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'How to be a good father': Ministry publishes parenting guide for men

As part of its efforts to encourage young fathers to actively participate in child care and eventually boost the nation’s low fertility rate, the South Korean government has come up with a parenting guidebook for fathers-to-be.

The booklet, which looks like a notepad, consists of practical tips for men during and after their partners’ pregnancies, including what to bring to the delivery room, how to take care of children up to the age of 5 and things like how the sound of rubbing plastic bags can help a baby fall asleep. Some of the tips include how to register a birth certificate, how to bathe a newborn and how to care for a wife suffering from postpartum depression.
A parenting guide for young fathers published by South Korea’s Gender Ministry. (Ministry of Gender Equality and Family)
A parenting guide for young fathers published by South Korea’s Gender Ministry. (Ministry of Gender Equality and Family)
“We came up with this booklet for many different reasons, and they are all related to one another,” said Park Seo-young from the Gender Ministry. “Greater involvement by men in child care would lead to better work-life balance for both men and women. Poor work-life balance is one of the biggest reasons behind the nation’s low fertility rate. We also want to form a social atmosphere where it’s natural for fathers to be interested in child care and actively seeking information.”

South Korea has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, with a growing number of women choosing to get married later in life. Last year, 47.5 percent of Koreans said child care is the biggest obstacle for women’s careers here. Notably, 65.4 percent of Koreans in their 30s, and 52 percent of those in their 40s, said women are facing disadvantages in the local job market because of prenatal duties and lack of social support.

Men’s participation in child care remains low in Korea. In 2014, only 3,421 men took paternity leave from work, accounting for just 4.4 percent of all working fathers in the country. A number of studies have shown that many men do not take such leave as they fear possible career disadvantages such as a demotion.

The booklet was coauthored by two working fathers, and reviewed and edited by a group of professionals including a pediatrician and researchers. Based on their personal experiences, the authors, who are fathers who actively engage in child care, give hands-on and sometimes hilarious advice. 

One example states: “Do not forget to show your wife your appreciation if you arrive at the hospital after the baby is born. Many men become too excited at the fact that they’ve just became a father and forget the fact that their partner just went through labor by herself.”

Another said: “My wife spent a lot of time making homemade baby food. Our baby hated it. So I ate it for breakfast.”

The book also offers recipes for baby food and tips on how to manage parental stress as a new father.

Lee Sang-hun, a 30-year-old father of a 2-year-old daughter, said it would have been helpful for him to have attended a parenting class before his child was born. He said one of the biggest challenges for him was bathing his newborn daughter. “I didn’t find diapering too hard. You get used to it after about three or four tries,” he said, identifying himself as a “self-taught dad.”

“But so many things could go wrong when you bathe your newborn. The water temperature has to be right. You have to support her neck and head with one hand the whole time. I wish I had an opportunity to somehow prepare myself for it before my daughter was born.”

Lee also said he would have liked to attend a class on ways to play with an infant. “At first it was just really hard. I didn’t know how to ‘play’ with a baby,” he said. “So in the beginning I would just shake a rattle for her as I didn’t know what else to do. It obviously got better as I spent more time with her, but things would’ve been easier if I were told what to expect in advance.”

Gender Minister Kang Eun-hee said education on parenting is especially crucial for couples during pregnancies. “It’s when they can really prepare themselves before their baby arrives,” she said. “We hope this booklet can be a way for men to grow as an individual and learn life lessons from parenting.”

The booklet will be distributed for free at all health care centers and obstetrics clinics nationwide from later this month.

By Claire Lee (