Why Korean parents cry at weddings
My friend’s son is getting married this weekend. Not so long ago, a daughter of another friend got married. It seems like yesterday when we talked about girlfriends and dating among ourselves, but we have gotten old enough to go to the weddings of our children. I always thought my children’s weddings were faraway matters, but matrimony is no longer so far off. When I receive wedding invitations, I make extra efforts to attend and pay more attention to the ceremony.
Whenever I have a chance, I tell my children to be independent and not to burden parents for the wedding. At the same time, I also have a slight sense of shame that I may be lacking as a parent. I may not be able to throw the most extravagant wedding, but I want to do as much as I can for my children. But that always involves financial ability. I am concerned that someday, my son might make a sudden announcement that he was getting married.
According to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, the groom and his family spent about 80 million won ($73,000) and the bride and her family about 30 million won on average last year. Few would assume that newlyweds pay for their wedding and new home with their savings alone. With unemployment rate so high and the economy so slow, not many young people would have 100 million won in savings by the time they exchange vows. Wedding bells for their children are not always the happiest sounds for parents of brides and grooms.
I spoke with a father in Beijing not so long ago, and the situation in China is not much different. Because of the “one child policy,” the young generation of China grew up as “little princes and princesses,” and supporting the children is just as financially burdensome for Chinese parents as for Koreans, if not more. Parents of the groom, especially, are taking great pains to buy or lease a home for their son and his bride. It is the reality in China today that some children cannot afford to get married when their parents are not financially well-off.
I lived in France for nearly eight years, but I’ve never heard of a couple who could not get married because of their parents’ financial situation. In my one-year stay in the United States, no American couples expected their parents to pay for their conjugal union. In American and European cultures, parents respect their children as independent human beings and consider it natural to let them live their own lives when they come of age.
It is a black comedy of the 21st century that parents agonize over the marriage expenses of their children, and the children cannot get married because of their parents’ financial circumstances. While the most urgent task is to change the perception and culture of weddings, there also has to be systematic support to allow newlyweds to find monthly leases without excessive financial burdens. The wedding march is no longer a symbol of happiness and hope if it requires the blood and sweat of parents.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok