[Viewpoint] Working mothers deserve a hand

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[Viewpoint] Working mothers deserve a hand

Having a job and raising children at the same time is a daunting task in any country. A working mother often regrets not being able to spend much time with her children. Moreover, it is never easy to find a reliable agency or a trustworthy nanny to watch the children during working hours. If a child gets sick or must be admitted to a hospital, the professional life of a working mother has to be put on hold.

Two months ago, my child was hospitalized just before he entered elementary school in Japan. The doctor said his ear operation would be simple, but because he could feel dizzy or nauseous after the surgery, he should be hospitalized for a week or two. I had no choice but to ask for more than a week of leave.

On the day my child was admitted, he was assigned to a room. A nurse in charge of his care explained the admission procedure and operation schedule. Under-aged family members were not allowed to visit, and other family members could only be there from noon to 8 p.m.

After the routine explanation, the nurse suddenly asked me if I was working. I said I had gotten a leave of absence to care for my child. The nurse replied by saying, “During the hospital stay, we are supposed to provide all necessary services to the patient, so if you wish, you can return to work right away,” adding that it is part of hospital’s job to make sure patient’s family members can continue their normal lives as much as possible.

Young children who cannot feed or wash themselves can receive help from the hospital’s caregivers for a few hours a day. Of course, the service is free of charge. I didn’t see any of the privately hired caregivers who are common in Seoul. For the first few days after the operation, I demanded 24-hour visitation in case the operation resulted in communication difficulties. However, after he saw other children staying by themselves, my son drove me away after three days.

Japan is a not a country where working mothers find it easy to maintain the balance between their professional lives and child care. Compared to developed European nations, child care leave from work is not commonplace, and fathers’ participation in raising the children is relatively low.

But lately, the prolonged economic slump has encouraged more women to work, and child care facilities are in short supply all over Japan. Day care centers in the capital region have lists of more than 4,000 children waiting for a spot. I know many working mothers who have put their children in public day care centers in their neighborhoods since they were newborns.

Once a child enters elementary school, he can use the Children’s Center near the school. All the parents have to pay for is the snack. The kids come to the Children’s Center after school and do homework and eat snacks with friends until the parents come to pick them up in the evening.

The biggest difference between Korea and Japan is the financial burden on working parents. In Korea, only about 5 percent of the day care facilities are publicly funded and operated. However, Japan is different. Private child care facilities account for less than half the total day care providers. The federal government and local autonomous governments are in charge of raising children.

The challenges and struggles of Japan’s working mothers are on a completely different level from their Korean counterparts, who often have a hard time finding the right child care provider and have to ask for help from their parents. Some Korean mothers pay a considerable portion of their salaries to privately-hired nannies and caregivers in order to pursue their professions.

Recently, an organization announced the Mothers’ Index, which ranks 160 countries around the world on how happy their mothers are. Korea is ranked at 48th place, while Japan is at 32nd place. Both countries have a satisfying ranking.

A country with a competitive edge should be able to provide a society wherein women can realize their full potential and enjoy professional growth without suffering social restrictions. An important measure of national competitiveness is how content and happy mothers are with their lives.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Park So-young
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