Koreans sometimes liken raising children to pouring water into a bottomless pot. So does it pay to raise children? The Haja Center (a youth center that gives youngsters hands-on experience) tried to answer that through its first Digital Storytelling Festival, where a contest was held with the very unique theme of 'Raising Children: settling the accounts.'
Contest participants calculated the yearly cost of clothing and feeding their children, and also added up the cost of using space, school fees, health care costs, allowance, computer and Internet charges, and the economic value of the mental and physical labor they put in to bring up their children. They then graded their children's growth as a result of their investment, making up a balance sheet of the "business" of child-rearing. Participants were judged not on the money they spent but the pains they took to understand their children.
"Five million won for mental labor. And at a discounted rate, too!" The money that goes into raising children per year ranged from a few million won to tens of millions of won among the 70-odd participants. Expenditure on private education differed from parent to parent, but the biggest difference by far was the method each parent used to determine the monetary value of the mental and physical labor of child-rearing. Some said their labor was free of charge, accepting parenthood as destiny. There are some who did not charge anything because they considered their labor priceless. But there were others who put a price tag on their labor by estimating how much they would expect to be paid if they sold the same degree of labor elsewhere.
The participants, their children and other internet users were all surprised at the higher-than-expected cost of raising children. Fifteen-year-old Kim Jiyeon, daughter of participant Seo Youngmi (aged 39), wrote, "Who would have thought so much money was spent on me?" Kim Minshik (aged 46), mother of an eighteen-year-old son named Shin Hocheol, received the 'exclamation mark price.' She admitted that initially, she found the idea of calculating the monetary value of child-rearing somewhat distasteful. But adding up the figures made her realize that compared to the huge amount she spent on her child, she spent much too little on herself.
The grade that the participants gave their children ranged from 50 to more than 90, but most of them were generous despite the huge amount of money they spent on their children. Mr. Kang Kyutae (aged 47) received the 'Period Prize,' the highest prize in the contest. He spent 18 million won last year raising his eighteen-year-old daughter Jinju. "Five million won for mental labor. At a discounted rate, too!" he says. He gave his daughter 89 marks, explaining that although she did not excel in school, he was proud of her individuality. Writes Kang, "The younger generation has different opinions, so I can't force mine on my child. I let her do things her way because I trust her." Jinju commented that she was surprised at how hard her father worked at writing the essay for the contest, and that she could feel a little of his love for her.
The participants that won the hearts of the internet users that visited the site were not those who boasted how well they brought up their children but those who were honest enough to reveal the pain and struggle of getting along with their kids. Commenting on the growing up years of her fifteen-year-old daughter Kim Jiyeon, Seo Youngmi (aged 39) said, "Kids never grow up the way you want them to." Kim Myonghee (aged 43), mother of eleven-year-old Kwak Younghoon, admitted, "Being a mother is torture. My kid doesn't understand me... The most difficult part is waking up at six thirty to make breakfast." Offsprings had things to say, too. Teenager Cheon Seongmin claimed that his father (Cheon Heewan, aged 45) interferes too much. Twenty-year-old Heo Sunyoung wanted her mother (Kim Haesoo, aged 46) to see that she was a young adult capable of taking care of herself.
It was disappointing to see some parents opting not to participate because they thought they had failed as parents or because they were reluctant to reveal how much they spent on private education. But those who did participate said that the contest gave them something much more valuable than just prizes and grades; they were given a precious opportunity to look back on their lives and the lives of their children in the past year.
"With an education system where getting into a good college overshadows everything else, we don't have a proper model of how to bring up our children. We hope to create that model through this contest, a part of our never-ending search for a balanced relationship with our children." That said, KimJeong Myongshin, curator of the contest, suggests, "If raising children seems difficult, perhaps it's time to change your objective and method." The contest 'Raising Children: settling the accounts' will be held again next year after beefing up the technical aspects of the event.