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Parents find ways to resolve childrearing conflict

July 16,2016
Kim has been fighting with her husband for about a month, ever since they visited a pediatric psychiatrist with their 5-year-old son.

Kim, 35, was worried because her son still can’t speak properly, so she made an appointment with the psychiatrist.

She asked the doctor if there was anything wrong with her parenting and whether her son would have a difficult time making friends. Her husband Park, 38, remained silent.

When the psychiatrist suggested the son receive regular counseling, the father angrily spoke up and said, “I’ve seen many kids who can’t speak until they are five.”

Then he started arguing with the doctor.

“There’s nothing wrong with my son and no need for any therapy,” he said and then left the doctor’s room.

Since then, Kim and her husband have been bitterly quarreling.

“I’m just trying to help my child,” said Kim. “But my husband treats me as if there’s something wrong with me and it makes me so angry.”

When asked about the situation, Park said, “I can’t understand my wife. She makes such a big fuss about everything related to the kid.”

This sort of conflict between spouses regarding child-rearing issues is common in Korea, and it usually stems from their different understandings of the proper way to raise their children.

“There are exceptions but most mothers worry about something going wrong with their children,” said Oh Eun-young, who has a Ph.D. in pediatric psychiatry and runs a center that trains the mental health and intellectual abilities of children. “Many fathers have an optimistic attitude and think all kids are like that.”

Experts point out that mothers, who spend most of their time with their children, are sensitive to even subtle changes. In Korea, where it’s a social norm for mothers to make great sacrifices for their children, many try to cleave to a perfect child-rearing standard, but often end up becoming disappointed because they fail to meet their own requirements.

“Due to the rise of nuclear families, it has become difficult for mothers to seek advice on childrearing methods,” said Kim Tae-yeon, a counselor for parents at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. “So it’s common for young mothers to suffer from the frustration of thinking that they are solely responsible for the child.”

She added that such frustration is what leads to some mothers going around schools and private academies to make sure their children are surrounded by what they refer to as “good friends” and receiving up-to-date education-related news.

In contrast, most fathers in Korea rarely interfere with the nurturing of their children while they are still young. But as their children age, fathers become more authoritative.

After his child receives a disappointing test score, a typical father may tell the child not to worry about tests at such a young age. That same father, however, would likely scold the child when he or she underperforms in high school, and may even scold the mother for not having done anything to prevent the matter.

“Fathers are programmed to find solutions,” said Oh. “So they unconsciously evade issues where there are no evident answers, like those related to their children. They try to hide it by pretending to be bold.”

She further said that fathers are reluctant to accept advice and help from other people when it comes to rearing their children.

Husbands and wives often have two entirely different perspectives concerning childrearing. Experts emphasize that partners, whatever their circumstances, shouldn’t quarrel in front of their children.

“For the adults it might be a process of deciding what’s wrong or what’s right,” said Bang Su-young, a psychiatrist in Eulji University Hospital. “But to the children, these things are not important.”

Experts advise parents that even if parents have different thoughts on childrearing, it’s important to convey a consistent message to their children. For instance, parents should avoid situations such as when a mother tells the child to never play mobile games but the father allows the child to do so after his or her homework is finished.

“If the parents give the child two different messages then the child will feel confused and frustrated,” continued Bang. “Such methods could lead to the child becoming too conscious about other people’s perspectives.”

If parents have difficulty coming to an agreement, they should follow the childrearing method of one parent for about a month, see how things go and later discuss the issue further, advised Bang.

Experts cautioned that this, however, doesn’t mean that spouses should therefore defend each other in any situation. If one of them is either using violence or verbal abuse, the other must stop him or her. It’s also ill-advised for parents to make excuses for abusive behavior such as “please try to understand that your father is very tired from work.”

“If one of the parents impulsively shouts at the child, it would be wise for that parent to first apologize and accept their fault,” said Oh.

Counselors and psychiatrists also underscored the significance of parents being considerate when conversing. When discussing child-related issues, the father is often occupied with trying to find answers. But there isn’t any set way when it comes to properly raising or educating a child, and so the mother rarely looks for solutions in that way. Such different parenting attitudes often make childrearing more difficult.

“When discussing issues about their children, wives want their husbands to just stand on their side instead of being a problem-solver,” suggested Kim, the counselor. “In this case, the husbands have to stop obsessively trying to find answers and instead just open their ears.”

Mothers have to play their part, as well. Many wives become angry with their husbands’ patriarchal attitude and sometimes even refuse to listen to them, the experts suggested.

Kim said that mothers shouldn’t tell fathers that they are “wrong,” but instead say something like, “I prefer this method” in order to cultivate a more fruitful conversation.

BY CHUN IN-SEONG [shin.sooyeon@joongang.co.kr]