[Letter to the editor]Raising children is tougher than ever
There is a Korean saying: If you’re given a choice between taking care of a baby and planting rice seedlings by hand, you’d better choose the latter. Although funny, the message is clear enough to awaken us to the difficulties of child-rearing.
Back in the old days, almost every mother delivered and raised many children. But today, young mothers desperately need a helping hand to bring up only one or two. They say in one voice: One is one too many. That is so true.
There was a time when people living in the same village worked in the rice fields to help each other and watched neighbors’ kids play outside when their parents went to work. Such a favor is a luxury that young mothers cannot afford now. Still, senior citizens don’t buy it, saying young parents with troubled kids have brought their problems on themselves. They add, parents are parents, not friends. They have a point; I believe environmental pollution is to blame as well.
Children today have become more fussy and irritable. They are not only distracted and ill-tempered but also susceptible to diseases which were unrecognized or absent even a few decades ago. As soon as they are born, their battle with atopic dermatitis begins. Teachers suspect more than a few students have symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The fact hat they sport longer eyelashes than adults, too, makes me suspicious. Their lengthened eyelashes ― long enough to hold a matchstick ― can be explained by the theory of evolution: Children need protection against chemical dust and bad air.
Raising a child is like living a daily war, gargantuan and grueling. It is so sad that mothers need to sacrifice friendships with other women for their own children, even sadder for those who have to struggle to juggle work and family. Talking about the distress working moms encounter, a friend of mine complained that someone she knew very well had to quit her job as a promising economic researcher after witnessing her son playing at the front door with dirt on his face while under the supervision of his nanny.
In Korea, three poor options await working mothers with a child less than 24 months old. One, be a “freeloader.” (In this case, your child is the “load.”) If lucky and free from a guilty conscience, you can successfully persuade your mother, mother-in-law or sister to raise your child instead of you. Two, make money, lots of it. Of course, the money goes to your seasoned nanny, whom your child calls “aunt.” Three, be a full-time housewife, or consider being a breadwinner yourself and transforming your husband into a full-time “househusband” if you earn much more than him.
Luckily for me, that is not the case. I have a devoted mother who willingly and gladly takes care of her two grandchildren. Even when her friends tried to talk to her out of it, she refused to listen and took the tough job anyway. I am feeling guilty for pledging the rest of her life as collateral, for my sake and my children’s.
With a larger financial burden on the Korean people to offset the deficit in the obligatory national pension fund, my brother-in-law, a tax accountant, insists that parents should contribute less to it according to the number of children they have. That makes sense to me.
Recently I delivered a daughter and received 50,000 Korean won, or less than $50, from the village office. Except the lump-sum payment, I have not been offered any help from the government which worries too much about the aging society and low birthrate. I hardly even see any day care centers in office buildings. Still lacking any long-term systematic assistance, mothers ― supposed to assume primary liability for child care ― are left with no other choice but to find someone to fill the vacuum.
Based on her personal experience as a mother, Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote the book “It Takes a Village.” I would say it takes more than that. Sera Park, Yongsan, Seoul