Child Rearing Woes Create New Clan Society

      November 14, 2006 09:16

      Child rearing is the biggest headache for Korea's 3 million double-income couples. That working couples move near their parents' home to get help in bringing up their children is nothing new, but now the need for reliable help in looking after children has lead to a new clan society, where siblings, cousins and in-laws live close to one another.

      A poll of 308 double-income couples shows that 45.9 percent or 126 live near their parents' home to resolve the child rearing problem. The survey was conducted by the Chosun Ilbo and research firm Embrain on Nov. 7-9.

      Family members are often quick to move closer to available help. Shin Eun-hye, a full-time mother in Busan, quit her job when her baby was born four years ago to focus on child rearing. And then her younger brother and his wife, a double-income couple, moved near her house asking her to take care of their child. Another sister-in-law and her newly married sister settled nearby for the same reason. Shin says the siblings have become closer since they need each other to take care of each other's children.

      That puts paid to the old adage that the further you live away from your in-laws the happier you will be. In-laws again live near young couples to help take care of their grandchildren. Lee Jae-eun moved near her parents' house in Seocho-gu this spring. "I felt sorry for my mom who takes care of my child alone, so I persuaded my husband to let my parents-in-law move nearby, and they agreed," Lee said.

      The new clan society even changes the interior structure of apartments. A doctor who gives her name as Chang has two children and lives with her parents-in-law under the same roof. To make that possible, she bought two adjacent apartments and tore down the wall dividing the balconies of the two units. Doosan Industrial Development recently sold two-story apartments measuring around 150 sq.m, which could accommodate up to three households. A Doosan spokesperson said the apartments were relatively expensive but they were popular because dual-income couples with children can live together with their parents and they were sold out.

      But from time immemorial, living with the in-laws has been fractious. Traditionally, the relationship between the mother-in-law and son-in-law has been cordial. No longer. Roh moved near the house of his parents-in-law two years ago. "Whenever I pick up my daughter from my parents-in-law's house in the evening, they tell me that my wife works and has a hard life because I'm incompetent and don't make enough money," he laments. Indeed, a study of 519 married couples in counseling by the Korea Family Law Welfare Counseling Center last year shows that the number of men who sought advice due to unfair treatment by the in-laws more than doubled from the previous year, accounting for 10.1 percent of the total.

      Pundits expect the new clan society to spread further. In notoriously atomized Europe, new micro-communities are emerging where family members live together in the same area to help each other look after the children. Hahm In-hee, a sociologist at Ewha Womans University, says micro-communities are a smart way for double-income couples to resolve the child rearing problem -- unless the price it extracts from a specific family member is too great.

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