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Grandparents and Childcare

Posted March. 23, 2010 02:58,   


Probably because I’ve grown older, I agree more with a mother-in-law than a daughter-in-law when it comes to jokes about their relationship. One joke is the one about “the three mistaken women” – a woman who mistakenly considers her daughter-in-law her daughter; a woman who mistakenly thinks of her son-in-law as her son, and a woman who mistakenly thinks of her husband as her son. Another joke is not all about laughter: a mother-in-law in the affluent Gangnam area of Seoul who carries her grandson or granddaughter on her back, bragging that her daughter-in-law is a doctor or has a Ph.D.

The conflict between double-income couples who want their parents to perform childcare and older couples who shun caring for their grandchildren is more serious than thought. Grandmothers share information on how to make their daughters or daughters-in-law take care of their own children: chewing a spoonful of rice before giving it to their grandchildren, washing their grandchildren’s hair with laundry soap, or teaching the Korean alphabet using a dialect. Certain elderly couples have left Seoul for the provinces by the time their children get married and settle down in the capital. Newlyweds want to live near their parents to get their help.

Taking care of children is exhausting and time consuming. One saying goes that working in a field is preferable to taking care of children. A survey also shows that people who raise grandchildren grow old faster than those who do not. Grandmothers who bring up grandchildren are more likely to have spine problems because they have to carry them or take them on their backs. Since many senior citizens seek quality of life today, they do not welcome caring for their grandchildren, which speeds up aging. One elderly woman said, “Grandsons are really cute when they come, but cuter when they leave.” This means they welcome their grandchildren when they stay for a short time but would rather not take care of them.

Many grandfathers actively participate in a “pre-grandparent class” run by Guro Community Health Center in southwestern Seoul. When a “pre-grandmother class” opened last year, many wanted the same class for grandfathers, so the center decided to expand the scope of its students. Since grandmothers cannot care for their grandchildren alone, grandfathers want to help their wives. Senior citizens who carry baby dolls look awkward but are serious. They learn how to change diapers, prepare baby formula, and sterilize baby bottles. This is a new trend in a rapidly aging society with low birthrate that has no option other than having grandparents help in childcare.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)