What is intense parenting

Interdisciplinary project: Parenthood in Transition - Transforming Parenthood

Participating scientists

Prof. Dr. Beate Ditzen (Institute for Medical Psychology)

Prof. Dr. Katja Patzel-Mattern (Professorship for Economic and Social History)

Prof. Dr. Marc-Philippe Weller (Institute for Comparative and International Private and Business Law)

Franziska Biggel (Institute for Foreign and International Private and Business Law)

Franziska Frech, M. Sc. Psych. (Institute for Medical Psychology)

Mirjam Lober, M.A. (Chair for Economic and Social History)

Laura Moser, M.A. (Chair for Economic and Social History)

Alix Schulz, M.Jur. (Institute for Foreign and International Private and Business Law)


Blog post by Alix Schulz on the right of parentage of children of same-sex couples in Germany: "Equal Marriage - Unequal Parenthood" (OxHRH Blog, April 2021)


Parenthood is the heritage, present and future of humanity. It is the foundation of the elementary building blocks of our society, the families. At the same time, parenting follows socially shared ideas of the “normal”, so-called models. These define who belongs to a "normal" family or determine how a "normal" family formation proceeds. If one looks at the present, it can be stated that such certainties on the one hand erode and on the other hand continue to develop. The millennia-old cultural wisdom “mater semper certa est” no longer applies. The understanding of parenthood is no longer defined biologically, but socially constructed. Modern family forms, an opening up of the concept of gender and developments in reproductive medicine put models, traditional everyday knowledge as well as current law to the test. These developments are accelerated by the mobility of people in a globalized world. International fertility medicine and polygamous family relationships create challenges.

In cooperation with the Institute for Foreign and International Private and Business Law and the Institute for Medical Psychology at the University of Heidelberg, the Chair for Economic and Social History is looking for answers to the questions of how models of parenthood change, which factors are particularly subject to change or . Remain stable and which factors (social, psychological, biological or genetic) should be normatively decisive for the parent-child relationship. Current individual attitudes, the assessment of the legal situation in different family constellations and generations in comparison to traditional documents are the focus and are examined in a linked manner.

Subproject History of Parenthood

The starting point of the historical subproject are two findings: on the one hand, the diversity of family relationships even before the concept of gender was opened up or the developments in modern reproductive medicine and, on the other hand, the efforts of the nation state to legally establish parenthood and thus to establish norms that are to be considered part of models . Against this background, the historical sub-project asks about the specific design of older models of parenthood and their significance for today's attitudes. The research period results from the question. Models that shaped the perception of parenthood in Germany after the Second World War and thus have an impact on today's parents through personal transmission processes between the generations are seen as directly relevant to current attitudes. The research horizon of the historical sub-project thus extends from 1945 to reunification and spatially to the old Federal Republic and the GDR.

Subproject Legal Aspects of Parenthood

Parenthood in the legal sense means to assign the legal status of a parent to a person and to authorize and oblige them in accordance with the provisions of applicable law. In German law, parents are initially those persons who have a parentage connection (§§ 1589 ff BGB) to a child. According to the current legal situation, this is on the one hand the woman who gave birth to the child (§ 1591 BGB) and on the other hand the mother's husband (§ 1592 No. 1 BGB) or the man who has recognized paternity (§ 1592 No. 2 BGB ) or whose paternity has been determined by a court (§ 1592 No. 3 BGB). In addition, the adoptive parents are also parents in the legal sense, since the adoption according to § 1754 BGB establishes a parent-child relationship based on parentage law. The once established status as a legal parent is of central and absolute importance.
At present, however, reforms and an increasing pluralization of parenthood can be observed. This pluralization is intensified by the increasing mobility of people in a globalized world. The most prominent examples are fertility / reproductive medicine procedures, such as egg donation or surrogacy. Internationally, however, there is as yet no legally harmonized approach to dealing with these procedures. While egg donation and surrogacy are prohibited in Germany and numerous other countries, some countries allow altruistic (non-commercial) egg donation or surrogacy. Some states allow commercial egg donation and in some cases even commercial surrogacy. This different legal assessment sometimes leads to legal arbitrage (e.g. through "reproductive tourism") and challenges the applicable international private and procedural law.

Subproject parenthood from a psychological perspective

On the one hand, parenting is socially shaped by cultural influences and individual learning experiences in the family of origin (Lück & Diabaté, 2015). On the other hand, current emotions and individual motives affect the perception and assessment of parenthood, so that historical, cultural and biological aspects, among other things, flow together in the psychological representation. With increasingly diversifying family models (including blended families, adoptive families, foster families, rainbow families) and the associated decoupling of genetic, biological, social and legal parenting, the relationship between parents and their child as a relevant common constant is the focus of psychological interest. A central concept here is the bond between the parents and the child. Attachment is so important to life that John Bowlby conceptualized it as a basic human need, comparable to the need to eat (Bowlby, 1989). Correspondingly, imaging methods in psychobiological research show strong reward activation in the brain when mothers and fathers have positive contact with their own child (Feldman, 2015; overview: Zietlow, Heinrichs, & Ditzen, 2016). The fact that fathers react to their child in a similarly strong manner shows that genetic or social parenthood alone is sufficient to establish an intense bond. Psychological studies have also shown that loving bonds or positive parent-child relationships mediate the transmission of values, beliefs, knowledge, practices, etc. (Erzinger & Steiger, 2014; Pooley & Qureshi, 2016; Roest, Dubas, & Gerris, 2009; Schönpflug, 2001). Parenthood as the origin of the ability to bond is therefore indispensable for maintaining and changing culture. The psychological sub-project deals with the psychobiology of the parent-child bond and examines whether changes over time and cultural differences can be assumed, taking the historical perspective into account.

Planned interdisciplinary project

In two consecutive studies in cooperation between history, law and psychology, the question of how genetic, biological, social and legal aspects of parenthood are represented in different generations and family constellations is examined. On the one hand, an online survey of images of parents is being planned, in which not only the current living and family situation but also the social milieu will be asked. The online survey will be evaluated quantitatively, with the aim of examining differences in response behavior between the milieus and relationships in the evaluation of individual parent models and one's own self-reported family model. In the second part of the joint project, an oral history study aims to conduct interviews with families of different constellations and to question different generations of the same families.



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Patzel-Mattern, K., Ditzen, B., & Weller, M.-P. (2017). The rented belly. From order parents, desired children and surrogate mothers, Ruperto Carola Research Magazine, No. 10.
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Last change: 04/28/2021