The Plight of the “Second Mothers” of Korean Daycares

Article from Seoul Shinmun

Even While Working 12-hr Days, These “Second Mothers” Receive No Praises

Watching over the children leaves me not enough time to go to the bathroom, so bladder infections just come with the job. Every time there’s an incident at a daycare, instead of treating [the teachers] like criminals, it would be a better idea to intervene and propose an alternative [behavior.]

On January 6th, we met 41-year-old Kang, a childcare provider at “A” Daycare Center. She was in charge of the 3-year old class, with seven students. Being three years old, most of the children have just recently celebrated their first birthdays.* Just after starting work at 7:30 a.m., a couple arrives before both head to work. The child cries as it has to part with its mother, and Kang tells the mother to hand her the child.

[*Translator’s Note: Children in Korea are placed into classes according to the birth year that determines their “Korean age.” Korean age can be ahead of the child’s real age up to 1-2 years.]

Just as she said, there is no time for breaks after 10 a.m. The children eat snack, and children who have not yet been potty-trained need their diapers changed. “I change about 30 a day,” Kang says. “The only ones who feed them and clean up their poop is their mothers and us,” she adds with a smirk. Children who start attending daycare early usually can be potty-trained more quickly, but some children get a lot of stress from it.

Students either study or play from 11 a.m. for around an hour. Lunch starts at 11:50. The struggle begins between Kang and the children who are refusing to eat, the picky eaters, the children running around holding spoons, and children who are stealing food from their friends. It’s not fun for the kids either.

Kang also raised her voice and was scary to the kids from time to time. It is a choice she is compelled to make in order to control the 10 children. After the struggle of lunch, Kang has the children brush their teeth and lays them down for a nap. She calms down the children who are whining. It usually takes until 2 p.m. for the last child to fall asleep. This is when she writes the daily notes for the students. In these notes she must write who had a fever, who got along well with others, if the child went to the bathroom or not, and other details about the children’s daily activities.

From 3 p.m., the children begin to go home. The children put their hands touching their heads and say “I love you” as they leave. 10 to 15 children do not head home until after 7 in the evening. Kang watches the remaining children while she prepares the schedule for the next day. It’s typical for her to return home at 9 at night, after finishing her work.

Kang is a veteran teacher with 20 years of experience. She is so popular that her former students come to see her even when they are in middle school. Even for a teacher like Kang, she says that, “Since we are usually understaffed and paid very little, it’s hard. We are expected to be complete angels in a sub-par work environment.” She goes further, saying, “When there was a violent incident in a daycare, everyone started asking me, ‘Are you like that too?’, and ‘Don’t be like that.’ We also had to go to a meeting about the latest incident. When I heard about a child that was sent to school with a voice recorder tucked into clothes, I told my family I would quit my job.” The director of “A” Daycare Center was equally frustrated, “If talented and sincere people are being criticized by society, then who will do this work? Every time there is an incident, a good person leaves [the profession.]”

Childcare providers say that it’s inevitable that poor working conditions has an influence over how children are treated. One teacher said, “I’m overrun with work and tired, so there are times when I can’t cope with a child who isn’t following the rules, and I burst out in anger. I started this work because I like children, but it feels like the conditions are making me a bad person, and I get resentful,” she confessed.

Kang’s coworker also commented, “It seems like every time something happens, government workers come and question me, and treat us like we’re guilty. Yet every time some other place then has the same problem happen again. I want there to be an opportunity for teachers, parents, and directors to get together to find solutions for why these things keep happening.”

Comments from Naver:


I can’t speak to that [teacher’s] situation, but on the weekend in only a half day with one of my children I’m worn out..


I know that the majority of those working [in daycares] really love children and feel a sense of responsibility toward their jobs. Because of a few bad apples, the other good teachers, and parents, all have become victims.


Improving working conditions for teachers is going to be a difficult thing to change. There isn’t a legal way to force [this change] on private business owners, and we can’t wait around for directors to change their minds about things. The most important thing is … so many teachers have left because of crazy moms who scream at them.


It’s a miserable way to make a living. ㅠㅠ


They don’t get anything good for working like slaves …


Something bad will happen while they are in the bathroom, so they can’t go.


I have a license for early childhood education, but I’m not brave enough to start working. The pay is low compared to the amount of work, and the work is really hard. Anyone who has raised a child at home can understand.


I have worked in a daycare center before, and there were a lot of good people there. It’s the same as when a celebrity gets a ton of bad press so everyone looks down on them, even I do that. They don’t want to get better treatment for the teachers, but rather just let people know about their hard work.. I quit because I got pregnant, and reading all the news recently all my desire to return to work has disappeared. If you so much as touch a child at all it’s clear now you’ll be suspected of child abuse. How are [the teachers] supposed to teach?


It’s about time childcare workers are on Extreme Job.


The answer [to this problem] is to create better working conditions. The children will be happy only when their teachers are happy. Their working conditions are terrible. They get all the criticism while doing a lot of work, so who would want to do that work? We can’t see this as one bad apple spoiling the whole barrel. If daycare teachers had to pass something like the teacher’s certification exam, would anyone do it? Right now what we need to do is improve the conditions starting with pay, and work from there.


Just watching my one kid is hard. It’s definitely hard work so I completely understand.


We all read the news and say, “Why do you get angry at the kids!” but if we all were to spent time caring for all the kids who don’t listen, our personality would probably get worse. [Schools] need to increase staff.


Such a shitty job and it’s so hard.


The ones who show up only after the morning activities are over and everyone is eating because their mom was sleeping. The moms who dress their kids in short-sleeves and no sweater in the winter. The moms who run out of diapers and use a menstrual pad instead. The moms who tell us to give their kid medicine for a fever and don’t come pick them up. The moms who don’t even pack a lunch box for their kid when we go on a picnic so the kid gets sad. The ones who don’t do even the most basic things for their kids at home and send them to the daycare expecting everything. I’ve wanted to report neglect more than a few times.

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  • MeiDaxia

    I worked in a Hakwon whose youngest students were this kind of 3 year old. We were fortunate enough to have enough staff so that someone could watch a class long enough for the teacher to get a break. But, there are very unique struggles to teaching children who (by western standards) are between 1-3 years old. Many of these women don’t get the praise (or monetary compensation) they deserve.

  • commander

    The pay raise for teachers at daycare centers is a complicated matter.

    For those teachers to get better paid, it is necessary to increase fees for childcare. It will place a bigger financial burden on parents. And the working-class people with toddlers also get poorly paid.

    And possibly the pay raise would have impact on the birthrate in this nation which has been among the lowest in the world.

    The solution?

    Increasing corporate taxes and income taxes, and using the tax revenue for stronger welfare support in childcare, eldercare etc.

    • BSDetector

      “The key may lies in Increasing corporate taxes and income taxes, and using the tax revenue for stronger welfare support in childcare, eldercare etc.”

      One day commrade, we will be strong enough in number so that the entire population of the planet is one docile blob on welfare! Continue your good work of spreading OECD propaganda to bolster our efforts.

      • Guest

        Eff off, I say, comrade. I grew up lower-middle-class privileged, work my ass off every day, and am now fortunate to make a pretty nice living. And I’d be happy to pay a little more into the welfare system if it meant more lower-class children and elders got better support, and the former grew up doing better than their parents did. I really don’t believe it’s part of the human psyche to not strive to be better than your parents. I’m also okay giving up a couple bucks a day to confirm or deny that.

        • Visitor

          I’m with you!

    • ParkJeongher

      How do you expect the upper class to stay upper class with such a policy!

      • commander

        What do you mean by “upper class”?

        I wonder with what criteria you regard some as the upper class, though you seems to think the status of the upper class is inherited to offspring, instead of being earned with efforts and merits, competence.

        • ParkJeongher

          Efforts and merits, competence. I’m definitely seeing a lot of that from the dynastic wealth held by the Koch bros (Attained from their father) to the mountain of Won held by the Jung and Lee families. Yup, lots of efforts, merits, and competence going on there.

          The one thing I do commend them on is having the outstanding ability to pick their parents.

          • commander

            So, I don’t get your first question, could you elaborate on it?

          • ParkJeongher

            Didn’t think I asked a question. Don’t any question marks in there.

    • elizabeth

      Another aspect would be working conditions.

      The teachers are overworked in a thankless job. Some form of requirement for teacher : child ratio and teacher assistants will relieve the stress that cannot be addressed with additional pay. And I am sure that parents’ understanding and show of appreciation through kind words instead of blame would serve to encourage the teachers to press on.

      Otherwise, it would be too late when all the good ones are gone and you would be left with mostly material-minded ones who are there only for the money.

      Parents could also do their part in training their kids to behave appropriately. A little scolding and punishment will not leave the kids ‘permanently damaged’ unless they have been overly protected to the extent that they cannot even handle negative feedback.

      I am not condoning violence from teachers but it helps to recognize that parents are partly responsible for such explosive incidents too.

      • commander

        Hiring more teachers will also lead to an increased fee for a nursery center, meaning your call for shorter work shifts is well made but realistically has not that high chance of being into practice. What a shame.

        There is one point I disagree with your argument that “parents are partly responsible for such explosive incidents too.”

        Teachers should first exhort misbehaving children to do better, and if some mischievous ones continue to act up, teachers is advised to consult with their parents on trouble-making behavior.

        Furthermore, as far as I know, child abuses at several kindergartens that sent shock waves throughout the nation didn’t involve troublemakers. The cases were a result of the uncontrolled emotional explosion from some disqualified teachers.

        Arduous childcare, though it needs some relief with more teachers, should not become an excuse for child abuses in any circumstances.

        • elizabeth

          I don’t think teachers like Ms Kang are making excuses. She doesn’t abuse the children and is popular but she still has concerns which, unfortunately, are falling on deaf ears.

      • ParkJeongher

        Obviously the government would be better at controlling this (like France). I’m pretty much of the thought that the gov’t should control only a few things like education and health. Let the flood gates of the free market capital system open up in other areas. But in Korea it seems quite opposite.

        Riddle me this: why are Samsung TVs more expensive in Korea than in the US? Seems like the gov’t has no problem interfering here…

        • elizabeth

          Yes, very strange indeed. But I think you would know your government and businessmen better than I do :)

  • Gyopo Warrior

    This is all Japans fault!!!

    • Visitor


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