Dealing with your children: ‘Parents are stuck in their corset role’

Big workload, pressures of high expectations, lack of daycare places: the fast pace of modern day life presents parents with problems that sometimes seem unsolvable. In a pilot project in Berlin, parents learn how to play with their children. Visit.

Yumi claps her hands with joy when she sees her playmate Luis. “She’s been looking forward to coming here all morning,” says Mum Tanya, lifting Yumi out of the stroller. After all, the one-year-old has known the room she’s in for almost her entire life. At the age of 11 weeks, she visited the playroom of Charlottenburg Town Hall for the first time. She met Louis, his mother, Mariana, and other families. The knotted Yumi crawls into the box with toys to catch the colorful spinning top. Sitting on a blue mat next to her, Sabrina Bohm is an expert in early childhood development. Pom has been meeting parents in the room regularly for years to show them how to play with their young children.

Louis, Yumi and their mother, Tanya (left to right) play at Charlottenburg City Hall during the tournament.

(Photo: Leah Verstel)

Bohm discusses seemingly everyday matters with families. It’s about the finer details that often get lost in tension. It begins with the question: How do I carry my child? Pom gets a cloth doll to use to show the error. Many parents held the baby to the face. They must first roll it on its side before lifting it. “If the baby is lying on his side, he can raise his head on his own. He trains his muscles and feels for himself. He finds this position natural,” says Baum.

Course participants say that intuition when dealing with children often gets lost in the fast pace of modern day life. Parents of all ages and income structures, in LGBT partnerships as well as heterosexuals, gather in the room each week to find an answer to the question together: How do I interact with my child in a way that occurs in the critical first years of life well developed?

The lack of nurseries is a burden on families

The course, launched by the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf Department of Health together with the Berlin Citizens Foundation, is in great demand. It is a pilot project, and other areas of Berlin such as Neukölln have recently started offering it. For some, the playroom is also a haven of sorts. Because the pressure of expectations on parents is great, at the same time many feel left on their own. For many, the time when extended families could help raise children is over. Both parents usually work and are alone with their children in their spare time.

“After all, it’s also about equality here,” Baum says, as she looks for some moms’ perspective. They nodded in agreement. The old role pattern did not persist in everything, but in many cases. Men return to work as soon as possible after giving birth because they get better paying jobs. If women also want to return to work, they face an insoluble problem: in Berlin, as in many other German cities, there are very few daycare places.

This deficiency also weighs on Mariana. She watches her son playing with a plastic funnel beside her. In a year and a half, Louis will be old enough to go to nursery school. “But we wrote to more than 20 institutions and there is no place for him,” his mother says. Mariana and her husband’s families live far away, so relatives cannot take care of Louis. She puts her head in her hands and looks down carefully. “It’s also good for me here: I can honestly say on the course that I’m tired when Lewis could barely sleep at night,” she says.

“It’s not always great to be a mom or dad.”

What children see as playing heaven with blocks and slides, adults see as a space where they can talk openly about their feelings, including childbirth, which for many women is a trauma they have to deal with. But work with the child begins only after that. Tanya says she initially wondered how she was supposed to communicate with a child who couldn’t speak for himself. Bohm advised her to include my day in everyday life. Now when Tanja makes coffee or cooks food at home, she explains to Yumi what she’s doing so she can learn. “It’s similar to what happens with adults: If I go to the bakery five times, I know where it is,” says Tanya. Bohm shows parents how they can raise their children to be more independent at an early age.

Tanya lies on the floor so Yumi can drag herself on her. The two practice this over and over at home in their living room until the girl can climb up on the sofa by herself. Boom helps them. She shares tips on how Yumi can improve her moves. It is important that Tanya accompanies her daughter in the early years. For this reason, she decided to wait about two years for her job back at a TV station while her partner worked. In her circle of acquaintances, she reaps critical comments. “Then this means: Your child has to go to the daycare center so that he learns how to socialize with others,” Tanya says.

Bom sighed softly. She knows these supposedly well-intentioned recommendations, insulting looks, in short, the social expectations that parents have. Plus, they’re inundated with tips from countless guidebooks, which are often not helpful from a Boom’s point of view. What is normal in education is determined by the majority. “Parents are put in a corset in their turn,” says Baum. Above all, families need space to develop. This also includes talking honestly about the issues that bother you. “It’s not always great to be a mom or dad. Anyone who claims that isn’t telling the truth. It’s not true,” confirms Baum.

Constant fear of doing something wrong

Baum and her colleagues can already see the stress that parents experience during home visits soon after birth. District office staff meet all mothers for the first time to inform them about offers they can take advantage of with their children, such as the Boom Course. Even the invitation to the meeting worries many. “Some are afraid that they are doing something wrong or that the authorities want to take their children away from them,” says Baum. If afterwards the visit takes place at the family home, the apartment is cleaned to a high gloss and the most elegant clothes are taken out of the closet. “We really want to support families,” she says.

Anyway, Mariana and Tanya are glad they got the call from the district office. At the end of the session they sing a farewell song with the children. Then everyone puts the toys scattered on the floor in the box together. Pom has to finish class on time this time because she still has an appointment after that. “Today we have to say goodbye to you quickly, but we will see each other again soon,” says Tanya with a smile as she pushes Yumi out of her carriage door.

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