The classic model of the family: mother, father and child. But what is there beyond that? Is love the only way to start a family? No! The fact that love is often not enough is made clear by the high divorce rates and the large number of separations. Co-parenting, or co-parenting, is an increasingly popular alternative for adults, regardless of sexual orientation, to have and raise a child together.
By definition, co-parenting or co-parenting describes the process of starting a family, in which adults come together in a very targeted manner to father a child and then raise it in close cooperation based on the division of labour, with the parents usually living in separate households.
We spoke to Katja - she has a child with a homosexual man and lives the co-parenting model.
*Names changed by editors
Marina: Hello dear Katja, nice that we can talk to each other and you to us
share your experiences and your life.
Katja : I'd love to, I've never done anything like this before and I'm very excited.
Marina: We've known each other a bit longer now. When I found out about your family model back then, I found it super exciting, because I thought there must be a lot of women who are in a similar situation and cannot find a suitable partner, but would still like to have children. I've always asked myself: What made you do it and how did you come to this family model?
Katja: I can't say exactly anymore. For me, at the time, I was almost 41 and I always assumed that somehow I would have a child. And then I thought: Well, as you originally imagined, you get to know someone and you have a few years to "put yourselves to the test", you don't have the time anymore. The model has somehow expired. And now you have to think of an alternative or accept the idea of being childless.
Marina: This realization is certainly not easy to accept either.
Katja: Yes, totally, but then it was kind of funny. I was at a concert with a friend when I had the idea. My friend is a single parent with two small children and her little one was four months old. She asked me if we wanted to go there together and said that she would breastfeed before the first part, then go in and then come out during the break and we'd swap. We did it that way and I sat in the concert and thought: It's amazing what she can do with two small children. You just have to want it - consider how badly you want a child, what you are willing to put up with it and how you can get it all done.
Marina: Then a single mother kind of inspired you?
Katya: Yes and no. I then realized very quickly that I would definitely not want to be a single parent because I don't think I'm that capable of suffering. I could do it in a pinch, but ultimately that's one of the reasons I say the co-parenting model suits me so well. It gives me so much space for myself too.
In addition, at some point I realized that in this couple-parent conception I had to be a mother and also a partner, because the guy is not only there to be a father, but he also wants to have a working relationship with me. For me that would mean work. At some point I thought so, that's two jobs and not one job with help. It was and is important to me that the child knows its father, that the father plays a role in the child's life and that he also wants to have the child. I really got the idea from a documentary where an American director filmed herself getting the idea to ask a friend if he could be her sperm donor. He did it and she then documented himself throughout the pregnancy and also interviewed women who did the same. And what I found very interesting, besides this path that she went, was that some women said that this whole topic of dating became easier for them afterwards. When you're in your late 30s and you meet someone, the men somehow immediately realize that their biological clock is ticking and that causes quite a few people to flee. I think that when you already have a child, it's actually almost easier, because this, now you have to have a family as soon as possible, will be gone for the time being. And somehow that made sense to me.
I then sat in the concert and thought that for me it would only be possible with a gay man because I wanted to completely exclude the whole topic of the couple relationship from the outset. I then occupied myself with the idea for a few months because I was never someone who really wanted to have a child because of the child. But I thought I didn't want to stand there and say: Oh yes, I would have wanted to, but then, stupidly, the train left without me. I wanted to actively make the decision for myself.
Marina: It's understandable and you've always been very successful professionally, of course you have to say that.
Katja : Laughs, - yes, I was always very busy professionally, that was a bit of an addition at the time. At my previous employer, the frequency was very high. When I then switched, there was much less pressure and the stress factor was significantly lower. I think if I had been under the pressure from before, I wouldn't have had that space in my head of wanting a child.
Marina : And what happened after you went to the concert?
Katja : Over the next few months I tried to imagine everything as much as possible. And then I went to see a friend of mine who is a family lawyer. He then explained to me the legal situation. And the legal situation is actually no different than that of other unmarried couples. You have to decide if you want to share custody or not. As a woman, you have all options. When I was pregnant, I could have said: That was very nice, you have the child every other weekend and I would like alimony now. In the case of my child, the child's father and I shared custody very early in the pregnancy, also because I simply found it fair that he also knew that I wasn't cheating on him.
And then I just googled co-parenting and came up with a television report from Deutsche Welle relatively quickly. Most co-parenting families are gay on both sides. The combo homosexual and heterosexual is not that common. The report portrayed a family, two lesbians and a gay friend of mine. And then it said that they met on the Family-Ship.org website and I just signed up there. In principle, you can choose everything, or you could. I don't know how it is today. At that time you could look for a pure sperm donor, a so-called father with an uncle function who comes by from time to time, an equal and you could also say that you were interested in a relationship. And then I looked at homosexual men right from the start and at first glance I was actually very positively surprised at what good men in quotation marks you found there.
Marina : Good in the sense of standing in life?
Katja : Yes, I was afraid that there would be men in their mid-50s who thought it would be nice if they had a child. And then I was convinced of the opposite. There were a lot of very good-looking guys and then, of course, a lot of people who were professionally successful. I then started texting with a couple of guys and then met the first guy who turned out to live in the house next door to me. Then I thought, that must be a divine sign.
Marina: How does such a meeting go or were there things that you paid particular attention to?
Katja : It was always very relaxed. I tried to ask a few questions at the meetings, where you can find out what makes the other person tick, for example on topics such as nutrition or vaccinations. For example, I've always asked how important healthy eating is for someone. And then I just said: Can I take my child to McDonald's? Because it was also important to me to be on the same wavelength as him.
Marina : And the first time everything was right, was the divine sign true?
Katja : He was very nice, but I just thought: I can't take the first one now, I have to look again. Then I met another and then Paul*, the child's father, so not that many.
Marina: How did you make a decision for yourself then?
Katja: I also always tried to address possible conflicts and with Paul a lot was just right for me and for us and we were and are on the same wavelength. Paul himself has been looking for someone for a long time and has met many. He was extremely well thought out and he had already said to himself that the person, for example, definitely has to live in the vicinity. Which he was totally right about. He and his partner now live two streets away and that's just super convenient. I just didn't even think about things like that at the time. He also knew what he was getting himself into. He is a lawyer himself, so of course he knew the legal side. He's been on the subject for a long time.
Marina: And how did the first meetings go?
Katja: Paul and I met alone at the beginning. Paul was and is in a relationship with Tom*, they also live together, but when we first met we were alone. But then I got to know Tom very quickly.
Marina: But the desire to have children was only from Paul?
Katja : No, they both had him, but Paul is the biological father. But I had never thought about the potential partner and was very fixated on the child's father and who he is. So it was important to me that I liked him, but my focus was always very much on Paul. In retrospect, I find that interesting when you look at the relationship our son Max* has with Tom. In the family ranking, I'm kind of right at the top for Max, I would say. Right behind him comes Papi (Tom). If the three of us are out and Max gets hurt, 99% of the time he runs to either Tom or me. He's very fixated on Tom.
Marina: Didn't you think of a gay couple at the time?
Katja : No, somehow not. Today I can't say exactly why either. I was like that at the time, the main thing is that the biological father is kind of an okay guy and if he still has a partner, the child has two fathers. But somehow that wasn't that important to me! Now I notice and see through Max that things are going very differently. I also thought at the time that I had ignored this whole risk of separation. We're separated from the start. And now I'm thinking: If Paul and Tom split up, it would probably be just as bad for Max as it would be if parents split up. I don't expect them to break up, of course, but it's out of my control.
Marina : If you were to give one piece of advice now, it would be to take a closer look when there is a person in a relationship?
Katja : Yes, I think it's super important to know what attitude this partner has on the subject. For example, the first guy I met hadn't even talked about it with his partner. At the time, as I said, I was still a bit naïve and thought, that's his problem. Today I know that it would absolutely not work. If they live together, it is clear that this partner is part of the family and plays the same role for the child as I do. I also don't know if Max understands what the difference between dad and papi is - meaning that he understands that he is related to one and not to the other. Max has also never asked why other children don't have two fathers. We have a single mother in the day care center and he recently asked if the child would also have a dad and why he's never there, but he's never asked why he has two.
So I would say it's important to know what that partner's attitude is when it's a committed relationship and living together. I would not advise the model if the partner is not in the mood for a child. You just have to know that this partner, if he lives there, plays just as big a role in the child's life as the biological father. In this respect, you should look at him just as well as the biological father.
Marina: So lucky in your case.
Katja : Laughs - Yes. I think I was actually very lucky in a lot of ways, because I didn't think too much about a lot of things, but I was lucky that Paul had already done so.
Marina : And the fertilization then took place via artificial insemination?
Katja: Yes, it was an insemination, so not in vitro.
Marina: How long have you known each other at this point?
Katja: Two months and we went to the fertility center for the first time in July 2016. And I actually assumed that because they track everything and check everything, if A is okay and B is okay and you bring that together at the right time, C comes out. But then C didn't come out and I was very irritated. You can laugh about it in hindsight, but I was already over 40 and very quickly decided that it wouldn't work here. I think that was a bit of a stress test, because it was also very frustrating for me. I was a bit offended that I thought like that. It took us a total of five attempts. When I was pregnant but didn't know it yet, I said to Paul, next time we'll do it in vitro, that doesn't work here. Paul was like: They told us the chances of insemination are one in ten if we're healthy and as long as we haven't done it more than ten times we don't have a problem. This is of course from the female perspective and if you then also know that you are older, it is something different.
Marina : How was your pregnancy then?
Katja : I was lucky and had a super uncomplicated pregnancy until the end. And the boys were present at all check-ups. They also brought me healthy food all the time.
Marina: So you were well taken care of and were kind of mothered?
Katja: Yes, very much and I thought it was great.
Marina: Was there something during your pregnancy or before - an event or a situation that shaped or influenced you?
Katja: Yes - indirectly. There was a story that showed me again that things can also go differently. An acquaintance of mine who also walked this path and from whom I knew her part of the story and Paul the part of the father's story. It was like that, they got to know each other, went on vacation and he didn't take care of her at the moment when she got pregnant and was pregnant. Then, that's my theory now, or how I perceived it, during her pregnancy she got so worked up about this, I'm alone now and he's not there and he doesn't care. The moment the kid came, she didn't want him to be there or have anything to say in the whole project at all. And then they fought a lot about custody and every minute that the father was allowed to spend with the child. I don't think if we hadn't known the story that Paul would have said: I'll call you back in nine months because he's not the type, but it was kind of important to know. That's also a bit of my advice to the men in the setup. You have to know that this model is the second choice for the heterosexual woman. Most straight women have probably already imagined that Prince Charming would come by someday and that they would have a child together. These women do it because that prince charming didn't come or it didn't work out. The model is second choice for them and I think the men have to be careful that the woman doesn't feel like an incubator, like a mere means to an end, because they can't have a child on their own. Of course, this also applies vice versa. You should also know what function or role you have for the other person. And I believe that there is also potential for conflict if one side is disappointed that the other side does not receive the acceptance or support that one would like.
Marina: It's probably also a lot of communication. It's a relationship on a very emotional level.
Katja : Yes, exactly. Without communication - agreements and an open dialogue: What do I want, what do I expect and what does the other want, it doesn't work.
Martina : Were the two boys there when the baby was born?
Katya : No. The original plan was for me to do this with a close friend who is also a doctor. Because that's what I thought too, I don't know him well enough, I'm not close enough to him, he's not the person who can help me in any way when I'm having the pain of my life.
Marina: And that was okay with him too?
Katja : Yes, I think he totally stayed out of it from the start because he thought she absolutely had to decide that for herself. I have nothing to say about that at all.
He should come along when things are going great and the head is already showing so maybe he can cut the umbilical cord. But that's not how it happened. I then went to the hospital on the scheduled date and then they tried for three days to initiate it. But nothing happened, then I should be released again and in the night to this next day the amniotic sac burst. Then a few contractions came, but everything was very slow and because the inflammation levels were so high, the doctors recommended doing a planned cesarean section. We did that and the boys also came and sat in front of the delivery room. And actually they did it really nicely and we were able to take two or three hours for the bonding. That was really nice, because Max then lay on Paul's or me's chest and Tom was also involved.
Marina : How did it go for you after that?
I was then in the hospital for almost a week. On the one hand because of a caesarean section and on the other hand because I never breastfed Max alone. A nurse had to come every time. And I didn't want to leave the hospital until the kid could drink on his own. Luckily it settled down and then they actually had to go to bed, I think that was a total of six weeks here. That was great and very luxurious. When I woke up in the morning, I would send a text message to the east wing and then one of the boys would take the child, one of them would make my breakfast and I would take a shower first.
Marina : Was it all planned beforehand?
Katja : Yes, exactly, and then for the first nine months, so as long as Max was breastfed and I was also on parental leave, they came by here every evening. We ate together, then they played with Max a bit and then they usually put him to bed.
It only got difficult for me when my parental leave was over and Max was weaned because we said, okay, then the whole model will turn around 180 degrees. Then Max lives with the boys while Paul is on maternity leave and I join them. That was too difficult for me and I didn't make it. So we said, okay, he's not there all the time and I come to visit, but he's there for two days and then back with me the third day, so that he sleeps with me every third night. We did that for three months and during these three months we also traveled together for several weeks. When Paul's maternity leave was over, we started with this Fifty Fifty model, where you change almost every day and have stayed with it to this day.
Marina : What do you mean, changes every day?
Katja: During the normal week, Max is picked up by the boys on Mondays and Wednesdays and then he sleeps there, and then I sleep on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And we divided the weekends so that you either have it on Friday and Sunday or on Saturday. And then of course it's also the case from time to time that you want to go away with him for the weekend, then you just talk it over, even if something has to be exchanged because of a job or appointments. But basically that's the model. We had informed ourselves beforehand how best to do this with the changes and read somewhere that the rhythm should be based on the age of the child. But we noticed that it is easier for us every day with this one, especially for the job. You can control it better with work and you see the child every day. Today he was with me at least in the morning and tomorrow I'll pick him up in the afternoon. In this respect we have now said that we will leave it as it is until he says of his own accord that he would like it to be different.
Marina : How did your family and friends react when you told them about your project?
Katja: All in all super good.
Marina : Friends probably easier than family?
Katja : The other way around.
Marina : Really?
Katya : Yes. A lot of close friends said: It's better to do it alone, because your parents are also here in Berlin. You have enough support, you can do it alone. You now have to coordinate with someone you don't actually know. But I didn't want that in the first place.
And my parents? Well, my mother was super keen on a grandchild and had already taken that off a bit and applied to be a guest grandma. I told my parents separately. I went on a trip with my mother on Mother's Day and then explained everything to her. Then she said, but that's really not a family. At that point I already knew Paul and had come a long way. Well actually it was already decided because I thought I want to decide it first and then tell them because I didn't want to be influenced by them. I then told her the whole story. What I thought about, how I imagine it and who they are and I think there was just a switch in her head that flipped and suddenly there was another grandchild on the horizon. Spoken badly, I don't think she really cared how it happened. And my father was much more reserved. He listened to everything and then said, well, he never had an issue with gay anyway, nor that we wouldn't be together then. He just said that he didn't want me to think that I should have a child because my friends all have children, because a child turns your whole life upside down and that I'm not dissatisfied with my current life. He wanted to make sure I didn't do that because I kinda feel like I couldn't be happy without a kid.
Marina: How did your parents behave during pregnancy? Did you have their support and did they meet Paul and Tom?
Katja: My father was very reserved and the whole topic wasn't particularly interesting for him until Max came along. My mum was on the whole pregnancy and she wanted to see a picture of Paul and Tom from the start too. But I didn't want that, only when it was clear that it would work. At Christmas I found out that I was pregnant and at the end of January we gave my parents a get-to-know-you dinner at the boys'. After that, my parents were totally fixated on Paul and to them he was “the perfect son-in-law”. What I also found interesting in this context was that my or our model was so well received by my parents' circle of friends and by my grandmother's generation.
Marina : Really?
Katja: Yes, I wouldn't have thought that either. That's a generation where women often stayed with a man, even though it wasn't great. I really had the feeling that they thought, blatant, she only takes what she wants from a man like that.
Marina : Exciting, but understandable. I wouldn't have expected that now.
Katja : Now, of course, I also come from a more left-wing background, as far as my parents and grandparents are concerned. So maybe there is a bit more liberalism at the start. But I've never experienced anywhere else that someone didn't like it or rejected it. In my job, too, if something comes up, I say relatively quickly what kind of model it is. I've never felt bad or weird about it either.
Marina : You shouldn't either. Everyone is the architect of their own fortune. I just think it's brave to do it. I think for many who are in a similar situation as you were there is still an inhibition because they just give up and say, okay, it didn't work out - then it shouldn't be.
Katja : Ultimately, everyone has to know for themselves, but I think it's a very good solution for single women, because I don't think being a single parent is great. You can do anything and it's safe, but I think it's very, very, very exhausting. And of course I have a few friends in my circle of friends who say their relationship isn't going so well, but they're in their late thirties and want a child. I find my way better than throwing a kid in or sticking one on someone in a dysfunctional relationship. There is someone there who also wants a child and wants to take responsibility for it. Especially with Familyship you can also see which model, which division etc. - what suits me. And you don't have those hurt feelings if you've been a couple before.
Marina: That's right. I'm still interested in your everyday life. How do you go on vacation, for example - together or separately?
Katja : Basically we split it up, but not for very long at the moment. So I would already be willing to say, two weeks at a time. Paul doesn't have that. It's at a maximum of ten days, but that's okay with me too.
The first few years we went on vacation together and now we each have a week. The boys once a week in the spring, I once a week in the fall. During the long summer vacation, Max goes to the Baltic Sea with the boys for ten days. In the last few years I picked him up there and took him with me and went to Sweden. This time I said that it's nicer for Max if he comes home from time to time and then drives off again.
Marina: How about you? You don't currently have a partner, do you? Do you miss that sometimes?
Katja : I've always been single, so I don't miss it, but I'd like to have someone. First and foremost, of course, for me, but then also a little bit for Max, because I sometimes think that it's not good for him either if he's the absolute center of my life and there's no one else. And you can tell that Max also wishes there were more people here. I also don't want Max to feel responsible for me - because he thinks mom has nobody and is alone when I'm with dad and dad. Max
gets a lot of attention anyway, also because of this change model. You're always in the mood for him when he comes. Everywhere he goes he's the center of attention and in that respect I think it would be nice if he somehow had to share my love and attention with someone else. And then I'm also afraid that at some point I'll cling to him so blatantly when he starts leaving as a teenager and then I sit here every night and just wait.
Marina: If you could summarize again, from your experience, what are the top three for other women who are in similar situations but are perhaps still too inhibited to look at this model or to take a first step? And is there anything that speaks against it?
Katja: What speaks against it: you just have to know that you're bringing someone into your life who, like a partner, won't leave. And then you have to deal with it until the child is of legal age. You have to make decisions together and share something that is very precious to you. And you also have to live with the fact that on days or in situations where you would like to have the child with you, it is not there. You have to agree, but that's no different with "normal" families. But that must be clear to you. Then you can no longer decide everything on your own and only do as you want, there is someone else there. And what speaks for it is the support that the child has a father and for me this change model is actually an advantage, this relief. For example, Max has never had a babysitter in his life. But of course also because there are three of us. The child is always very well looked after. And for me it's actually an advantage that I have every other day to myself. So I don't have the feeling that I have to do without anything socially because of the child, for example. I've never had to cancel a party I was going to because I have the kid, it's either not my night out anyway or I'm swapping. In this respect, it already gives you the opportunity to have a family and a child. And on the other hand you can still continue your single life and of course professional freedoms are also possible that I would not have as a single parent.
Marina: And I have one more question. When we are among women, we always talk about the mental load, and in many families it is often the case that this is primarily with the women. How about you?
Katja: That's not the case with us at all.
Marina : Do you think it's because it's a gay couple? Because they're closer anyway, or because you were just lucky?
Katya: Both. I believe this equal rights in itself and then Paul is also a guy who likes to get involved in these areas, keeps an overview and wants to be involved. It's kind of normal for us to go to check-ups or vaccinations, but that's also because my girlfriend is our pediatrician and Paul does dentistry and hairdressing.
Marina : And did you have any differences in this connection or have you always agreed on decisions so far?
Katja : There have not been so many groundbreaking decisions. Everything that concerns diseases or vaccinations, we agreed. I always say that we are actually running in the same direction, only sometimes with different intensities. Paul is a lot stricter than I am when it comes to healthy eating and little sweets. In the summer, for example, he finds an ice cream a day excessive. But it's also the case that he knows that it's different with me. But I think he also has the confidence that I won't just give Max sugar every day. It's a bit different from his, but not in the way that it turns into a discussion or an argument. I think we should basically go in the same direction. It should be clarified beforehand whether you basically tick the same way. I think you can tell that pretty quickly. When I was initially at Paul and Tom's house, of course I looked around a bit, what kind of newspapers do they read, do they read at all and how do they live and does that fit somewhat with what I want myself. And of course whether you can see your child in the apartment. You have to know what kind of person you are. So you also have to know where can I hand something in? Am I okay if someone else does it a little differently? Or do I have to be in control of everything?
But I really have to say that I was very lucky with the guys. You always have to find compromises. It's a relationship on a different level and it's important to clarify beforehand whether you're basically capable of coming to an agreement, and then you have to be prepared to constantly have to come to an agreement.
Marina : And did you coordinate legal things with a contract beforehand?
Katja : No, but I went to this family law friend of mine and got advice. It's basically like this: You can stipulate something in a contract, but you can't conclude a contract about having children, instead family law applies and I was relatively reassured about that, because I also think that family law in Germany is very much based on the well-being of the child oriented. At some point we wrote down how we wanted to handle things like that, for example if Max got sick overnight. Who is then responsible - the one with whom he spent the night or the one to whom he then comes. Who stays at home? We hadn't arranged anything like that at first and especially during the Corona period there was a lot of potential for conflict revealed.
Marina: How did you come to an agreement then?
Katja: Then we said that in such cases it applies until noon. If he had been ill this morning, then I would have been obliged to look after him until noon so that Paul still has time to let work know that he cannot today or that he has to go earlier and then he would have to from noon take over.
Marina: Okay, great - thank you very much for the great interview, that was really a lot of information and I think we and you were able to give a great overview.
Katja : I'd love to, I found it very pleasant too.