This is a very complex issue in our society. But whether we talk about "father, mother, child", "father, father, child" or "mother, mother, child", whether one parent is a single parent or whether it is a patchwork model: In most cases, this involves one or two children. According to the Federal Statistical Office, a woman had 1.53 children in 2020. A large family is therefore an extreme exception to the average.


Things were different in the generation of our grandparents and parents: In 1961, when my father was born, a woman in Germany had an average of 2.45 children. Of course, there were exceptions and extreme examples in both directions, then as now, but a trend can still be identified.
Statistically speaking, women today are having their first child at an increasingly older age, currently at 30. This is because they often invest a lot of energy and time in their education.


Consequently, they also want to use the qualification they have achieved in their professional life and realize their own potential first. In the process, the desire to have children often takes a back seat. According to representative surveys, young people are concerned about the financial burden of planning their own children and about the fact that children restrict their personal freedom of development. The state framework conditions (e.g. lack of childcare places) and the generally uncertain future of our planet (e.g. due to climate change) also keep many young couples from having their own children.


To stay with the example of my father: He is the youngest of ten children and grew up with his siblings on a farm. At this point, the mystery surrounding the admittedly provocative headline should be solved: My grandparents actually had "only" ten children together. At that time, the older daughters worked in a children's home and there they met a girl who grew up as an orphan. When she reached the age of 18, she had to leave the home - and so she was unceremoniously taken in by my dad's family. To this day, she and her current family are an integral part of our family. As a child I did not even know that this one aunt wasn't actually my aunt.  It wasn't until I was a teenager that I learned about it, and since then I sometimes use the phrase that there are just 10 ½ siblings.

This story is a picture of what values were important in the family at that time:  Each and every one gave as much as possible to the community without needing anything explicit in return. For example, the family members did not question for long whether it would be financially and organizationally possible to have one more "child" at the table. The decision was made very pragmatically: A young woman has a problem and the family will somehow manage to find a place for her in it. This required cohesion, commitment and mutual understanding from everyone. And it worked.


Responsibility and dreams
I know from stories how much the older siblings took care of the younger ones. Since the first children were all girls, they naturally acted like extra moms at home. Nevertheless, dreams and personal goals always had a place in the family: My oldest aunt was very successful in cross-country skiing and took part in German championships, among other things. One of the younger sisters really wanted to train as a florist, for which she then had to move to the other end of the state at the age of 16. My grandmother must have been a great organizer and kept the family together. She also said that the time in the hospital after each birth was like a vacation for her: being cooked for, not having to take care of the house and yard, simply having time off from everyday life.


Of possibilities and diversity
Family had a different status in previous generations because an even greater part of life took place within this structure back then. The personal horizon of most people was more limited. For many, the path of life was already mapped out. My dad, for example, trained as a butcher because that was useful for the family on the farm at the time, before later becoming a carpenter. Today, there are many more options and possibilities for shaping one's own path in life. Children have a more open view of the world and the countless opportunities that are available to them. There is less of an expectation today that young people must spend their own lives in their hometown or take up a particular profession. Many hurdles are eliminated simply because of our current technological standards: long distances do not represent a insurmountable challenge, Telephone calls and video conferences are easily possible worldwide, and language barriers can be bridged much more easily. As a result, families today are often no longer so closely connected in spatial terms. Nevertheless, the relationship with one's own family still ranks second in a 2021 survey on the most important values for Germans. So basically, the value of family has merely changed, but it has not lost its priority. It is no longer absolutely necessary to be physically close to one's own family in order to maintain the familiar bond. Today, cohesion can also be lived at a distance. You are literally "not out of the world" if you live in different cities or countries.

It is interesting to note, however, that the first place in the survey was taken by good friends. This result shows that even today there are many more variations on how people define the value of family - and sometimes good friends really are the family you can choose. As the example of my dad's family also shows, it's much more about a sense of connection than an actual blood relationship.

One for all & all for one

Authors: Lisa Steurer, Simone Wörner