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New Parenting Legislation Focuses on Fathers

Kateri Jochum
April 21, 2006

The falling birth rate is forcing the German government to look for ways to sponsor family-building. A new child care bill would give fathers an extra incentive to stay home: money.

The 'papa proposal' has unleashed some controversyImage: Bilderbox

In the past, the German government has focused on women in its attempt to raise the country's birth rate. Yet German women are having fewer children than ever before. Overall, German women have an average of 1.37 children, compared wiht 1.75 in Sweden and 1.74 in the UK. In surveys, many women say that finding the right father, as well as career pressures, keeps motherhood at bay.

The government has been working on ways to make motherhood more attractive to women, for example, by improving the country's daycare offerings. But the state is also training its sights on the men, with monetary incentives for fathers to trade their desks for the diaper-changing table.

The law proposed by the coalition government of CDU and SPD calls for wage-based parenting subsidies. Starting in 2007, parents would receive 67 percent of their net incomes, up to 1,800 euros ($2,221) a month, to stay at home for the first year of their child's life. A stipulation to the proposal made by Family Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen would require the father to spend at least two of the 12 months at home. Otherwise the last two months of funding would be withheld.

Paying Mr. Mom

Ursula von der Leyen
Family minister Ursula von der Leyen thinks fathers should help raise the kidsImage: dpa

Opposition parties and women's groups -- while showing wide acceptance for the income-based scheme -- have pointed out that a lack of child care for children under age three in Germany may lead to a child-care gap for parents after the 12 months are up. But von der Leyen has received criticism from within her own Christian Democratic Party (CDU) for the "papa proposal."

"It is not the government's place to tell families how to raise their children," Thuringia's Premier Dieter Althaus (CDU) told the Leipziger Zeitung.

"What is important is that more children are born, not who is doing the dishes," said Saxony's Premier Georg Milbradt.

But Volker Baisch, father and president of Väter e.V., an organization in Hamburg that advises fathers, disagrees. He says that the new law will open up options for young men to take their new role as fathers seriously.

"Most of the men who come to us want to take parenting leave, but they aren't sure if they can afford it," Baisch told DW-WORLD.DE. "The new law will provide the necessary financial stability, regardless of which of the parents earns more. And it will also give men an argument that even conservative bosses will understand -- they don't want to lose the money."

"Working fathers" help build business

In surveys among German men, more than 50 percent said they would like to reduce their workload for more family time. Since 1998, German law has given them that option. But only 5 percent of the fathers actually end up pushing baby carriages full time. Would more money really help?

Glueckliche Eltern beim Picknicken
Raising kids is a family affairImage: dpa

In Sweden, where the two-month "papa" model proposed by Minister von der Leyen has been in effect for decades, more than 18 percent of fathers stay home for some length of time. Volker Baisch of Vater e.V. believes that the new law could mean a 10 percent increase in active fathers. But money is not the only issue keeping men at work.

"Men are worried about broaching the topic with their bosses," Baisch said. "But the fact is that men who spend time at home with their kids are good for business as well."

Studies have shown that part-time employees are more effective, less likely to take off sick, and generally more satisfied with their jobs. Their partners are happier too, because they are sharing the work at home.

"It is a win-win situation, both for the families and for their employers," Baisch said.

Vater mit Tochter
Germany's changing father figureImage: BilderBox

Sparking a mental change

But changing Germany's father figure from full time bread-winner to part-time bread baker is a long road. Volker Baisch is afraid that the heated discussion around the two-month paternity leave may have given it a bad rap among business owners -- and fathers-to-be -- before it has even hit the ground.

But the father of two is still convinced that the new legislation will get more dads out to the local playground. Whether that will mean more kids to swing on Germany's swing sets, he says, is anyone's guess.

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