Parenting has been called the toughest job. When you're in it, you worry whether you'll produce kind, productive humans. The days are long and the years are short. Blink, and your baby rockets from learning to walk, to lurching for your car keys.
After countless loads of laundry, packed lunches, teacher conferences and tears, parents of adults are still on the job part-time, fielding phone calls, cooking meals and sometimes providing shelter. When the kids finally leave home, you hope you've set them up for success.
What are we doing right? What are we getting wrong? Bay of Plenty Times Weekend writer Dawn Picken spoke with local parents and experts to uncover strategies for successful parenting.
Vialoux family – celebrating milestones and role models
Elizabeth and Richard Vialoux have raised five boys, ages 18 to 29.
The Pāpāmoa couple started their family in Auckland, where Elizabeth was a stay-at-home mum and Richard was a police officer.
"Richard was a very hands-on dad, which was huge," Elizabeth says.
At one point, they were caring for three boys aged under 5. Having a large brood had advantages. "They always had someone to play with at home."
They built a sandpit and an in-ground trampoline in their yard.
"We didn't need to go out and entertain the kids, because they entertained themselves."
Elizabeth says they were firm but kind with discipline. Time-outs and time spent in their rooms became the norm when the boys were naughty.
"One time three of the boys were arguing in the back of the car. Richard said if they didn't stop, they'd have to walk home. We put them out and drove around the corner before we got them again."
Richard traded his police uniform for a clerical collar when he became ordained as an Anglican priest. He was vicar of St Mary's in Mount Maunganui for six years.
We didn't need to go out and entertain the kids, because they entertained themselves.
Faith and dinners together are important, as is belonging to a community outside the family, whether it's a church group or football team.
"Boys need a male role model. It doesn't have to be the dad," says Richard.
He and Elizabeth also believe in marking life's milestones. Each son was baptised at the beginning of life, was recognised as a budding adolescent at age 10, got handed a key to the house with instructions to take care of it at age 14, bought his own mobile phone at 16, was taken to the pub for his first legal drink at 18 and feted on his 21st birthday ceremoniously.
"We go for a very formal meal as a family, including grandparents and godparents and they were given a family heirloom that links them to their past, so they know who they are and where they've come from as a person as they go into their adult life," says Richard.
It hasn't been all sunshine and celebrations. Each son makes his own choices. Some of the boys took advice and avoided trouble, while others had to experience expensive consequences.
One son had a spate of unpaid parking tickets in Auckland, another wrecked two cars and lost his licence. Both paid for their misdeeds, including the son who hired a lawyer for the driving offence.
"It's their choices, their actions," says Richard. "And in one case it cost him a fortune, but he paid every single cent. You need to be there when they do fall in the crap ... We stood beside every single one of them, good times and the bad, no matter how hard it is to get them through."
Elizabeth says she has always encouraged her boys to be open.
"And you will never get into trouble ... for actually coming to us and talking about anything that worries you or anything you've done wrong."
Today, the two youngest Vialoux sons still live at home. They're all working. One son is a pilot. Another's a builder. Two are getting married next year.
Two-parent households are the second most common type of family in New Zealand. Statistics NZ reported about a half million such families from 2013 Census figures, barely lagging behind numbers of childless couples.
Barnett family – work hard, play together
Mel and Matt Barnett, of Ōhauiti, have two teenagers: Max, who is 13, and Taylah, nearly 17.
Mel says one key to raising successful children is consistency.
"If you stick to your word, they learn boundaries quickly and learn where that point is to stop."
She says she and her husband share the same parenting philosophy and have never questioned each other's method of discipline.
Mel calls herself a "real mum" who's honest with her kids.
"I don't believe in everyone getting a trophy or medal. It's very much you work hard to get what you get. If you miss out on something, you need to learn from that or try harder."
The Barnetts' children keep active – Max plays football for a representative team and Taylah dances competitively.
If you stick to your word, they learn boundaries quickly and learn where that point is to stop.
Mel is thankful she hasn't seen major drama with either child.
"I compare them to what we were like as teens and think 'Thank goodness'. Teenagers are different to what we were. They have a different outlook on life ... they're a little more cautious and mindful of the outcomes and the consequences of things."
She says the kids have seen their parents drink alcohol, and, while their eldest occasionally has a drink or two, their son isn't interested.
Mel has asked Taylah if she's been offered drugs.
"She has said she's aware of other kids, acquaintances who smoke dope ... she said if she wanted, she could get it easy enough, but she said, 'I don't want to do drugs, I don't want to smoke. It's bad for my health.' "
Mel is comfortable with scaring her kids straight, explaining what can happen to people who use drugs.
As for the other big talk – sex – she says her teens have had classroom education, and she reinforced with her daughter not to do anything she doesn't want to.
"She's at the age where if she wants to have the conversation she can, but I'm not forcing her to be uncomfortable, either."
Mel says the car can be an excellent place to chat.
The couple expect their kids to work hard at school, turn off devices after dinner and take part in family outings.
"I might say this weekend we're going to someone's house or barbecue or have a walk around the Mount," says Mel.
"Sometimes I get comments like, 'Do I have to come?' and the answer is 'You do'. They don't get to opt out because they think what we're doing is boring."
Statistics New Zealand says the number of sole-parent families has grown rapidly in recent years. They point to changing patterns of family formation, dissolution and reformation as reasons for a growing diversity of family types.
The number of "one parent with children" families has increased 4.2 per cent since the 2006 Census. At the time of the 2013 Census, there were 201,804 one parent with children families, up from 193,635 in 2006.
Renz family – children's wellbeing is key
Harumi Renz has been an off-and-on single mum to Joshua, age 13 and Alisa, 12, since her divorce about five years ago.
She works part-time as a caregiver and administrator so she can be available for her children after school.
Renz is a native of Japan, where her family still lives. She says she relies on friends' help and picks up extra work to ensure her children don't miss taking part in activities.
"The kids' wellbeing is the main thing. If they want to do sport or something financially difficult, I like to give them as much opportunity, not, like they think, because I'm a solo parent we can't do this or do that."
Most nights, the family sits down to a meal at their Maungatapu home of rice and stir fry or the kids' favourite, a curry.
"It's very important; we eat together. Because we share what happened on the day and what's happening in the week."
Renz says the family attends church and has started having prayer time after dinner. Both children have good mates, though Renz finds girls' friendships more complicated than boys'.
"The two kids are very different. Often I hear from a teacher or other parents they behave good outside the house. I think, 'Ah, maybe I'm doing okay.' "
Duijzers family – keeping a sense of humour
Marisha Duijzers is also a migrant to New Zealand. She moved here from Holland and her son, Esra's, father, stayed behind.
Like Renz, Duijzers has no family here. She acknowledges a wonderful circle of friends but remains self-reliant.
"The golden rule is not to ask for help if I can do it myself. People have their own lives. I have to be careful what I ask for and when so I don't run out of credit points. People have no idea what it takes to be a single parent unless you've been there."
Duijzers describes herself as a strong person who takes life day by day; sometimes, hour by hour.
"You think you're not capable of certain things, but you just have to be incredibly brave sometimes."
Duijzers is picking up her 11-year-old from Tauranga's Waldorf (Rudolf Steiner) School in Welcome Bay when we speak.
She says the school has been instrumental in helping Esra, who's on the autism spectrum.
"He's now really happy at Steiner. He's playing the violin and loving it ... He'll come home and tell me what he's learning. He's made friends at school; it's mutual, and he likes hanging out with those kids. Those are successes that you have to grab on to and cherish."
She works part-time as a cello teacher and plays for the Bay of Plenty Symphonia, plans meals for the week on Sundays and tries to maintain a routine, along with a sense of humour.
"It's really important to keep laughing together. My music is keeping me sane, teaching and performing. I also love hiking, walking, a little bit of running."
You must choose between having time or earning money as a single parent, says Duijzers. She wants to set her child up for success.
"Because there's no one there to help, you're constantly trying to plug the hole in the dyke. Funny enough, I always land on my feet. I have really lovely friends, and that's super important when you're on your own."
As parents, we often think we must spend extra money on tuition or gadgets to help kids achieve. But educators say children's best lessons are free.
New Zealand Early Childhood Council policy officer Katina Beauchamp says the single best thing parents can do for their children early in life is talk to them.
"Oral language is hugely important for the development of the child. That is something I couldn't stress enough, so that the child actually has the building blocks to work with to communicate and to engage and to learn about concepts."
Parents can also help children engage in the community by taking them on outings to the beach, shops, the library, art gallery – places that provide opportunities to learn, talk and process information.
Beauchamp says, "Expensive toys are often not what is required – interaction and experiences are more effective. Children do not learn language and thinking skills from watching TV."
She says new technology such as tablets and smartphones don't help, either. "Just listening to a preschool programme on TV doesn't teach skills, doesn't teach vocabulary."
And while Beauchamp says early childhood centres have a good curriculum and set of learning outcomes, they can't replace a child's primary source of learning and communication at home.
"Studies have shown a link between early childhood education and longer-term benefits. A strong start can make a difference further down the track, but it still takes a partnership between the home and early childhood centres."
Te Puke Primary principal Shane Cunliffe says scientific research shows the first 1000 days of a child's life are especially important. That's when parents can promote curiosity, wonderment and empathy.
Cunliffe says caregivers can encourage those skills by talking with their child.
"It's definitely not about buying lessons or stuff. From an engagement perspective, that's more likely to turn kids off if you're trying to tick a set of expectations for them to be ready for school. School should be ready for the child and respond to the child, not the other way around."
Cunliffe says our brains aren't ready for traditional learning until age 7 or 8.
He says a core factor in a child's development is social and emotional regulation – the ability to co-exist positively with other humans and to communicate.
"We're more interested in that than the reading, writing and maths. That'll come naturally. All data and research suggests by the time students are 8 or 9 there's no disparity between children who turn up knowing numbers and letters to kids who know nothing."
Cunliffe says better predictors of school success are confidence, social and emotional regulation and oral language skills – factors Te Puke Primary measures.
"We've seen a huge difference ... more and more students are arriving with those complex needs along with I guess a whanau structure that potentially isn't able to fully nurture and support those children."
From a roll of 380 pupils, 110 receive external intervention for behaviour and learning; another 80 get extra help for English as a second language.
That means half of Te Puke Primary students have "high and complex" needs.
Thirty per cent are transient, which Cunliffe says has nothing to do with seasonal kiwifruit workers – these children bounce between mum, auntie, and nan.
He says research shows 50 per cent of student outcomes are tied to events at home, while about 25 per cent is linked to a teacher. Children from lower socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to succeed, according to data.
"Our core role is to enable our kids to be ready to learn."
These days, Cunliffe says it's likely both parents work to make ends meet.
"Parents have to have the time to interact and talk and question and provide experiences for their children. It could be in the car, going out to the letterbox ... talking about everyday happenings."
He says kids imitate and copy what caregivers model – the good and the bad.
"I've never met a parent who doesn't love their child but sometimes whatever environment they're providing ... it's three or four generations down the track, so they don't know any different, and schools' jobs have become a lot more complex."
Years of parenting can eventually yield rewards.
Elizabeth Vialoux says she and Richard now have the freedom to spend time away together – they recently returned from several nights in the Coromandel.
Finally, with two grown sons at home, she has stopped stocking the refrigerator before a trip.
"They've gotta step up and be responsible for themselves."
Statistics NZ Family Projections, 2013-2038
•The number of families and households will grow faster than the population, which is projected to increase by an average of 1.1 per cent a year between 2013 and 2038.
•The number of households is projected to increase by an average of 1.2 per cent a year, from an estimated 1.65 million households in 2013 to 2.2 million by 2038 (an increase of 596,000).
•One-person households are projected to increase by an average of 1.7 per cent a year, from 393,000 in 2013 to 599,000 in 2038.
•The average size of households will decrease to 2.51 people by 2038, from 2.64 people in 2013.
•The number of families is projected to increase by an average of 1.2 per cent a year, from an estimated 1.25 million families at June 30, 2013, to 1.68 million by 2038 (an increase of 433,000).
•Couples-without-children families will increase by an average of 1.6 per cent a year. They will remain the most common family type.
Celia Lashlie's advice to parents
Although author and social commentator Celia Lashlie died in 2015, her advice to parents, especially parents of boys, still rings true. A documentary about her life called Celia premiered last year.
•Recognise their desire to live in the moment, their inability and/or unwillingness to plan their lives.
•Never underestimate the power of peer pressure or horizontal learning for adolescent boys.
•The central issue is getting mothers off the bridge of adolescence and fathers onto it.
•Boys like clear boundaries. They have to be able to see and/or feel the consequences of doing or not doing something before it becomes real enough to matter and to motivate them.