Story: Parenting

There are many different kinds of parents – traditional mums and dads, sole parents, same-sex parents, step-parents and adoptive parents. Rather than maintaining strict discipline, as was prevalent in the past, parents are now expected to give their children freedom to grow and develop.

Story by Lesley Patterson
Main image: All Black rugby player Rodney So'oialo, his wife Marilyn and their child

Story Summary

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Diversity of parents and families

Parents can be biological (which also includes sperm or egg donors), or social – through adoption, fostering, step-parenting and whāngai.

There are many different kind of families, including sole-parent, blended (with step-parents and step-children) and same-sex-parent families.

Roles of mothers and fathers

Mothers and fathers used to be expected to have different roles with their children. Mothers stayed home and looked after children, while fathers provided for the family by going to work. It gradually became more common for mothers to work and for men to have a hands-on role with their children.


Unmarried parenthood used to be socially unacceptable, and many unmarried mothers had to give up their children for adoption. This attitude changed, and by 2008 nearly half of all parents were not married when their first baby was born.

Separation and sole parenting

When parents split up it was often thought best for children to live with their mothers. By the 2000s shared care was encouraged. In 2006 nearly one in five families were one-parent families, and most were headed by mothers.

Parenting styles

Parents use a variety of ways to manage and discipline their children. Some parents are very strict, while others are not. There has been a move away from physical discipline methods such as smacking, and parents are encouraged to use strategies like time out and rewarding good behaviour.

Parenting organisations and advice

Organisations that give advice on pregnancy, birth, babycare and parenting include Plunket, Parents Centres New Zealand and Playcentre. Parents also get advice from family and friends, and government agencies such as the Ministry for Social Development and Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children.

How to cite this page:

Lesley Patterson, 'Parenting', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 27 May 2018)

Story by Lesley Patterson, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 Jun 2015