I read this editorial last week discussing (again!) the low birthrate and what to do about it. I like the fact that this article isn’t blaming the birthrate soely on education costs (which is often blamed on English education). Instead, the article talks about personal costs of having a child in relation to one’s career.
Women cannot be blamed for this trend be-cause Korean society asks too much of them, de-manding a superwoman-like competency both at work and at home. Korean women work the long-est hours in the world, are often brushed aside when promotions come up and tend to be the first to get sacked in times of restructuring [sic].
Very true Joongang Daily. The editorial goes on to give the solution to these woes:
The solution to tackling the declining birth rate should be creating an environment where women can devote themselves to their work and lives at home with less pressure. The nation’s average 12 daily working hours — the world’s highest — should be shortened. Korean women must be given the choice to take more time off when their children are small. More flexibility in working hours is also necessary.
That’s great except…why are we just talking about women? Why aren’t we talking about changes to the work environment that are family friendly for both mothers and fathers? Of course we need the government to be actually able to enforce legislation that protects women’s rights to maternity leave, pumping at work, and promotions after mat leave. These laws are foundational to making women feel safe in their careers as mothers. But I’m a SAHM until September (I have mat leave…I think…^^), and you know what is equally as important for family sanity? A father who comes home at a reasonable hour…and who is sober…and who has a bit of time to see his kid and give a full time mum a break. It’s about 8 o’clock when Dragon is starting his screaming portion of the night that I look at the clock and WILL my husband to get home. And he usually does come home sometime between 8 and 9. But he accomplishes this by putting his own career in jeopardy by limiting the amount of drinking he does with his colleagues. He took paternity leave (a WHOLE THREE DAYS!) which would have been unheard of just a few years before. But really, a new family kind of needs a bit more than three days off together to bond (and we got ‘lucky’ as our son decided to start his slow entrance into the world on the Friday before the Lunar New Year holiday, thus giving Mr. Lee more time off while I was labouring). And of course, I would love it if my place of employment had a daycare on site but equally nice would be for us to have the same option at my husband’s place of employment…and for my husband to get off of work at a reasonable hour to pick up his son from daycare.
There’s this nice picture in the same paper today of a father reading his kid a book while camping. Yeah, it’s a promotional picture for the tent company (and don’t you love that mum brought a computer camping!), but I do think that many among this generation of Korean fathers want to be a part of their kids’ lives. They don’t always want to be the strict disciplinarians and ATMs of their father’s generation. They want to relax with their families and play an integral role in raising their children. But they can’t be that dad unless they are actually home. And for many Korean dads, they can’t be at home at a reasonable hour without risking their own careers let alone take paternity leave.
So yes, make a more family friendly environment for women but make it for men too. Because life doesn’t become more family friendly at home if the father is never able to be at home. And life doesn’t get any easier for the working mum unless she has a partner who can co-parent, take off time when the kid is sick, and/or work around daycare drop off and pick up schedules. The double burden doesn’t get any easier for the woman if the burden of childcare, however it is alleviated by the changing work environment, is still the woman’s burden to bear alone.