Equal partnership

An interview with men's therapist Björn Süfke: How to shake off old patterns

Negotiating the partnership is worthwhile - and welds you together!

There has been a change in awareness among modern fathers. But what is the actual situation regarding the division of responsibilities between today's parents? And how can equal parenthood be negotiated in practice? Psychologist and men's therapist Björn Süfke gives tips on how fathers can change old role models.

Image

Editorial team: Studies show: Many men today want more time with their children, they want to be involved at home, do a good job at work and have a good conversation with their partner about all of this. However, a look at the reality of life often shows a different picture. So what about role models and partnership in the family today?

Björn Süfke: Basically, there is a clear trend that shows that there is a change in awareness among men. Fathers increasingly feel the need to break out of old role models and are expressing this more and more often. In my opinion, there is often a problem with putting this into practice. Both fathers and mothers like to say: "Yes, we do it on an equal footing, we make decisions together" - but on a subconscious level, there are a lot of ingrained patterns. So it's about recognizing these patterns, coming to terms with them and talking to our partner about them - without self-blame or judgment, but with a lot of compassion and self-humour. What you recognize, you can also change so that you can then consciously take different paths.

An example from me personally: In order to dissolve the old role patterns, my wife and I actually share as many childcare tasks as possible 50:50. So that, for example, when putting the children to bed, it doesn't unconsciously creep in at some point that the caring, cuddly tasks lie primarily with the mother, we do it in shifts on a daily basis. This reduces the risk of routines developing - quite unintentionally - where one or the other is primarily responsible for certain topics.

Editorial team: What can men and fathers do in a very pragmatic way to advance the topic of partnership within the family and in society?

Björn Süfke: To put it bluntly: As a man, I can start by asking myself - with as little bias as possible: What is actually my own need? Unbiased here means not simply shouting "children, children, family" and completely ignoring the job just to be a "modern guy". No, it's about asking yourself honestly: How do I want to organize my fatherhood, partnership and career? This is the best thing men can do for themselves, ideally even before the birth of a child.

This naturally leads to discussing and negotiating the outcome with your partner as equals, because it also involves a concrete distribution of work and responsibilities. Many women are often one step ahead in terms of their understanding of their role as a mother and, in the absence of an independent point of view from their partner, the mother's suggestion is inevitably implemented for many child-rearing issues. If you want to be a good negotiating partner and father, you determine your own position in advance. This is "emancipation" in the truest sense of the word - it's a lot of work, but it's worth it.

Editorial team: How does what you are calling for affect the children?

For the children, the greatest benefit is when the father is present as a person. It is therefore important to share the good times just as much as the difficult ones. A father who only spends quality time with his children may be a popular and well-liked father, but he is no more suitable as a role model than someone on TV who is only seen in his best moments.

On the other hand, if a father is also emotionally present, which is often the biggest challenge for us men, then he is an incredible asset as a male role model, especially for sons.

And for us as a society as a whole, it would of course be great if we men could put all of this into practice and share a little of it with the outside world in order to advance the social discussion with our own example. For example, it is also important that we speak out if we as fathers do not feel that we are perceived as equal parents in public. Like the women before us, we are now called upon to ask ourselves what our relationship is to the social role requirements: where do these contradict my wishes? With this emancipatory attitude, we need to shape everything else, both the partnership negotiations and our own everyday practice as fathers.

Editorial team: What other points are particularly important to you when negotiating in partnership?

Björn Süfke: Personally, I would like to move away from focusing on the problematic in negotiation processes. I think we should approach the topic in a much more positive way.

Negotiation doesn't have to be a negative thing, as we might know it from business. There, the principle often applies: the better I negotiate, the more I get out of it and the worse it is for my counterpart. This is not a model that works in partnerships. It's not about a win-lose situation, but a win-win or lose-lose situation - we're both always affected.

Personally, I see these negotiation processes with my wife around "Who goes where, who does what, who should take the child to the doctor today, who can....?" as enriching. Especially when communication about the little things in everyday life works, it's something that is incredibly bonding on a partnership level. And by the way, "negotiating" for us doesn't always mean "Which of us has to go to parents' evening today?", but often also "Which of us CAN go to parents' evening?" - because we both really enjoy doing a lot of things related to parenthood ...

Couples therapists say that couples who want to have a future together need a joint project. If you take parenthood as an example of such a "project", then everyone benefits from it: the children, but also the parents as a couple.

Editorial team: What framework conditions and support services help couples to negotiate as partners?

Björn Süfke: Parental allowance and parental leave, fathers' congresses and portals such as Familienportal.NRW are important steps in the right direction. However, the unequal pay of women and men or the pressure that men experience when they ask for parental leave in their companies in order to practice active fatherhood show that we are still a long way from being able to implement the needs of fathers and couples described at the beginning in everyday life.

I myself experience in practice how great the need for support is and how little help is available. In my view, we need lots of educational and reflection spaces for fathers and couples so that we can learn from each other. When it comes to fatherhood, we men are often not taken seriously in everyday life. If we as a society want to break out of traditional roles in the sense of an expansion so that all opportunities for men and women can be exploited, then we must also offer sufficient support - for women and men alike.

About the person:

Björn Süfke is a men's counselor, author and father. He deals with the many facets of being a man from these different perspectives. For example, he has published the books "Männerseelen" and "Männer. What it means to be a man today". Most recently, he published the short story collection "Papa, Du hast ja Haare auf der Glatze! From the everyday life of a father".

Where can we find help and advice?

You can seek outside help at any time for all questions relating to parenting, negotiation processes in partnerships and family conflicts. At around 270 parent and family advice centers in North Rhine-Westphalia, you will find experienced professionals with whom you can discuss your challenges and concerns over the phone, in person or digitally. You can find a counselling centre near you by searching online or using the search engine on the portal of DAJEB Deutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Jugend- und Eheberatung e.V.

The Männerberatungsnetz bundles counselling services that specialize in the concerns and conflict situations of boys, men and fathers. You can use the counseling map to find a counseling service near you.

Read the article "Fair partnership - who does what and how much?" here on the Familienportal.NRW at


Personal stories and experiences from fathers in NRW can be found on our YouTube channel.