The ideology of intensive motherhood is a cultural approach toward parenting that suggests that competent childcare demands “copious amounts of time, energy, and material resources” and that providing such childcare should take priority over everything else a mother might like or need to do. In South Korea, this imperative is at work even before babies are born and the practice is called tae-gyo. A reporter for the Korea Herald, a local newspaper, explains:
Since over 600 years ago, expectant mothers in Korea have been practicing taegyo, a series of prenatal routines aimed at nurturing a healthy, virtuous and skilled child. They try to see and hear only the most pleasant things starting from three months of pregnancy.
Koreans believe that a mother’s state of mind and ongoing education during pregnancy determines a baby’s prospects. Their educational and occupational future, even their personality, is dependent on what their mothers do while they’re pregnant. A reporter, below, quotes a South Korean figure who claims that “nine months of prenatal education is more valuable than nine years of post-natal learning.”
Interest in tae-gyo is escalating thanks to declining birth rates and hyper-competition. Fewer Korean couples are having more than one child and they want to give these “single” children an edge by helping them from the womb. They want their children to survive in a hypercompetitive educational environment.
Accordingly, while the most common tae-gyo used to be listening to classical music, women are facing increasing pressure to do more and more for their child before it is born. During the past 20 years, tae-gyo has incorporated learning calligraphy or floral arrangement, crafts like knitting and sewing, and doing yoga. Expected mothers are doing English and math tae-gyo, meaning that they study English and do math for their unborn children to ensure that they will excel in those skills. Korea’s tourism industry have developed a “taegyo travel package,” which is supposed to be beneficial for babies in the womb.
This can all be quite intensive, as you might imagine, as women are expected to personally practice all of the skills and traits they hope their baby will have. Intensive mothering in South Korea, then, starts before the baby is born.
Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.
Sangyoub Park, PhD, is an associate professor of sociology at Washburn University, where he teaches Social Demography, Generations in the U.S., and Sociology of East Asia. His research interests include social capital, demographic trends, and post-Generation Y.
Lex Luthor — September 10, 2015
Somewhere back in the mists of Anthro 101, I read an ethnography about a group of people (in Indonesia, I think) who believed that children had to be actively taught how to walk. They train their babies very diligently, standing them up and helping them along until they learn to walk. When the researcher asked if healthy babies might just naturally learn on their own, people dismissed the idea out of hand. It was far too dangerous to experiment with, they said, since they were sure that walking was a taught skill like learning how to cook or make a canoe.
It really made me wonder how much of what American parents frantically try to instill in their kids is something they might have picked up on their own. The kids in this culture of intensive walking training walked a couple months sooner on average, but a year or so later they were no better at walking than any other child on Earth. All that effort wasted!
fork — September 11, 2015
"Koreans believe that a mother’s state of mind and ongoing education during pregnancy determines a baby’s prospects."
I'm not Korean, but I find it hard to believe that, in this day and age, a significant proportion of Koreans (especially the presumably wealthier, educated ones - doubtful that the poor rubes are the ones signing up for yoga, English lessons and travel packages) are credulous enough to believe that bunk. Hopefully, that was a comment on historical beliefs rather than contemporary Koreans.
"Interest in tae-gyo is escalating thanks to declining birth rates and hyper-competition."
Evidence, please, that that's the explanation for the escalating interest. An alternate explanation could be that it's a backlash against feminism, similar to attachment parenting in NA. If mothering is an all-consuming (pre)occupation, you're hardly going to be able to go out and have a career, etc. It's a great way of getting women to "opt out" of the workplace.
Prenatal intensive mothering can be a problem. - Mothering For Me — September 15, 2015
[…] Tae-gyo: Prenatal intensive mothering in South Korea at Sociological […]