„New York Fathers Go To Work &
The Mother Is To Stay At Home“

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 Heidi (heidihartwig.com) lebt mit Mann und Tochter Ryo (7) in Brooklyn, New York City. Die Amerikanerin arbeitet als Regisseurin und Fotografin und spricht mit uns über den Mummy-Alltag im Big Apple, amerikanische Erziehungsmethoden und ihre Begegnungen mit gestressten Kids in New York und entspannten deutschen Eltern (und Kindern). Denn sie lebt und arbeitet regelmäßig in den Sommermonaten mit ihrer kleinen Familie in Berlin-Neukölln. Vielleicht auch, weil sich das typisch amerikanische und auch New Yorker Familienmodell sich immer mehr vom deutschen unterscheidet.. 

Dear Heidi, you are American living with your husband Walter Schreifels, who is a musician, and your daughter Ryo (7) in New York City where you are working as a film director and photographer. Please tell us about a typical day in your everyday life.

 Working freelance in NYC, and even crazier, working freelance in the arts in NYC, The Schreifels daily life is often unexpected. During the school year though, we are a bit more consistent. We wake our daughter around 7am so we can be out the door at 8am. Its only a 10 min walk to school and drop off is by 8:20am. Ryo (pronounced Rio) is in school till 2:40 each day and then attends various after-school activities ranging from Gymnastics, Dance, Woodworking, and her German studies at New York University in Manhattan. Once a week, she has a German babysitter who speaks German with her and plays. (She’s from Stuttgart in case you’re wondering). She often makes Ryo’s favorite German food kartofflebrie. So from drop-off at 8:30am till after school pickup at 2:40pm, my day can range anywhere from working at home, running errands for a fashion designer I work with, shooting portraits, directing videos, and taking meetings to generate more work for myself. In the evening I cook dinner, do homework, and get Ryo to sleep around 8pm. My evening hours are also short, I either stay home to watch a movie or TV show with the hubby, attend a fun event such as a concert or art opening, read, or continue working on the computer. I try to be in bed by midnight. Time in NYC seems to move much faster compared to Berlin, you’re always a bit stressed running to different engagements and being there after school by 3pm. Its amazing how much you can fit in before 3pm!  

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Are most of your friends parents? Or more of them artists? Or both?

Over the years I’ve made some good mom friends in my neighborhood of Williamsburg Brooklyn. I would say most of them work in the arts, own their own business, or are trying to get back to work after being at home with the kids. I really count on my mom friends when I’m stuck in a jam. I also enjoy sharing a bottle of wine together as the kids have their play dates! They say it takes a village to raise a child and in a village like NYC that couldn’t be more true.

Most of my other friends work in music, fashion, photography, wellness, things like that.  My husband and I usually take turns going out at night to save money on babysitters; but occasionally we go out for dinner, or a concert, or a fun party/adventure together which keeps our relationship about being a couple and not just parents.

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 You know Germany very well and you stay here each year for a while. Do you think it’s easier to be a mother in Berlin/Germany compared to New York/ USA? 

I can think of no better place in the world to be a mom and raise children then in Berlin. My mom friends in Berlin are much more relaxed, and connected to their children. They have a real sense of security and freedom knowing they can go back to work after that first year. They really enjoy being in the moment with their children. Moms don’t seem to suffer with the idea of not knowing who they are anymore. Their identies aren’t lost because they’ve become a mom. Plus, I can’t tell you how many of my friends with kids in Berlin are no longer with their partners! They have no fear if the relationship isn’t working out that they are stuck in some bad situation. They know there is support from the government to send their kids to free day care, to receive money for the kids to eat and have diapers, and they can go back to work without any worries of paying someone. The single parents I know are doing great! They are happy, feel in control, supported, not stressed beyond belief emotionally. That can’t be farther from what goes on in the US.

 My mommy friends in NYC seem to suffer more emotionally. I see a lot of depressed moms who feel unsupported by their partners. There is this old fashioned idea here, fathers go to work, mothers stay home with the kids. So if you were a career woman before kids, or a success in your own life, that somehow gets stripped away from you. Now you’re to depend on your partner to provide for you and the family. Of course, its not always the men who are the breadwinners, but the idea is, who ever makes the money, has to work harder and more often once a child comes along. To keep up with your lifestyle and provide your child’s needs the most common is for both parents to go right back to work when the baby is born.  

 If you’re lucky, when you give birth, you get a few weeks off from work, the father usually gets nothing at all, and if you decide to stay home with your child for an extended period of time, you can forget about getting that job back, you are now out of your field, and some new person has taken your position. I often see the parent who has to work full time totally checked out of the parenting job. They are super stressed and exhausted keeping up with the family needs, and since our government takes no part in supporting families a horrible cycle ensues: parents start to argue with each other, your sense of independence and self worth gets stripped away, you lose your identity, you resent having had kids.  

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What could be better in the USA? What kind of support would you like to have from the United States’ government? And why? 

 The bottom line is: there is no support. There’s no protection when having a baby in the US. Nothing for the child, nothing for the mother, no guarantee of a job, nothing. I really don’t understand how you are to support a family without working full time. I can’t understand having children here when you can’t even be with them. 

The only way to afford it all, especially in this city, is for everyone to work. When you work full time you never see your baby, someone else is raising them, you lose connection, you suffer, your baby suffers, there is more insecurity and depression not believing you know how to parent. 

 This takes the biggest toll on the child who longs to connect with their parents. I see more emotionally distraught children in the states, so many kids diagnosed with various issues, which I never hear or see in Berlin.  Kids who act out, I’m sure just longing for connection and attention from their parents who don’t have the practice or patience to know how to be with their kids. Parents are on the phone (I barely see parents on the phone in the park in Berlin!) which teaches their kids to do the same. We pacify kids with devices like iPads, and TV here much more, so you’re out to dinner with your family and no one is talking to each other! No one is even looking at each other!  It can be a dark difficult time becoming a parent in this country. 

 Overall I notice that children and parents are happier in Berlin. Kids play! They don’t live glued to a screen in some passive world learning swiping motions and educational games. Kids get dirty, pretend, experience the outdoors, and find out who they are from playing without a care in the world.

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 What kind of help do you have in the USA around the birth of a baby? Is it easy and normal to get a midwife? What is she doing? And what does it cost?

 Midwifes and Doula’s are becoming more popular in NY. In fact, a few of my mom friends have gone on to that type of work after their own baby experiences. Services like midwives are not included in your health insurance plan, so you pay out of your own pocket. Having had my child in Berlin I didn’t realize how good I had it, someone connected to me for 16 weeks! Someone to check on me and my baby; to talk about my concerns, my fears, to feel taken care of. It’s a magical situation that Germans are fortunate to have in place. I hear of more people wanting a midwife in NYC. There are lots of nervous mothers here and lots of talk about mothers having a hard time breast-feeding. Breast-feeding issues, recovering from c-sections, fears all around are high here in the states. A midwife seems like the perfect answer. They are a godsend. 

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Are you planning on having more kids?

 If I had more space in my Brooklyn apt., more money to not be stressed out constantly (how will I afford to pay for her college tuition down the road!) Then yes! A sibling to my daughter would have been wonderful! Being in the arts in this country is risky, there are no guarantees of making money, no pensions to fall back on, the only responsible decision for our family is to enjoy the angel we got!

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How do New York Mummies make their everyday? For example spending time at the playground in the afternoon? 

NYC mommies are great multi-taskers. Many of them work full time, and the stay at home moms have to be in charge of their child’s full schedule of activities, and home duties. There’s a lot of schlepping from one thing to the next. Lots of riding around in taxis, subways, and kids on scooters. Moms who work full time are happy to get to the gym once in a while, maybe help out at school sometimes, or get the kids to the playground. Which by the way our playgrounds here in NYC are boring compared to the ones in Berlin! My daughter lives for the spilplatzs here!  

 In Germany health insurance is regulated by law, in the USA you have to organize it on your own. Is this a fact which influences you or your friends by planning a family? Or do you think about it? 

 Up until your child is 5, when they start kindergarten, you are responsible for your child’s care. There are no local kitas that take in your child for free based on what you pay on your taxes etc. All preschool or day care as we call it, is private for the most part and you have to find the money for it. I have friends who pay $12,000 a year just for preschool. When your child is 4 there is something called universal pre-k, which is a free option you apply for, but it’s a lottery so there is no guarantee you will get a spot. Until your child is 5 there are no free options. 

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Did your motherhood influence your work or creativity?

 Motherhood has made me a more focused and organized person. Working freelance, it’s all on you to generate work and find the time to be creative. Before having Ryo I think I wasted more time. Now I understand how precious time is, and if I want to get things moving work wise I have to make it happen before 3pm during the week. Even after 3pm when I am with my daughter I have to organize and multi-task both jobs. I prepped and directed my first feature film while raising my 6 year-old, so now I know anything is possible! Making a movie is like having a baby; you want to give it all your attention and love. And somehow I found a way to do both. I hope it’s exciting for Ryo to see mommy working hard at something she loves. Ryo is super interested in what I do and I think she knows doing what you love counts for a lot. 

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And last but not least, for our next New York family trip, what are your top 3 family getaway tips in the city?

 Next time you come to NYC. Ride the Ferries. It’s a great way to see the city and there are drop off points between Manhattan and Brooklyn. It’s a cheap fun way to get around and the views are wonderful. Governors Island is a stop off the ferry, and it’s a great place to rent bikes and roam around in a big open space. It’s kinda like Tempelhof for Berliners. Lastly, we have great beaches in our backyard. You must hit up Coney Island and or Rockaway Beach both accessible by subway! The ocean is warm and clean, and you can get a Nathan’s famous hotdog and a beer. German treats!

 I am big fan of Berlin. My home away from home. When you have support and the ability to live life with a level of comfort which all humans especially ones with children deserve, your life in all aspects is a better quality. You have a chance to be the best you, to rely on yourself to provide for your family, and pursue your true passions and desires which is great as a role model to show your children.  

 Quality of life is much better in Berlin, as is the ice cream! Berlin is a little slice of heaven to the Schreifels family and we feel blessed to live and expose our child to the wonders of this amazing city.  

Dear Heidi, thank you for the nice interview and your lovely words about our hometown. We wish you all the best and hope to see you soon in Berlin again! xxx

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