Family is an important source of advice and assistance for New Zealand parents. In a 2007 survey respondents identified family and whānau as their most important source of advice and support. People who live far away from other family members often feel this separation keenly after their children are born.
Early settlers Sarah and Danforth Greenwood had nine children when they arrived in New Zealand in 1843. A 10th was born in 1846. A letter written by Sarah to her mother describes one way she dealt with the difficult task of raising so many children without family support: ‘I am in quite a quandary just now about weaning Baby which I find to be indispensable but she is now 13 months old, feeds chiefly on me … and has a famous will of her own, so that without nurse or nursery I don’t know how we will manage. I think I must send her to my neighbour and washerwoman, Mrs Bere, for a few days.’1
Parenting organisations enable parents to learn about parenting and to share their experience with others. They mainly used to train mothers in the care of infants and young children. In the 21st century they focused on advice and support for both parents on a range of matters. In a 2007 survey, just under half of respondents with children under five attended parenting classes, programmes or presentations. Parents of young children were more likely than other parents to seek advice from parenting organisations.
One of the best-known parenting organisations is Plunket (originally the Society for the Promotion of the Health of Women and Children), which was founded in 1907. Plunket nurses made home visits, ran clinics, and offered instruction, advice and support. Mothers joined local Plunket committees, which gave them opportunities to learn more about children from their peers and to socialise. In the 21st century Plunket also facilitates fathers’ groups.
Parents Centres were established from 1952, in part to help mothers form close emotional bonds with their babies. The organisation established some of the first antenatal (before birth) classes in New Zealand, and talked to expectant parents about natural birth, adjusting to parenthood and children’s psychological development. Parents Centres remained influential in the 21st century, and in 2018 Parents Centres New Zealand had 460 branches.
Playcentre arose in the 1930s and 1940s. Playcentres offer play-based learning for preschoolers. Parents participate as helpers and can learn about child development and parenting. The centres provide an important space for parents to meet and share their parenting experiences. The organisation also publishes books about child education and parenting.
Women are much more involved than men. A 1976 survey of Playcentre members found that men were just 0.4% of session helpers. In 2007 the figure was 3.1%, though this was much higher than the percentage of paid male caregivers in early childhood centres. In 2018 there were 442 Playcentres in New Zealand.
Parenting Place – Mā tāua, oti atu ai
Parenting Place – Mā tāua, oti atu ai is a charitable trust set up in 1993 to support whānau/families and children by providing a range of programmes for families, communities and schools. In 2018it had 120 staff and 585 volunteers nationwide.
Great Fathers focuses on delivering information to fathers via accessible videos and cartoons. It provides short video clips of New Zealand men talking about parenting and interacting with their children. A toolbox of information for new male parents is available on the Great Fathers website.
Parents organising themselves
New Zealand parents also organise themselves, often around particular issues like sole parenting. In the 1970s Joss Shawyer, a sole mother and founder of the Council for the Single Mother and her Child, published the book Everything a single parent needs to know. This included advice on housing, income and legal issues, unusual in an era when parenting books focused on childcare and health.
Antenatal groups which women, and sometimes their partners, join before their babies are born often become informal support groups for parents of small children. They meet in one another’s homes or cafes, share their experiences and discuss what has worked for them as they care for their children.
In the early 21st century websites set up by parents, or those with expertise in parenting, provided up-to-date advice about legal matters, housing and income, in some cases specifically for sole parents. Among the websites run by parents for parents was the Mothers Network – Te Aka Haumi Ūkaipo in Wellington, a not-for-profit organisation that has been operating for 35 years as a mutual support group. The proliferation of community-based groups and websites shows that parenting is a diverse experience, and that New Zealand parents seek advice and support in multiple ways.
Some home-grown parenting experts have gained a high public profile. Plunket founder Frederic Truby King was widely known in the early 20th century. From the 1970s University of Waikato psychologists Jane and James Ritchie were influential in the movement towards positive parenting and less use of physical discipline. Prominent figures in the early 21st century included psychologist Nigel Latta and The Parenting Place founders Ian and Mary Grant, who regularly appeared on television and radio. Rochelle Gribble edits the Kiwi Families website that aims to provide practical advice to New Zealand parents, while Caroline Beazley has been offering Conscious Parenting advice since 2009.
Until the 1970s most parenting books and magazines targeted mothers. They focused on topics such as child hygiene and management, discipline, baby talk and favouritism. In the 1970s parenting advice books began focusing more on children’s emotional and developmental needs, how mothers could stimulate children’s intellect and creativity, and how fathers could be playful companions. In the 21st century advice was for both parents and was often about the different needs of children at different ages. Radio and television programmes on parenting were popular, and many parents also accessed information and shared their experiences online.
The website of professional media company Raising Children Supporting Parents provides parents with over 100 short video clips about different aspects of parenting, including feeding, sleeping, brain development and post-natal depression. It also operates a blog on which parents can write about their own childrearing experiences and access information such as suggestions for activities in the school holidays. Raising Children is supported by the Ministry of Education and various public, private and philanthropic partners.
OHbaby! is an example of a media business that provides a range of information for parents with babies, including practical advice about pregnancy, a baby products directory and opportunities to join face-to-face mother and baby groups, or participate in online mother and baby forums, baby blogs or chat groups. It also provides advice on baby names, baby showers and healthy food.