An open letter to NZ parents about consequences


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I love my son. He’s 12, he is my world, he owns my heart, and 95% of the time he makes me very proud. I’m sure your kids are much the same for you. I’m a ‘free-range-mother’ (a term that makes me LOL – what was normal parenting when we were kids (although I was a bubble-wrapped kid) is now considered ‘risky’ and ‘bad’– dearie me). I feel confident in my free-range-parenting, because my intention when I became a parent was to raise an independent, self-sufficient child with great self-esteem and a sense of responsibility to himself and his community. This confidence has been boosted by the fact that I have a son who is turning out to be responsible, thoughtful, empathetic, and (mostly) sensible. And he knows that if that sensibility slips with the rush of teenage hormones, stupid ideas and/or group-think, that there will be consequences.

But there are some parents who would rather protect their child from consequences than help them learn lessons from their idiotic/foolish/criminal/intentional actions.

This blog has been brewing in the back of my mind since the murder of Emily Longley, with the Roastbusters and St Bedes (to name a few) incidents stoking the fire. But let’s throw this a bit wider than recent highly publicised cases. I’m sure many of you have encountered ‘My Little Angel Can Do No Wrong Syndrome’ yourselves over the years. I really struggle to understand it. We are all human, we all make mistakes, we all do stupid things, some of us deliberately do bad things – and no parent produces perfect children – so why do some parents believe their kids are immune to wrongdoing, or put their reputation before social responsibility?

Like the parents of adults who commit crime, particularly family of people who are violent towards their partners and/or kids, who gather around them with a protective cloak of ‘my son/daughter wouldn’t do something like that, it must have been their fault, I’ve seen them wind him/her up, I never liked them anyway’. Like the parents who scream filth and/or rush to assault the police because their child is getting arrested. Like parents who assist in destroying evidence, commit perjury, or who give misleading evidence in court in an attempt to get their child off scot free. Like the parents who rush down to the school to bully teachers who are laying down consequences for their bullying child. The ‘how dare you destroy his future, my son would never hurt anyone, he went to the best schools and wants to be a doctor/Olympian/actor, what can I do to make this go away’ parents.

Consequences are incredibly important lessons in life to learn, and some kids aren’t getting them. The lesson learnt then is ‘we can do whatever we like and get away with it’. Not a good attitude to have long term. And no, this has nothing to do with smacking vs. other disciplinary measures while our kids are little or any of that stuff. Section 59 didn’t create an attitude of entitlement. Money has. Inequality has. Our society has. Our neo-liberal way of thinking about ourselves above all else has. Anti-establishment hate of the justice system has.

I’ve had a lot of conversations recently around this issue. ‘You would be exactly the same if your son got in trouble with the cops’. ‘You would side with your son, every parent does.’ ‘If your son hit his partner you would naturally support him over her, he’s your son’. ‘If your son got to competitive level in parkour and did something silly you would still want him to compete and see him win’.

Actually, no.

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Good parenting has everything to do with raising your children and interacting with your adult children in a way that makes it very clear to them that if you break rules or laws, I will not stop loving you, I will not stop talking to you, I will support you – but I will support you THROUGH the consequences of your actions, not support you by ensuring you don’t face them.

I started down this parenting track pretty early on, at age appropriate levels. I trust you to be a free-range-kid as long as you obey the limits I put on that – and if you break them, that trust will be broken, and I will have to give consequences. I don’t want to, but I will. And follow through. There is only one thing you could ever do that would really disappoint me son, and that is hurting someone else. Everything else we can resolve, but if you steal, bully others, hit anyone, do something that a girl says no to, we’re going to have a really big problem. I’ve talked about the importance of consent since he became aware that females are attractive. That no means no, and if you go ahead anyway, I will still love you, but I will be in her corner. Once he starts forming relationships, it will be: If your girlfriend/partner/kids have to get away from you because you are violent and they have nowhere to go, I will take them in, and you will be on your own – not the other way around.

Because I love you. And loving you and being a responsible parent involves me ensuring that you are lauded for being the amazing kid you are, but also that you face the consequences if you make bad decisions. I also have a duty in the future to love and nurture my child’s partners and kids, and I will.

But I feel like a rare species of parent. And I wish I wasn’t. Maybe I’m not – I’d like to hope there are many of you out there with the same viewpoint.

However, while in these conversations with other parents, their eyes widen, disbelief flashes across their faces as I explain my perspective, and I am often assured that if/when I find myself in these kinds of situations, my idealism will fly out the window and I will steadfastly stand beside and protect my children from the ‘harm’ that is consequences at the expense of the real victim/s.

Hell no I won’t.

The most important thing a human being can learn to be part of a socially responsible society is that there are consequences for everything we do. Teaching our children otherwise is tantamount to child abuse, because it doesn’t set them up for a positive, honest, responsible & successful future.




  1. With what we face as a species in the near term with regard to climate change, resource wars/unavailability, nuclear meltdowns etc
    It would be great if parents look at the consequences of having a child now, and what sort of ‘consequences’ they will be facing in their predicted 70 years of future living on this contaminated, over populated, under resourced rock.
    I seams parents can’t face the consequences of years and years of environmental destruction, and over use of the planet by …. parents.
    So the true ‘consequences’ of having that child is that the kid will be lucky to see its 5th birthday.
    The “oh shit’ moment is near

    Lets be ‘parent’ about this and face reality BEFORE we try and hide behind our children.
    “I’ve just had a baby, we can’t be going extinct”?

    • The birth rate for NZ is just below replacement rate.

      The only way our population is going to grow is through immigration.

      Unless you advocate complete extinction of human beings someone needs to have children. Myself for example, I have one child. Two adults, one child = reduction in population numbers over time. This is pretty common for women in NZ.

      Who will feed you your soup when you’re geriatric? Who will wipe your bum? Who will be there to care for you in your last days? Another human being probably. And that human being represents a helluva lot of work and sacrifice on behalf of someone, and probably a woman who sacrificed earning potential and a career to bring that person into the world and raise it.

      You’re welcome.

  2. Here are some of my observations on parenting in New Zealand:

    1/ People make a bigger thing out of it than it really is, as in it is the hardest thing in the world that they have achieved being a parent.

    2/ People make it sound like it costs THEM a lot of money when in fact it mostly costs the State a lot of money, especially for education and health. It’s not as if you actually live in a house because of having children so accommodation isn’t part of the cost per se. Personally, I would like to see people who choose not have children get the same level of state assistance for their priority in life eg artists

    3/ People get a secret pleasure out of having someone they can boss around.

    4/ A lot of mothers create “best friends” relationships with their daughters in an effort to stay young and vicariously experience their daughter’s lives

    • You don’t have, children do you? They DO cost you – their parent/s – a lot of money (accomodation is the least of it, though I’d like to see 4 adult artists sleeping in the same room & not having an issue with it) and – working in the aged care industry – probably cost the state no more than the elderly. For FUTURE society to function, some people must actually sacrifice some of their present options and -yes, really! -finances to bring up some future workers/tax payers/ parents – until those reliable androids are invented anyway (yeah,right!). I know that particularly single, no kids people don’t always get a fair stick but it’s not some big ‘con’ so you can somehow get ‘goodies’ because you ‘decide to have children’.

  3. Rachael as you describe, parenting is the most important task in our society with all other aspects being based on the outcomes of the struggle, albeit a wonderful experience overall.

    Many things make parenting harder than it could be. Honesty is a foundation stone complicated by the institutional dishonesty abound in many forms. Parents struggle dealing with the impact of the dishonesty of others.

    Measures of how well the parenting task and young persons development is progressing can be fouled by the influence of others, which is hard to prepare a young mind to cope with.

    Looking back after many decades gives a more reliable perspective of the important things that have worked and the experiences successfully traveled. You won’t necessarily be a best buddy always but hopefully an important and sometimes appreciated parent.

  4. I grew up as a ‘free range kid’. Myself and friends were almost ‘wild’ never saw our parents except at dinner. We did do a lot of silly things, and knew they were wrong (probably just not how much), and knew there would always be consequences for our actions. You quickly learn that for every action there is a reaction.
    Children ‘know’ when they are doing wrong. They are not stupid, just young.

    • Me too. It was “be home by dinner time” and I was literally off on my bike all day roaming the streets of Whangarei.

      I’m bringing my kid up in a small town in exactly the same way. I teach him empathy, honesty and kindness. He’s a good kid, and when he does something really wrong I enact an appropriate consequence.

      Random kids turn up at my house from time to time and I feed and water them.

      Everyone in this small town knows who they belong to, and if they get in trouble I know there are adults looking out for them.

      Small towns in NZ can be great little communities. It still exists.

      They have great adventures in nature; bridge jumping, bullrush in the mangroves… they learn their physical limits and they learn confidence.

    • Mat. You make a perfectly sensible observation and still there is some twat that votes against you. I still wonder about some who frequent this site. Anyway, my thoughts are that getting kids involved in weekend sport from age 5, teaches so many skills, people skills, getting out of bed skills, the consequence of training or not, team man ship, how to win or loose graciously, the benefits of exercise, being good at school sport as a consequence and so on. Bit of a pain for the parents getting up early on a Saturday, but no better investment. And what the sport is does not really matter, it is the participation that counts.

      • Why do the parents have to get up early on Saturday? Seriously.

        And if gormless grownups arrange fixtures so far from home that car-pooling is ‘the only answer’ – then someone is taking this all too seriously.

        PS – What’s around for the many kids for whom team sports is worse than fillings at the dentist? Pointy fingers and exclusion from the social net? It happens. For sure, it happens.

        • Why do the parents have to get up early on Saturday? Seriously……its nice to watch and participate in your kids sport and give them support

          And if gormless grownups arrange fixtures so far from home that car-pooling is ‘the only answer’ – then someone is taking this all too seriously…….so far from home ?? some of us live in cities ans sometimes we play on the other side of town

          PS – What’s around for the many kids for whom team sports is worse than fillings at the dentist? ……Chess, slot car racing …theatre……doesnt really matter what, it is the participation that counts

            • Why do the parents have to get up early on Saturday? Seriously? Ummm….speachless

              Common Frank. You would have been a member of the school slot car team surely. I am picking you also drove a beige Trabant, Skoda, Trekka or similar, surely.

              • Nah, Dan. I drove a Vauxhall Victor; Ford Capri (with a 3L motor and Celica 5 speed gearbox dropped in); and a mini, before it became cool in “Goodbye Pork Pie”…

                • No cred at all for the Victor, but I give you points for the Capri, the 5 speed Celica option rare but nice.Mini…mmm.

  5. This is so timely as it’s just coming up to my daughter’s annual sleepover. There are 3 rules for sleepover 1: Who’s the Boss (me!),2: Quieten down when I say (though they usually drag me in for murder in the dark – I’m such a sucker) or what happens (“she yells!”) and 3: what’s said in sleepover, stays in sleepover. And what I’ve found is – kids are just the same as they always were but many -and sadly the majority – just aren’t getting the same time with adult that they want, and to be honest, need. There’s lots of parent dictated extra curiculum activities,expectations, keeping-up appearances – and to often for many – adult issues. I’ve worked but always part time because I believe that it is my primary JOB to bring my kids to adulthood with all the skills and expetactions to be good citizens and people in general. You don’t get alot of ‘cheers’ from people as a mother anymore so I say to you, Rachel – thanks for the article, cheers for us and good luck! -and sorry bout the rave.

  6. Hey great post, Rachael. This is how I try to parent, too…and it cracks me up no end that is has the “free range” label. I definitely believe boundaries are key..and I have said the same thing to my boys about the law and respecting girls. It would break my heart though! Sometimes, I do find it hard when the “helicopter” parents judge that (for example)I don’t love my kids like they do….One of my son’s was getting in trouble at school for a while and I did go to school, but only to tell them that they had my full support in whatever consequences they wanted to dish…the school were surprised and actually said “how refreshing”! My son was p@ssed at me! Ha! I say 🙂 I agree about sport/theatre etc but also think too many extra activities is just to stressful…kids need to play with other kids without an adult telling them what and how to do it all the time. I do think Robin Westernra has a point about having more kids now but I must admit I have stopped following his blog as it was making me fearful and depressed!! Anyway, that’s my two cents worth and thanks for your post. Good parenting wishes to you 🙂

  7. The sad part about today’s parenting is that so many parents are now working full time and therefore do not spend that quality time with their children.

    In our time we always have Mom at home while Dad goes to work to pay for the family’s expenses, so no matter what there is always a bond between parents and children. Our children nowadays are basically adults in children’s bodies and therefore make wrong decisions of which there are serious consequences.

    As parent i would offer the undying love and support of the parent for the precious gift that I have been given and that is my child. If he has done wrong then he or she needs to know and if that is through punishment so be it. I hope that my child will work with me to try and right any wrongs that has been committed.

    You read so many stories in the paper and you wonder just what are these parents trying to achieve knowing that their children have error in their ways and the way they carry on only encourage the child to keep on breaking the rules as Mom and Dad will fight for them to keep on doing that. No Lesson Learned.

    As far as I see it if my child breaks the rules their are consequences but it does not mean I will stop loving and supporting them.

  8. Hey Rachel, great post and I agree with you. My mum (a retired teacher) says there have always been some parents who think their kids are angels and can’t believe they ever do wrong, but she found they were the minority, maybe there are more of them since she retired 10 years ago. My theory is that those parents see their kids as extensions of themselves and not autonomous human beings. They themselves are perfect, therefore their kids must be too. I’ve got 3 kids (12,17,19) and I’m in the “I’ll always love YOU, but I won’t always love everything you DO” camp.

  9. Well Rachel I find your comments on parenting to reflect the most common style of parenting in New Zealand, not at all a rare species, just the normal, old fashioned, I support the schools/police no matter what, follow the rules, don’t think too much cause it might get complicated, someone has to be right(me) and someone is obviously wrong (you) theory of parenting.

  10. Great post.

    Wish more parents would do ‘responsible’ free ranging. (By responsible I mean freedom with clean clothes and meals and support:)

    I’m pretty worried about how the young kids now are growing up. The amount of cotton wool and helicopter parenting is astonishing. Also the amount of constant activities, gym, ballet, soccer, etc etc. Poor kids never get a break to actually relax, think and not have someone ‘instructing them’. Apparently kids spend more time in the car, than actually at the activity most of the time!

    One sad thing I saw which seems to be developing, was a little boy of about 2, strapped into his pram constantly being fed those canned baby food. The Mum hardly let him leave the pram. Once she let him out and he went and started running around and the Mum got mad, grabbed him strapped him back in, and told me he needed a sleep- NOT! This was in the CBD where they lived in an apartment. There did not seem to be any one giving any normal advice like – 2 yo need exercise. She proudly told me, he does soccer on Sundays for 30mins, she seemed to think that all he needs!

    Soon kids will be screwed up obese zombies, that have no relationship to the environment or have any understanding of food production, fresh air or being self sufficient.

    There need to be more focus on pre schoolers and parental support for parents from pre birth up to 5 years. It is a very neglected area of legislation but that is when the ‘person’ they will become is largely formed.

    For those that say, I don’t have kids so I don’t want my tax dollars going there, I say, who will look after you when you are old – we need the future generations to look after the older generation and the planet and if they are un empathetic obese zombies then they will be the ones needing looking after so no one left for you.

    Parenting is very hard and un appreciated work!

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