Story: Ngā mātua – Māori parenting

Early European visitors noted Māori children being indulged by their parents and leading carefree, playful lives. Children were seen as the responsibility of the whole whānau, not just of their mother and father. In the 21st century Māori were reviving traditional parenting practices such as oriori (lullabies) and mirimiri (massage).

Story by Cindy Kiro
Main image: The Waru whānau, 2007

Story summary

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Māori parents in tradition

  • In tradition, the first parents were the gods Ranginui (sky father) and Papatūānuku (earth mother). They held their children in an embrace in the dark, until the children pushed them apart.
  • Tāne, a son of Ranginui and Papatūānuku, created the first woman, Hineahuone, from clay, and fathered Hinetītama with her.
  • The demigod Māui was raised by his grandfather. Later he met his mother and eventually his father.

Early Māori parenting

Early European visitors noted that Māori parents were very kind to their children, and seldom hit them. Children were indulged and led a carefree, playful life.


Traditionally a whānau was 20–30 people. They had their own compound to live in, and often their own gardens and places to hunt and fish. They were self-sufficient in most ways. Children were seen as the children of the whole whānau, not just of their mother and father.

Over time the whānau has changed. Households are smaller, and whānau may be geographically scattered. People also work longer hours. Parents have less access to support and advice from grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other whānau members.


Whāngai (adopting or fostering children) is an important concept for whānau. People often raise nieces, nephews, cousins and other family members as their own children.

Influences on parenting

Māori women typically have children at a younger age than Pākehā, so they are less likely to have higher educational qualifications, a secure income and a stable relationship. However, younger mothers have fewer complications during pregnancy and birth. In 2013 around one-third of all Māori households were single-parent households. Māori also earned less than the average income.

Abuse and discipline

Traditionally, Māori rarely hit their children. Today, while most whānau do a good job of raising their children, rates of child abuse and killing are high for Māori. Poverty, lack of education, mental illness and family violence may be associated with child abuse and neglect.

Raising healthy children

Children benefit from being part of a wider whānau, and having close relationships with their grandparents and other whānau members. Today some people are reviving traditional parenting practices such as oriori (lullabies), mirimiri (massage) and rituals.

How to cite this page:

Cindy Kiro, 'Ngā mātua – Māori parenting', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 July 2024)

Story by Cindy Kiro, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 June 2017