Does Korea Have the World’s Best Mothers?

That might be the opinion you hold if you’ve read a recent article by South Korean professor Kim Seong-kon in the Korea Herald.

According to Dr. Kim, The “Korean mother” would be an excellent cultural icon of Korea.

Fair enough, and there is definitely nothing wrong with praising your nation’s mothers and representing them as cultural icons and heroes of your country.

However and disappointingly, Dr. Kim seems to want to take things a step further when he brazenly declares, I have an American friend who, like other American parents, sends her children to their bedroom at 8 o’clock in the evening. I asked, “Why do you send your children upstairs so early?” She answered without hesitation, “I need my own time too.” Of course, she had a point. Nevertheless, it occurred to me that if she were a Korean mother, she would not do that. In the eyes of a Korean mother, it would look too selfish.

That’s about the point when this piece goes from one of praise for the virtuous aspects of Korean motherhood and off the deep end into blatant nationalism.

Lest Dr. Kim forgets, I feel the need to remind him that no country’s mothers are perfect, and Korea is definitely no exception to this rule.

Here are a few points about Korean mothers that Dr. Kim fails to mention or clarify in his article:

Perhaps, and likely offhandedly, Dr. Kim declares that Korean mothers would never send their children to bed before 8 because it would be considered too selfish. What the good doctor fails to mention is that the reason for this is because many children in Korea are just getting home from the hogwon around 8pm and still need to eat dinner before heading to bed. What Dr. Kim also fails to mention is that hogwons are seen in Korea by mothers as places of dual purposes. One of those purposes is for children to receive additional education above and beyond what is offered in public schools. The other is so that mothers can have a few hours a day to go out and enjoy some coffee and perhaps some aerobics with fellow ajummas from the neighborhood. Not that their is anything wrong with this, but it is a far cry from the selfless mothers Dr. Kim describes in his article. Every mother, everywhere, needs some time to herself once in awhile, but Dr. Kim makes it seems like Korean moms relentlessly and tirelessly serve their children, when its simply not the case at all.

Another rather sad statistic that Dr. Kim omits from his piece is that the leading cause of death among teens in Korea is suicide. Now, it certainly would be unfair to place all of the blame on Korean mothers for this, but certainly, they must hold some of that blame deep inside their hearts, whether they’d care to admit it or not. It’s no secret that Korea is a competitive society and part of this competition lies with Korean mothers seeming desire to keep up with the Kims. Some mothers here simply cant tolerate their children being anything but the best in everything that they do. It’s obviously impossible for all students to enter a SKY university, but that doesn’t stop many mothers here in Korea from pushing their students to attempt this nearly impossible feat, oftentimes in more than unhealthy ways and sometimes by illegal means. Again, not that all of the blame for high suicide rates among teens in Korea lies with parents. There are obviously other factors in play; however, if there isn’t, there certainly should be some inward soul searching among parents here as to why teens are killing themselves in such alarming numbers and what can be done to reverse this tragic trend.

While were at it, it might be a good time to ask what exactly is going on inside of homes in Korea? Are Korean mothers really the all-loving, all-caring beings that Dr. Kim makes them out to be? From what I’ve witnessed, that certainly doesn’t appear to be the case. Now, before I continue, let me preface this piece of opinion with the fact that it is my job here in Korea to teach Korean mothers. I spend every waking hour of my Tuesdays and Thursdays at a local government education office in Gyeonggi Province and have done so for the last year. In that time, I have had the pleasure of interacting with and getting to know well over 300 mothers that have come to the education center to improve their English skills. A lot of the women that come into my class are truly a joy to teach and be around. That being said, what I’ve seen during that time when it comes to parenting skills hasn’t been pretty at all. Mothers at the education center are often unapologetic about their willingness to use violence against their children in order to get them to study harder.  While violence against children is a common trait throughout the world, it’s rare these days that mothers would be so willing to openly brag about such violence in front of others. From what I’ve heard from these mothers, its almost seems like hitting your child gives you the badge of good parent among the other women in the class and none of them really seems to want to complain about or raise issue with such behavior.

While Dr. Kim does make some valid points about the qualities of Korean mothers that are truly unique to Korea, he either, through blind nationalism or total disregard, seems to forget the glaring problems that Korean parents face today. He seems to prefer to go the easy route of misplaced nationalism and race baiting rather than taking into account that every country has problems, and his country is no different and definitely no exception to that rule. Every culture raises their children differently, and one way of raising children isn’t necessarily better than any other. Each is just a different method of parenting, and nobody in this world has got that skill down to a perfect science. If you want to praise your own culture and raise it above the level of another that’s fine by me, but you had better well be open to criticism when you publish those opinions in an English newspaper that people from other cultures frequently read. After all, good, honest, and hard working mothers from other cultures might just take offense when they read this type of nationalistic and outlandish rhetoric in a major English daily, especially those mothers that just so happen to reside in Korea.