Annette Habert understood that with changing family realities society needs to step in to create support systems focusing on enabling regular and healthy relationships between parents and their children in post-separation situations. Focusing her support on children whose parents live more than 100km apart, she builds a society-supported network of hosts and a strong community of solidaric families as a basis for change in institutional practices in judicial, welfare and education systems as well as a new societal awareness for the needs of children growing up with two homes.
“Whenever winter comes, my father cannot come see me anymore, as it is too cold to sleep in the car. Can’t you do something to allow him to come in winters, too?” Distance between families, where parents live separated and a long distance apart, is not only a logistical challenge, as Annette Habert soon realized after one of her pupils approached her asking for support. Long distance (>100km), especially in combinations with parents’ low incomes and children too young to travel by themselves are factors raising the barrier to maintaining regular relationships. There are severe effects: scientific research shows that without sustainable relationships with both parents, educational performance of children suffers, their self-esteem is harmed and their ability to build healthy social relationships themselves is severely affected – especially the latter leads to a vicious cycle which is to be overcome.
Annette realized that she needed to reach and empower her target group – visiting parents – through supporting them in fulfilling their role as a parent while living far away. Through building a nationwide network of voluntary hosts and usable playrooms she enables regular, stress-free visits and the experience of being embedded in a community with her model Flechtwerk 2+1. She uses this foundation to build a support system which includes professional counseling as well as peer coaching among visiting parents (mostly fathers) – opening the room to reinstall trust in relationships and a constructive view towards future developments. What is more, Annette directly works to change institutional practices in the court and the social welfare system around children with parents living separated in two homes, in the process working to change society’s perception towards them and their separated parents.
Annette herself had to deal with many existentially difficult situations in her life, shaping her to become a serial bridge builder and pragmatic problem solver. She early on learned how to think and act beyond given boundaries. Her upbringing nurtured her rootedness in humanity and the wish to be caring for others, but also in her constantly challenging the status quo. As a teenager she played a leadership role in the peace movement that sought allies and changes in East Germany.
„Working with the protestant church, Annette focused on the education of teachers and development of the exam curriculum.“
Annette has a track record of creating new initiatives within and without institutions, shaping creative responses and solutions to social challenges all her life. Enabling unconventional encounters in order to allow relationships to foster, seems a guiding theme. She initiated an independent German relief effort at the height of the Bosnian War, which resulted in a lifetime of connections and engagement. Earlier in her career she launched an initiative called “ohneMacht” (“without power’) to help a community and affiliated environmental activists overcome their sense of frustration and helplessness at failing to prevent a runway from being built in the 1980’s. Working with the protestant church, Annette focused on the education of teachers and development of the exam curriculum, as well as with church asylum and refugees.
In 2008 she met a young boy of 8 years, Sven, who asked the question noted above. Sven’s question was the inspirational moment for “Mein Papa kommt”. Annette saw the need for the empowerment of the separated father in order to allow him to regain the relationship to his child and the mother on a readjusted basis. Being a single mother herself, who raised two kids, she knows the situation from her heart. “If we find a constructive approach to deal with the finiteness of relationships, commitment can be dared.” Annette believes that finding a remedy for a wound (which can also be a social wound) implies the responsibility to share this gain with other people who are affected by the same issue.