Jenna Behrends: “Those who don’t have children benefit from children”

What is wrong with Germany’s family policy? Pretty much everything, thinks politician, author and mother of two Jenna Behrends. Your book “Rabenvater Staat”, which appeared in spring 2019, relentlessly reckons with the outdated and inefficient models. We talked to the young mother about her ideas for a better family policy.

“Justice is a chameleon that is constantly changing”

You have observed that people without children feel just as disadvantaged as families. How can we create better understanding for one another?

We all benefit from children, whether we have families or not. Children will not only pay our pensions, without offspring there would be no innovations in science and culture. It is true: a lot of tax money and duties flow into family benefits. But if we look at the total bill of investments in education, later retirement payments, etc., then those who do not have any benefit financially from children. It’s perfectly okay not to have children, there are a number of reasons for this, but right now we are placing way too much on parents. How often do we as parents go to bed in the evening and have the feeling that we haven’t played, cuddled and laughed enough again? We usually take responsibility for the stress in ourselves. It is simply not possible to comfort a child faster or to read the bedtime story faster.

We have to change the social framework. After all, it’s not about giving parents time for their next vacation in Italy, but rather time for their children. It would help, as with many topics, to talk about it with one another. Understanding grows through exchange. For this, children must remain a natural and present part of our society.

Your book is based on the definition “family is where there are children”. Why is Germany finding it so difficult to continue thinking about the classic role model of “marriage + working father + educating mother + children”?

The reality looks different for a long time. Families live together in very different constellations. We finally need a state that gives families the freedom to live their lives as they want and not as a tax model dictates. Our family policy is still based on the traditional breadwinner-housewife-child-dog family. But shouldn’t family policy be there for all children equally? No matter how their parents divide the work among themselves and whether they are married or not?

I am convinced that politics can only be successful in the long term if it does not lose touch with life. My generation has different ideas about a successful life than that of our parents. Politicians must finally react to this. Family policy is not made for retirees.

There are already almost 150 marriage and family-related individual benefits at the federal level. A jungle that no one can really penetrate. Will only a drastic clearcut help for a new beginning?

Money, money, always just money. For decades, German family policy does not seem to have had any more creative ideas. But it is not enough to increase the child benefit by a few euros. Instead, we must finally clear up the chaos that the many family-political achievements have only created. On the one hand, the state expects women to return to work as soon as possible after giving birth, and on the other hand, it supports them most when they stay at home. Often the effects cancel each other out.

In this situation we would ask anyone else: What do you want now?

In addition, family policy benefits must finally be bundled. They should be as easy to understand and use as a children’s puzzle. A central point of contact for family issues would be one way, because currently different offices are responsible for child benefit, advance maintenance payments and school places and each time different paper forms, which are long, have to be filled out.

If children were eligible to vote, they would have had more advantages for a long time, right?

Unfortunately, the situation at the moment looks like this: On average, the older generation is more skeptical of family benefits than young people. More flexible working hours for parents, from which the children would benefit, find, for example, 50 percent less approval in the pension generation. In our country, however, there are more elderly people and they are even more reliable in voting than young people. Family policy is therefore not exactly the topic with which parties can score points with a large group of voters. In order to achieve something for families, we need the solidarity of the older generation. I think it is a better way to promote more solidarity between the generations than to lower the voting age too much.

A progressive minister is not enough. We need the whole cabinet.

Does politics ignore the reality of people’s lives?

The division of labor between the parents is based on age-old structures that cannot be broken down in a very short time. Especially since, I would like to emphasize this again and again when it comes to mother employment: Our goal cannot be for everyone to work full-time. Nobody but the families themselves will fight to ensure that families still have space and time in our lives. A progressive minister is not enough. We need the whole cabinet.

Which three wishes would you most like to fulfill immediately?

Good support, good support and good support again? Seriously: The Good Day Care Act is a first step, but there is not enough back and front money. Officially, there is a legal right to a daycare place from the age of one, but the reality is different. Parents let themselves be put on thirty waiting lists just to get a place. However, there are almost only places in August, when the older children come to school. If I need a daycare place in February, things get complicated. Very few complain, because they do not want to keep their child somewhere either.

And if I’m lucky and my child is being cared for, I keep getting e-mails like: “We are again too few carers today, please pick up your children at 11.30 am.” Even if most of the educators give their best despite poor pay and try to absorb as much as possible. Incidentally, the situation is no better for elementary school children in many areas. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not about children having to go to daycare. But I want parents to be able to freely decide whether, from when and for how long they want their child to be looked after so that it is best for them and for them. This is not possible at the moment.

This interview was first published by in December 2019.