What is mother role

Family policy

Sabine Diabaté

* 1979 (born Gründler), lives in Frankfurt a.M. and studied sociology, art history and musicology in Cologne. She then did a traineeship at the Institute for the Promotion of Young Journalists (ifp) and then worked as a freelance editor and presenter for radio, among others. She later did her doctorate in sociology at the University of Cologne as part of a graduate scholarship from the Cusanuswerk. She has been a researcher since 2012 and coordinates research focus 1.1 (model research) in the area of ​​"Family and Fertility" at the Federal Institute for Population Research. There she leads the study "Family Models in Germany".

What is a "good" mother these days? The associations are multifaceted and range between myth and everyday life. For example, mothers should be caring and self-sacrificing and give up their own work for their children. Mother models have a long tradition, they have grown historically and are associated with special characteristics in all cultures.

Many mothers work today and are often faced with a double burden, namely having to work and care for their children at the same time. Society also has certain ideas about "good" mothers. However, such models are not cemented, but are changing. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

For the most part, being a woman and being a mother seem closely linked to the idea of ​​caring and domesticity: In Greek mythology there is the goddess Hestia, guardian of the sacred fire, i.e. H. Goddess of home and hearth. This reflects the (widespread) social attribution of housework as an activity that "typically" women do. In addition to caring, fertility is also part of the definition of femininity. For example, women are often portrayed as goddesses of fertility, and in some cultures women gain a higher social standing through motherhood. In political ideologies such as the mother cult of the Nazi era (e.g. mother's cross for women who had at least four children), the mother is emphasized in a special way.

Beyond this historical dimension, the role of motherhood is also strongly present in the media landscape today: Mothers are often portrayed as perfectly organized and attractive family managers, especially in TV advertising, and daily political debates about childcare allowance and the effect of parental allowance are also widely reported in the media or about the expansion of the crèche and kindergarten places, some of which are brought into the population by the various political camps with judgmental comments. The question of what a "good mother" means is an entirely personal question. However, as the mentioned cultural-historical, political and media examples show, it is also a social one, from which it is difficult for individuals to break free. And therefore (expectant) mothers, but also women in general, whether with or without the desire to have children, are confronted with many questions and social expectations in the context of the social definition of womanhood and motherhood. Social models, personal desires and the framework conditions, the realities of life in which women and mothers find themselves are interrelated and lead to complex challenges. How the mentioned aspects interact will be explained below.

Family models are ideas of normality

Everyone has their own idea of ​​what a family can "normally" look like. "Normal" is initially what is taken for granted, unquestioned, from which it is assumed that it is mostly or always the case and, under certain circumstances, even unavoidable. And accordingly, people have an image in their head of what a mother who belongs to them should ideally be like. Accordingly, there is an individual model (Diabaté and Lück 2014; Giesel 2007) that serves as a point of reference for one's own behavior. What a majority perceives as "normal", right and important, individual others rate it as "abnormal", wrong and unimportant. If one assumes that certain family models are shared by many people, one could also speak of social models. Such family models emerge in the course of life through upbringing and experience. Mother models can look different depending on the context: their nature depends on different countries, cultures, social milieus or certain social groups. In addition, they are not fixed, but are subject to social change. It can be assumed, however, that change only happens slowly and that family models are therefore widespread and fairly stable over time. However, models can also be redefined by people or adapted to the framework conditions, so that models can easily be shifted in terms of content, differentiate themselves or old, long-standing family models lose their meaning in favor of new ones. Using the example of the mother's model, it becomes clear below that there are historically extremely stable elements that have existed for many decades, but (newer) elements have also been added that have made the mother’s model more complex over the past six decades.

How should employment and family work be distributed within the family?

The question of an appropriate distribution of the two areas of gainful employment and family work moves between two partially conflicting poles and is linked to the distribution of roles in partnerships: between the focus on the best interests of the child and the interests of the parents or partnership. If you are actually supposed to look after a child, be it changing diapers or providing support in school matters, two principles compete with each other (Schneider, Diabaté and Lück 2014): Here is the principle of equality within the partnership (employment, house - and family work are equally distributed between the parents) as opposed to the principle of "responsible parenthood" (Kaufmann 1990) and the "myth of motherly love" (Schütze 1986). This is understood to mean that a biological mother is naturally more connected to her child than the father can be. From this idea it follows that the mother intuitively, ie "naturally given", always knows for her child what it needs and should be more involved due to her particularly close relationship with the child. This norm of motherhood, that mothers are the "more important" parents for child development, is also reflected in the German Civil Code: From a legal point of view, "mother" is a biological term because the child can be clearly assigned to the mother through birth. A mother has (sole) custody of her child from birth. The term "father", however, is not only biological, it is socially constructed from the legal understanding in Germany: According to § 1592 No. 1 BGB, the father of a child is the mother's husband, regardless of whether he is also the biological father . In the absence of an existing marriage, paternity must be recognized, either by the producer himself or by a court decision. Only through the marriage before the birth or the recognition of paternity after the birth, in the case of unmarried parents, the biological father can also be legally recognized as a father and thus receive custody. Another proof of the special role mothers play in child-rearing is that the vast majority of single parents are women. Here, too, the central role that is assigned to a mother in society is reflected - and also the self-image of mothers and fathers (see also "Fathers today: models, realities of life and desires"), in the event of a separation, the center of life of the children at the Leave mother.

In addition to the principle of motherly love, there is the principle of "responsible parenthood", which both go hand in hand: Linked to this are socially widespread notions of what childhood should ideally look like nowadays. This includes growing up in "optimal and low-risk living conditions" (educationally valuable toys, space to play, nature, etc.), with a healthy diet and early (parental AND institutional) support, to name just a few of the requirements. From this, in turn, there is a great need of many (expectant) parents for comprehensive information. This can be seen in the many Internet forums for parents, but also in the abundance of advisory literature. These factors, which many people believe should contribute to the success of a "happy" childhood, present (expectant) parents with a great challenge and create pressure to meet these requirements. This means that when the child is there, parents must be ready to fully adjust to it or to sacrifice themselves. This idea of ​​"responsible parenting" in turn resulted in the decision to divide up the tasks accordingly and to professionalise motherhood: In the motherhood model derived from this, the woman bears the main responsibility for childcare, the complementary father model states that the father is the Mother should keep her back financially so that she can fully take care of the children. This concept of a family model and this type of division of tasks had been widespread in Germany since the 1950s, but is no longer the sole family model: For example, if the mother model was associated with clear tasks in Germany in the 1950s, the social image of the "ideal mother" is "or a" real family "has become more diverse these days. There is a broad spectrum of family models and realities of life in which motherhood is lived differently, for example in a so-called "rainbow family" with same-sex parents (Gründler and Schiefer 2013, Rupp 2009). Overall, it can be stated that in addition to the formerly very widespread model of the sole earner partnership, the additional earner model is now widespread. This means that the mother goes to work part-time after the birth and gradually adapts her scope of employment to the needs of the child, as long as she can be sufficiently there for her child, according to those who favor this family model. Based on this idea, the father should now also take care of the child, but only in such a way that he is still able to provide for the family income. This is also shown empirically in the family models:

Approval of various dimensions of the mother's model (& copy bpb)
In a study on role models for parents (FLB 2012), it is noticeable that, on the one hand, women, in contrast to men, show a higher level of agreement (83% vs. 71%) that mothers should have time in the afternoon for their children to help them learn . On the other hand, the female respondents more often than the male respondents agree with the statements that mothers should be gainfully employed in order to be independent of the man (84% vs. 73%) and that mothers who are only at home and look after the children become dissatisfied at some point (76% vs. 72%).

This means that the model of the economically inactive mother, who mainly does the upbringing and housework, is no longer widespread; almost a third of the respondents still see this image as a tried and tested concept of life for the benefit of the child. Overall, it can be stated that, on the one hand, for the vast majority of young Germans there is a very clear model of the mother, who should be present at home in the afternoons to take care of the upbringing. On the other hand, there is also a high level of acceptance of life models in which the mother should ideally work for her independence, because otherwise she could become dissatisfied with her life at some point or because the risk of divorce meant that her partner did not assume that she would be able to provide financial support in the long term can be. From these figures it could be concluded that the majority of people consider it optimal if a mother works part-time and is only away from home in the mornings. The results also show the various requirements within the social debate about "good mothers": From the perspective of young adults, an ideal mother should be at home in the afternoons, but at the same time be employed and independent of the husband.

Overall, when looking at the motherhood model, it can be seen that the two basic principles of gender equality and "responsible parenting" described compete with one another and they are widely discussed in the public debate. However, another question tends to be overlaid: How should the work be distributed between parents and society? On the one hand, solutions are sought or offered (e.g. "father months") to enable or strengthen the family commitment of the fathers, i.e. to distribute the family work evenly within the parents and to relieve mothers. On the other hand, there are discussions about relieving parents of family work to a certain extent by investing more in the childcare infrastructure.