If Men Had The Babies

OPINION By Kim Ji-hyun The Korea Herald, Seoul / Asia News Network.

TOKYO

My son is in the first grade in Tokyo, where I now work as a correspondent.

And the time he is at school -- usually between 8:30am and 3pm -- I call my sanity hours. It seems like a long time, but in fact, it is an amazingly short period to get anything done.

During these 6 1/2 hours, I have to do the laundry, clean the house, go grocery shopping and cook up some idea about what to have for dinner.

In between I have to squeeze in business lunches and call people up for ideas, this time on my stories.

After a romp in the playground, it's homework and dinner time. Pretty soon, he goes off to bed, and that's when I turn my laptop back on and get to work on my other job. The one I get paid for.

To some, this may look easy.

To those people, I will say this. I used to work as a business desk editor which meant endless phone calls and emails throughout the day, battling over stories with reporters, thinking endlessly about endorsements and working long, long hours that often included business dinners.

Despite the harsh working environment, it is still hard for me to say which is more difficult. If you don't believe me, try it yourself.

This is why I was utterly infuriated when the government suggested that stay-at-home mothers should refrain from sending kids to child care. It quickly tried to backtrack, but it was my guess that our policymakers have never tried their hands at this thankless job.

I also came to believe that it is the general sense of looking down on women -- regardless of whether they work or are at home -- that has kept child care issues on the back burner until now.

There has never been too much appreciation for stay-at-home moms, and not too much for those who work either. This lack of such consideration is at the core of why it is taking so long to raise the bar on child care.

I am willing to bet my bottom dollar that if men were the ones having babies, the situation would have gotten much better, much faster. Look at how the army barracks are improving!

Child care, on the other hand, is more or less where it used to be. There are less than enough nation-run facilities, meaning that the waiting lines are impossible. I mean, what kind of a waiting number is 256?

We all flock to these facilities because it is often those run privately that have abuse problems like the ones we have recently seen.

It is also interesting to note that the horrible circumstances at some of Korea's child care facilities have come to light only now that more women are working. More working moms means more kids being watched outside the home, but to me it looks like people are finally sitting up to notice now that money is involved.

Because even when fewer women worked, there has always been the need for quality child care.

I have a friend who raised two small children in a very remote town in the US. We recently met and she admitted that when they were younger, she battled daily with suicidal impulses. She said she could not have coped had she not been able to send the kids off for at least a couple hours a day.

And lucky for her, she had a husband who was sympathetic and tried to do his share. There are cases where the wives are not so fortunate.

Last week, I was appalled when the father of three kids "joked" that his wife asks far too often for money. She -- a woman who has barely even a couple of hours to herself -- tried to smile, but turned red and looked away. I could tell she was hurt.

Unless the perspective on child care changes drastically, until we realise that Hillary Clinton was right to say that it does take a village to raise a child -- that means you the husband, and not just your wife and her parents -- nothing about child care will change.

Child care will continue to be something that we don't want to spend money on. It will be something that the government grudgingly provides, and the lingering doubt over its necessity will continue to compromise the quality of child care.

At the same time, more women may choose to stay unmarried and worse still, out of the workforce.

I'm sure I do not have to go into the details of the economic impact of the withdrawal of people who comprise almost half of this country's workforce. ------------------------ The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of The Korea Herald. She can be reached at [email protected]

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