Between studying and feeding the kids

November 03, 2023

“Being young parents is something we both consciously chose to do,” the now-26-year-old says. Here, she got to know other mothers and fathers and discovered that there was a WhatsApp group for studying parents. That said, while the coronavirus forced family excursions to be scaled down, online lectures were actually a good thing for the young parents. Her girls got places at the Student Union’s nursery and the young parents would cycle to the university. Free meals for children “There were times when I was just ‘her with the children’ for my fellow students,” Hofmann admits.

Annika Hofmann’s twins were born during the summer vacation, which “was nice of them”, as she says with a smile. Back then, in the summer of 2020, she was studying for a bachelor’s degree in psychology at LMU, while her husband studied mechanical engineering at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). “Being young parents is something we both consciously chose to do,” the now-26-year-old says. “Even before I got pregnant, we sat down together and thought about how we would bring up a child during our studies.”

One important port of call for them was LMU’s advisory service for “Students with Children”, which helps studying parents, pregnant students and fathers-to-be with issues such as finding an apartment and a nursery place, but also with opportunities to take a leave of absence. “They also organize fantastic events,” Hofmann enthuses. She herself attended a talk on financing your studies when you have a child. Here, she got to know other mothers and fathers and discovered that there was a WhatsApp group for studying parents.

There are no statistics on how many LMU students are already parents. However, the most recent social survey conducted by the Deutsches Studentenwerk (German Students’ Union) found that eight percent of respondent students in Germany (mostly women) have children. This percentage has not changed since earlier surveys, although the proportion of students with more than one child has increased.

Repairing the kid's bike trailers at the bike station

Annika Hofmann had hoped that her two girls would effectively grow up on campus. However, these hopes were initially dashed by the nascent pandemic. That said, while the coronavirus forced family excursions to be scaled down, online lectures were actually a good thing for the young parents. “We would sit at the desk with a child in the carry cot and do our own thing. In that way, we were able to attend more events than during on-site tuition.” She and her husband also developed a more efficient way of working and became better organized – soft skills that parents are constantly training. “We both learned to be there and really present on the dot. Having my smartphone on the desk, glancing at Instagram from time to time? I don’t do that anymore.”

Annika Hofmann with her husband and twins in the parent-child room in the Philologicum library at LMU. | © LC productions

The couple sat down together for a planning session before each new semester: “Where are we at in our studies? What credits do we still need? Who will be attending which events when?” Yet as important as these planning exercises were, they still tried to remain flexible and realistic, and to plan in safety margins. “At the latest when the children start nursery, there are phases of illness when you just can’t do everything you had planned.”

When the lecture theaters opened for business again, Hofmann began an LMU master’s course in clinical psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Her girls got places at the Student Union’s nursery and the young parents would cycle to the university. “One of us would put the kids in the bike trailer.” The latter could be converted, parked in a lobby and even repaired at one of the university’s bike repair stations if necessary. “We would often hand over the kids in the park behind the Schweinchenbau,” Hofmann says. “My husband would be waiting for me there with the kids, for example, and would then cycle back to Garching. If it was raining, one alternative was to use LMU’s parent-child facilities, where there is space to feed, change and play with the kids.

Free meals for children

“There were times when I was just ‘her with the children’ for my fellow students,” Hofmann admits. “But everyone was so helpful. Lots of students couldn’t conceive of having children of their own yet. But everyone was more than happy to push the buggy round the Schweinchenbau or simply play with the girls for half an hour.” The young mother’s experience of openly asking for help has been entirely positive: Fellow students would give her their lecture notes if she suddenly had to pick up a child that had fallen ill at the nursery. One lecturer spontaneously made a lecture that was of interest to Hofmann but held at a bad time for her accessible via Zoom.

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“But the most important positive factor was our relationship,” Hofmann insists. “We were always spurring each other on, giving each other a boost, covering each other’s back and trying to evenly share the mental load of bringing up children and studying.” She sometimes gets “a bit annoyed” when people say how wonderful it is that her husband helps out so much with the children: “He is not helping me. It is simply the responsibility we share.” They consciously set aside times as a couple without the children – times when they “don’t talk about organizational things, because we do that so much anyway in our everyday routine”. Since the children started at nursery, that has become easier – even if their time together is over lunch in the canteen rather than in a bar in the evening. It is likewise important for the young parents each to find time for themselves, be it by attending an extra lecture that interests them, going jogging or – in the case of Hofmann’s husband – surfing on the nearby Eisbach.

In an expensive city like Munich, sorting out the finances is the biggest challenge after getting organized. “As student parents, we obviously have to plan our budget carefully. But we do get assistance in various forms at least in the first three years.” The German Academic Scholarship Foundation, with which Hofmann holds a scholarship, pays child and family benefits. On top of that, she and her husband receive maintenance payments from their parents, as well as the child benefit and parental allowance they get from the state and a family/nursery allowance from the Bavarian state. The fees payable for Munich nurseries are income-linked, so students do not have to pay anything. That helped – as did the free children’s meals available at the university canteen.

Being there for the children’s first steps

The girls have now celebrated their third birthday, and Annika Hofmann has finished her master’s degree. Her husband has been in employment for a year, which has eased the financial situation. The only thing she occasionally feels a little sad about is a lack of the spontaneity that most other students enjoy. “Heading off to Lake Garda at short notice after finishing your exams is difficult when you have to plan for four.”

When she has completed her studies, Hofmann wants to train as a psychological psychotherapist, which will take another three to five years. That is yet another reason why she wanted to have children early on: “I didn’t want to finally start a career and then have to drop out again almost immediately.” During her studies, she says, it is no problem taking family time off and then going back to university.

“I really would do the same again,” she says, looking back. She also enjoyed not only being a mother in the first years of her children’s life. “Having other intellectual challenges as well was a great way to strike a healthy balance.” For her, the biggest advantage of all was being able to arrange her time flexibly between attending lectures and feeding the kids. “We were both there when our children said their first words and took their first steps. Those are unique moments that we might have missed if they had happened later, when we were at work.”

Further information about the service center, spaces for children and parents, breastfeeding/baby changing facilities and buggy parking facilities at LMU.

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