Working mothers A Family Affair

Kristina Schröder, Germany's former family minister, resigned after having a baby. Does that mean she failed to find the work-motherhood balance? Not according to her.

A mother of two who still looks like she’s fresh out of high school, Kristina Schröder recently discovered her passion for the health sector.

The German parliamentarian is working on how to improve the political framework to encourage greater innovation in the pharmaceuticals industry.

Now a political veteran at the age of 37, Ms. Schröder joined the youth organization of Germany’s ruling centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) at 14 and became a full party member at 17.

“I went in to politics to shape big societal issues. That’s my drive and nothing has changed that,” she says in her parliamentary office in Berlin.

It’s a telling statement from a former family minister, who decided to put her own family before her career.

Ms. Schröder declared on the evening of the last general election in September 2013 that she would no longer remain a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet becasue she was a mother who wanted “to see her child.” Now, just four and a half months after the birth of her second daughter, she’s returned to work as an MP.

Ms. Schröder thought she could tackle problems politically while keeping such policies from touching her own life.

“I’m completely relaxed at the moment,” she says.

Ms. Schröder sits on the parliament’s economic committee, but that doesn’t mean she’s a big fan of Ms. Merkel’s so-called grand coalition with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).

It was back in November 2009 that she received a call from the chancellor asking her if she’d like to become family minister. It was a Friday and by Monday she gave her inaugural speech. While in office Ms. Schröder also became pregnant – setting her up to become Germany’s role model for working mothers.

Despite her resignation, she recently told the Süddeutschen Zeitung magazine that: “My biography shows that it’s objectively possible to combine children and a career.”

It’s important for her to emphasize this, especially as her tenure as family minister was decidedly mixed. But she withstood the pressure for an entire legislative period. Ms. Schröder says she didn’t leave because there were nasty debates about quotas for women executives, or because she couldn’t control her ministry and certainly not because Ms. Merkel pushed her out. She left, she says, “because I wanted to.”

She’s aware many people don’t believe her, but she doesn’t care. Ms. Schröder had a choice and she made it. But how many families, and how many women and men have a choice like her?

Despite her political career, Ms. Schröder rejects the idea that she ever wanted to be a role model. Still, as family minister she had hoped to come up with solutions to help make motherhood and the modern working world more compatible in German society – and no longer a private problem for a woman.

In her book, “Thanks, But We’ve Emancipated Ourselves!” she writes: “As a mother of a small child, I am not prepared and not able to submit myself to the constant availability that remains unquestioned in executive board rooms and top offices.”

I believe grand coalitions are not just bad for democracy in theory, I also think they are dangerous for the CDU. Kristina Schröder, CDU parliamentarian and former family minister

Ms. Schröder thought she could tackle problems politically while keeping such policies from touching her own life. But these days, if you ask her if it’s possible to affect such changes in society without role models and government intervention, she doesn’t have an answer. Just an embarrassed shake of the head.

All of Germany watched as the young politician became minister and then mother. The weekly newspaper Die Zeit wrote at the time: “We’ll have to endure that for now.” Ms. Schröder says today “the amount of aggression was intense” and that she doesn’t tend to judge people in such a fashion, though her book is anything but free of judgment.

Meeting her in person, Ms. Schröder at first seems completely genuine and down to earth. But when she starts talking politics, she suddenly appears overly concentrated, stiff and slightly calculating.

She is searching for a new path, but is clever enough not to say where it is leading. Both young and yet experienced, Ms. Schröder wants to be a critical voice of her own government.

“I believe grand coalitions are not just bad for democracy in theory, I also think they are dangerous for the CDU,” she says.

Asked what she would do differently as a minister if she had the chance, she replies: “I would have perhaps bragged a little bit more.”


This story first appeared in the newspaper Der Tagespiegel. To contact the author: [email protected]