Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Transition to Motherhood of Korean Women

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Transition to Motherhood of Korean Women

Article excerpt

Since 1980, in the United States, there has been an increase in research on the transition to parenthood that focuses on the impact the birth of a child has on his/her parents (Smith, 1991; Smith, 1994). This research primarily has dealt with individual and spousal adaptation and transitions, especially changes in marital satisfaction. For the most part, it has been reported that the marital satisfaction of couples in the United States declines after the birth of a child (Belsky, Spanier, & Rovine, 1983; Belsky, Lang, & Rovine, 1985; Glenn & McLanahan. 1982, Harriman, 1983; Miller & Sollie, 1980; Ryder, 1973; Worthington & Burston, 1986). Some research, however, has found a relatively weak positive effect of parenthood on marital satisfaction (Hobbs & Cole, 1976; Russell, 1974).

Two family stress models-Hill's (1949) ABCX model and McCubbin and Patterson's (1982) Double ABCX model-were used to understand strains that new parents experience during the transition period. According to these models, families react to crises or transitions by using their resources or seeking social support and by interpreting the problem subjectively. Thus, if the family has enough personal resources, strong family cohesion, and adequate formal/informal support and if the family perceives that they can handle the problem, then they do not regard it as a crisis and adapt to it successfully. This conceptualization provided a conceptual framework for this study.

The Western family is fundamentally built on the couple. Although it is somewhat counter intuitive, Hansen and Jacob (1992) observed that couples in the United States did not want their parents' assistance immediately after the delivery because they wanted to adjust to being parents with no "outside" help. They, however, received aid and maintained contact with their parents during the postpartum period. In a culture which values the couple relationship and independent parenting, when the birth of the first child occurs soon after their marriage, couples may experience a major reorganization of their roles and relationships in adjusting to a triad (Eshleman, 1997).

In contrast, Koreans expect the birth of a child to be a natural life event which comes within one year after the wedding. They become parents on an average of 1.5 years after the wedding (Korean Institute for Population & Health, 1987). In traditional Korean society, the status of the daughter-in-law in her husband's family increases substantially when she bears a child (Lee, 1975). Indeed, the quality of the parent-child relationship is still considered to be more essential than that of the marital relationship. For the Korean family which puts more emphasis on the "blood-related" relationship of the parent-child tie, the birth of the child is an opportunity for couples to affirm their oneness in body and spirit (Keith and Lee, 1995). It is also taken for granted by Korean new mothers that their mothers will care for them and their new-born baby for one month after the delivery. Thus, with a positive perception of being mothers and familial assistance from extended kin networks, the entry of a child may not negatively influence marital satisfaction of Korean couples. The purpose of this qualitative research is to examine the effect of the birth of a child on satisfactions, difficulties, and changes in marital relationships (including happiness and satisfaction) of employed and nonemployed Korean women.

It is not expected, however, that all new mothers will have the same experience. According to the Double ABCX model, an event or a transition which creates family hardship could occur with other stressors simultaneously. A mother's work outside the family may cause much more stress on the couple after they have their first child (Leonard, 1993; McKim, 1987; Ventura, 1987). Even though the number of employed mothers has increased rapidly, the belief that the mother's place is at home with their children still remains strong (Kim, 1990). …

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