow up in traditional families. So far there are no scientific studies that could give a clear answer to this question. However, studies of the living situation of children in same-sex communities predominantly show that their emotional and social development is quite normal. In Germany, homosexual couples have been allowed to adopt children since 2005 and marry since 2017. Nevertheless, there is also criticism of co-parenting - regardless of whether it is from homo- or heterosexual co-partners. Two allegations in particular are repeatedly voiced. The first is that the parents do not choose a child out of love, but out of selfish motives (the term “ego family” was even coined for this phenomenon).

“As if normal couples would decide to have children out of pure altruism,” moans Jochen. “They have children because they want them and we have children because we want them. Your basis is a love relationship, our basis is a friendship. Is it really that bad?"
“Exactly”, I say, “some claim that it is. Children should know that their parents love each other, in this way they learn to love themselves. "
When I quote this second often-voiced allegation of co-parenting, my interlocutors roll their eyes: We have heard that so often!
"First," says Jennifer, "our children are wanted and loved - if there is anything they lack, it is certainly not love."
"Second," says Christine, "there are also grandparents, relatives and friends around them - so if they actually need role models to learn how to build a working relationship, they will surely find them."
“Third,” says Jochen. “Where does this certainty come from that a child learns to love in a traditional family? We all know enough people who suffered from the difficult relationship between their parents. "
And fourth - everyone agrees here - the concept of family is constantly changing. Marriage used to be a contract: the man should bring the money and the woman should bear children (there was no talk of love in this arrangement). The idea that parents have children because they love each other is comparatively new: It emerged in the 20th century, in the course of the emancipation of women, who increasingly freed themselves from the legal and financial custody of men. "If you look at history, co-parenting is not the real revolution," argues Christine, "but rather the fact that we have a choice nowadays: anyone can start the family that suits them."
 
To protect her daughter's privacy, Jennifer has asked that her daughter be named Mathilda in this text. In reality it is called differently.