Thursday, November 12, 2009

Filial Piety and Family Life in Korea

One sees in recent years, many grandmothers and grandfathers living alone in Korea. That was a rare sight before the industrialization. In the little mission station were I am stationed we have a surprising large number living alone. Poverty is part of the problem for many do have families but the elders do feel freer and less of a burden on the family, living alone.

One pastor, writing about visiting an area of his parish met a grandmother on the the ridge of a rice paddy and began a conversation. She mentioned that a son had returned to the village and was now busy repairing the homestead in which his mother was living. He was hearing the sound of the hammer driving the nails in the repair of the old house.

He told the grandmother that must be very happy news for the mother to have her son back and living with her. The grandmother agreed and said she was living alone and hates it, would love to be with the family of her son and daughter-in-law.

Some time later he met the grandmother working in the same area and asked how the son and grandmother were doing: "She must be very happy person now that she is with the family?"

"Well I am not quite sure that all is well. Her son doesn't listen to her and does what ever he pleases, and it is more difficult now than it was when she was living alone."

Living alone has problems but also living with their sons and daughter-in-laws is not always peaceful. There are some elders living alone that have family, if this shows in the family register, the person living alone is not entitled to help from the government.

In teaching of catechism one of the unfair questions that I have asked Korean men is what would you do if there was a difficulty in the family between your wife and mother? They will try to resolve it, but if not possible what then? The son has a difficulty in having to choose between mother and wife. This would be true in all cultures but the Christian understanding that they leave their parents and become one with the wife is not an idea which fits easily into their understanding of filial piety.

There are 7 reasons in Confucian thinking that allows a son to get a divorce and the first is a daughter-in-law not obeying the parents. Filial piety in Christianity is a strong precept but the Korean society probably sees it on a level even beyond that of the Christian. Korean society is not helping to strengthen family life; poverty and the expectations that society has required of families I would see as part of the reason.

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