News and stories / What would your tūpuna do?

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06 May 2022

Toddlers making a mess, sibling rivalry, and constant requests for snacks are all to be expected when raising young tamariki, but it's how you respond that makes all the difference.

Māmā of three Elizabeth Emere Harte (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou) is on a mission to reclaim traditional, Māori parenting practices by inspiring whānau to reflect on their own parenting ways. She is the founder of Tūpuna Parenting(external link), a movement that advocates for raising our pēpi and tamariki in a gentle, loving and respectful way, just like tūpuna Māori.

Our tūpuna believed that babies were born tapu, and they were born with mana - through their whakapapa, from their tūpuna.

Elizabeth Emere Harte

"Not everybody knows that, it's not common knowledge and it does surprise some people."

The kaupapa has been part of Elizabeth's family for years. Her mum, Helen Mountain Harte, was a strong advocate for Māori tamariki across the motu, and when she passed away in 2019, Elizabeth decided it was time to carry on her legacy.

Take a deep breath and talk it through with them

Elizabeth knows all too well the challenges that come with being a parent, but using tūpuna parenting ways with her own pēpi and tamariki has helped her navigate stressful situations.

Her daughter was just two months old when her three-year-old son broke open a bean bag while in another room.

"When I went to check on him there were polystyrene balls all over the floor. He was having fun, lying on his puku and pretending to swim through them. I'd just finished putting bub down for a nap, and I'd hardly had any sleep." 

Feeling frustrated, Elizabeth took a deep breath and used tūpuna parenting to guide her through her next steps.

Tūpuna parenting is about acknowledging their tapu and their mana, respecting them, and accepting that they will make mistakes and break rules – that’s what they do!

There’s a whakataukī that says "Tā te tamariki tāna nei mahi wāwāhi tahā – It is the job of the children to smash the calabash,” and what it means is that tamariki will make mistakes, break rules and be ‘naughty’ – that’s their job as kids! Our tūpuna understood that about them, so didn’t get angry at them for any of it."

“So with the bean bag, I just talked it through with him – and it was just talking – I didn't yell at him." 

"I said 'I can see you're having a great time but we're going to have to clean up these beans and you're going to help me, you're not allowed to go outside and ride your bike with your sister until you do'." 

Elizabeth says it took a lot of patience, but it's a good example of taking a stressful situation and turning it into a teaching opportunity.

"It took a while, but we did it. We picked up every last single bean."

Inspiring change

Since parking her career as a product manager in 2018, Elizabeth has worked tirelessly to grow the movement. Last year, Tūpuna Parenting partnered with Whānau Āwhina Plunket to ground 10 kaiāwhina in te ao Māori parenting kaupapa. For six months, they attended Tūpuna Parenting wānanga via Zoom, and graduated at the end of 2021.  

"They really connected with the kaupapa. Half the journey for them was in relating these stories from our tūpuna to their own upbringing or parenting," says Elizabeth. 

It was so successful that Whānau Āwhina Plunket have committed to all their kaiāwhina in this kaupapa, starting with a further 16 who started the next iteration of the course in February. Once graduated, they'll be able to pass the mātauranga onto the whānau they support.  

"By the end of the six months, you are a leader in this kaupapa and you will be able to have confident conversations with whānau about tūpuna parenting," says Elizabeth.  

"It's just the start of many big conversations to come."