Fondsfrau Anke Dembowski talks to Christoph Hahn, Senior PR Manager at the press agency Engel International Communications, about the social acceptance of fathers who take parental leave and how fathers use and perceive this family time.
More and more parents are working, even if they have young children. Most of the time, however, they reduce their number of hours, especially mothers. In 2019, according to Destatis, 63.4% of all parents in Germany with children under the age of six were actively employed. 93.1% of the employed fathers were employed full-time, while only 6.9% worked part-time. The ratio was reversed for the mothers: 27.4% of them worked full-time and 72.6% worked part-time.
The fact that in Germany at least a third of parents stay at home and work even more part-time is due, among other things, to the state benefit “parental allowance”. It is paid for a maximum of 14 months and is between 65 and 100% of the net income of the respective parent before the birth. In absolute numbers it is between € 300 (minimum) and € 1,800 (maximum) per month. According to Statista, 462,300 fathers received parental allowance and 1,398,858 mothers in Germany in 2020. After all, a third of those who receive parental allowance are male.
Mr. Hahn, you have two children, one and three years old. Parental leave is a huge issue for working mothers, but it is also becoming increasingly important for fathers. In your opinion, has acceptance changed here?
Yes, to a large extent. But I suspect that it varies a lot, depending on what industry you're in and how big the company is. My partner and I both work in the press / publishing division, where the male-female ratio is relatively balanced from the start. I work in a small company. My wish to take parental leave was well received there, even if it is probably more difficult for small companies to absorb such a thing. But my boss is a family man himself and can understand our situation very well.
How did your friends and acquaintances react when they found out that you and your partner wanted to share parental leave?
Positive throughout. Some of our friends do the same as we do. With others, I have the feeling that they would like to do it themselves, but it doesn't work. My girlfriend and I are privileged, as we can both organize our working hours relatively freely. If we always had to be present in the company nine to five, it would be difficult, but that's not the case. We previously had a relatively short commute of 20 minutes and are now mostly in the home office, which also makes things easier.
With our older friends, over 40, the men think it's great that this is possible today. The women ask how it works exactly.
Some of our readers outside Germany are not aware of the relatively generous German regulations with parental leave and parental allowance. Could you explain it briefly?
Parental allowance was introduced in Germany on January 1, 2007. It is financial support for mothers and fathers who do not want to or cannot work for a while after the birth of their child and would therefore lose their income. The parents are entitled to a total of 14 months if both take part in the care and the parents lose income as a result. You can divide the months freely, one parent can claim a minimum of two and a maximum of twelve months. For children born on or after July 1, 2015, there is also the option of ElterngeldPlus. This offer is aimed at parents who want to work part-time again while they are receiving parental allowance. Mothers and fathers have the option of claiming parental allowance longer than before: They receive parental allowance twice as long, but at a maximum of half the amount. With a certain division of part-time, as we do it, you can even receive parental allowance 4 months longer.
And how did you and your partner divide the time (and money)?
My partner - she will soon be my wife - had parental leave up to the 8th month; after that I took months 9-10, and we've been taking parental leave part-time ever since. We both work 25 hours a week. Everyone works one full day a week, and on the other three days someone starts work at 8:00 a.m., and the handover takes place at 1:00 p.m. Then the person who has worked until then takes care of the children and the other can work. Of course, you often sit for an hour again in the evening (laughs).
From October we will both be going full-time again when our youngest child will finally get a place in a daycare nursery; he will be almost two years old then.
Financially it looks like we each have half the parental allowance and our salary, which of course is lower than usual due to the reduced number of hours. So everyone has 60% of their salary plus the parental allowance. It's not quite like our usual salary, but it's more than when one person works full time and the other takes care of it alone.
That sounds like cozy father-child and mother-child days. Is it really like that?
Let's put it this way: Switching between childcare and work is not always easy because it naturally leaves little time to breathe deeply. But often it is also a good balance. On the days when my office hours are in the mornings, I'm really looking forward to the children. I enjoy being out with them in the afternoons. My partner works a lot with US colleagues, so she works more often in the afternoons or evenings. So it fits well!
However, a good communication is essential. Everyone needs an hour from the other, also because we both look after customers, and you can never quite predict what projects you will have to take on at short notice. Of course, you always take a bit of work into childcare with you. The smartphone is always with me, and sometimes I have to make work calls at the playground.
Whose idea was it to do it like that?
We agreed on that together, after we took parental leave for our first son. My girlfriend wanted to get back to work quickly because our second child quickly followed the first. She was only at home with the second child for 8 months. And I really wanted to take more parental leave, e.g. to take advantage of certain offers, such as baby swimming. The time when the children are small is only short. Suddenly you don't have a baby anymore, but a child.
What do you work and what does your partner do? Is it possible in these jobs to stick to the strict time schedule you have described, or do you deviate from it from time to time?
I work for a press agency where we take care of communication with the press and ensure media presence. We mainly support companies with a digital focus, from FinTechs to LegalTechs to startups. My partner works for a large scientific publisher and looks after publishing partnerships. So we both work directly with customers and have a pretty communicative situation. I'm more likely to make phone calls and my partner attends video calls and writes a lot of emails.
Do you have the feeling that your or your partner's career opportunities are limited due to temporary part-time work?
No not at all. The challenge would probably be greater if we were in a management position. Then you would have to plan more. In an established company, the processes are also established ... not that much happens in 8 months. In a startup, taking a break becomes much more difficult. The processes there are faster because they are designed for growth. With startups, parents are usually back to work sooner.
Then came Corona ... how did that change your plans for parental leave?
Due to the pandemic, our older son could no longer go to daycare either, so suddenly we had two children at home. But we handled this well. Then the person who was responsible for childcare took care of two children. At first the situation was difficult for the children when the playgrounds were closed, but later it worked. But the constant change from work and childcare also has its "exciting" moments.
Can you give an example of such “exciting” moments?
If you look after the children in the morning and cook lunch, and then you see “oops, now it's almost 1 p.m. and I have an important appointment”, then you have to change your mind pretty quickly. Or when it gets loud in the apartment. If you are supposed to do something creative, you have to put on the headphones. Or if you just have to make a work phone call while you are with the children in the playground, and one of them runs away in one direction and the other in the other….
I can imagine that! Does the fact that you and your partner take care of half the child-rearing affect your relationship with your children on your family life in general?
I wanted to take more parental leave, because that way I take more part in the development of the children and we can take on the upbringing equally. A child from the age of six months becomes incredibly exciting, and what language and motor skills are added in the second year of life is simply great! As a father, experiencing the early stages of development directly is great, and my relationship with the children is very close. But it is also great for the relationship with the partner because the worlds are closer together. Otherwise it is much more difficult to put yourself in the other person's shoes. So we have a similar everyday life, and that creates harmony and understanding.
How does it feel for you when, on the one hand, you can spend a lot of time with your children and, on the other hand, the burden of family earnings does not rest on your shoulders alone?
That’s quite a relief. I don't have to worry about what happens if I fail. For us, however, that was never a big question because we both always worked.
What advice would you give to other young families?
For us it has proven to be good that we both work and supervise every day. This can be different for other parents, e.g. if they have to travel a long way to work. In any case, a good arrangement is important. It would be good when I arrive an hour in advance and say that I need two hours of work in your working hours. But a lot is simply learning by doing!
In your opinion, how should companies react when their employees apply for parental leave?
Clear agreements and a good basis of trust are important. For example, I had to agree on how long my colleagues should take over which customers. And as an employee, you should convey to the employer that things will be done despite parental leave. If the texts have to be out today, the boss wants to know that it works - of course! As an employee, you should be happy about the flexible options that exist today and talk to your boss in good time. The easier it is to plan!
Perhaps Corona was helpful in relation to this topic, because during the pandemic you have to trust each other more and be able to rely on each other anyway.
Thank you for this open and inspiring conversation!