"It's hard being a young parent, it's even harder being a young Māori parent" : young Māori parents' experiences of raising a family : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Young Māori parents play a significant part in growing the indigenous population of Aotearoa New Zealand and helping to raise the country’s future. Despite Māori only being about 15 percent of New Zealand’s total population, about half of all young parents in this country are Māori. While parents at any age may require support, being young and Māori while also needing support may present additional challenges. The disproportionate representation of young parents and of Māori in socioeconomic disadvantage has dual implications. These disparities fuel a deficit understanding of early parenting, indigeneity, and requiring assistance. The ongoing impacts of colonisation and racism further exacerbate these disparities and marginalise Māori.
This research examines the historical, cultural, political and social contexts that influence early parenting for Māori. Key principles of Māori research, oral traditions and narrative inquiry were employed to explore the distinct experiences of young Māori parents. Māori principles were implemented throughout all of the research process; in the design, methodology and organisation of the research. A Māori narrative approach was developed to gather, present and analyse the perspectives of 19 young Māori parents from the Manawatū, New Zealand about support during pregnancy, birth and parenting. Their stories were examined using a Māori analytical framework. This approach identified interrelated layers of kōrero (story) that revealed how young Māori parents construct their own changing identity and contextualise their stories within significant relationships, a Māori worldview, and society. A cross-examination of their kōrero revealed that their experiences were also shaped by what it means to be a young person, a young parent, Māori and from disadvantage. This Māori narrative approach revealed a more complex and nuanced understanding of the interrelatedness and influence of societal expectations, indigeneity, Māori culture and whānau, on personal experience.
The findings of the research demonstrate that support for young Māori parents in Aotearoa New Zealand is constrained by prevailing and intersecting ideas about being young, early childbearing, Māori identity and receiving welfare. For example, young Māori women are framed as more likely to become pregnant at a young age, have their education disrupted, require welfare assistance, and pass on socioeconomic disadvantage to their children. This deficit perception of their parenting potential is perpetuated in many different ways in society. This stigma and stereotyping has real consequences for the way young Māori parents construe their experience of parenting and how they are supported. This thesis discusses the consequences of deficit-based research, government rationalities for welfare provision, and the potential role of whānau.
The kōrero from the young Māori parents resisted the assumptions that having a child at a young age and being Māori contribute to negative outcomes. As Māori they could draw on counter narratives about early parenting that may not be available to non-Māori. Māori understandings of reproduction, raising children and whānau celebrate a new baby as an extension of whakapapa (genealogy) and do not necessarily frame the age of the parents as an issue. However, young Māori parents also felt that taking up a Māori identity meant that their parenting was subject to increased scrutiny and there was added pressure to prove themselves as competent parents. Young Māori parents continuously navigate the tension between Māori beliefs and societal expectations in their own accounts of raising children. Whilst dominant narratives constrain whether they are treated as a suitable parent, Te Ao Māori beliefs help them to feel valued in their role as whakapapa nurturers and contributing whānau members.
Support for young Māori parents would be helped by the authentic promotion of Māori knowledge, practices, language, identity and experiences associated with pregnancy, birth and parenting guaranteed in Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Privileging the lived experiences of young Māori parents, such as those included in this thesis helps to critically deconstruct the negative assumptions about young parents and Māori, particularly those who are overrepresented in requiring assistance. The findings of this research are relevant to all people responsible for the outcomes of young Māori parents and will help to inform better research, policy and practice. Government, community, health and supporting professionals, iwi, and whānau all have important roles in supporting young Māori parents to develop positive identities, to reach full potential and to raise their children.