'Active dads' could tackle child poverty

Last updated 10:00 03/12/2014
Father and son
DAMAGE DONE: Men have been on the receiving end of the message that their parenting value is near zero with detrimental effects, says Rene.

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How can we eliminate child poverty?

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Both my children were born in the 1980s. Both were born into a poverty situation.

We didn't own our home, our car was unreliable, we had little savings, we didn't have stable jobs or a career path and we were a one income family.

Both pregnancies were difficult, requiring constant care for the last trimester. Thankfully our first child was healthy and an 'easy' baby because our second developed bacterial meningitis at three months and I have no doubt that was because of our living conditions.

It took a couple of extra stressful years until we knew he was OK and another couple of years before we knew his learning was OK.

The 1980s have been identified as the starting point for child poverty in New Zealand. A lot of change happened back then in every aspect of the way New Zealanders lived their lives.

There was a global shift in the way economies were run moving away from the highly regulated, protective, internally focussed, socialistic controls that had developed after WWII because they were failing in a spectacular fashion. The NZ economy had been on a steady slide since its post WWII highs.

There was also massive social change. Women had demanded not just the right to work but the expectation that they would participate at every level in society for many years, and the then radical idea was gaining momentum and traction.

My mother had worked from when I was three years old, all my sisters worked to build a life for themselves and they had their own expectations of what that meant. They all held off having children until they meet those objectives but the common thread was that they would have solid relationships, jobs and assets before starting having children.

None of their children were born into poverty situations.

Another big social change was the idea that having a father active in the lives of children was not necessary. Considerable resources were put in place to assist women to meet this belief. Considerable effort was exerted to foster this belief, backed by the theory that this was necessary to combat the evils of patriarchy - read men - which they considered the confining force on women.

Interestingly, women like Helen Clark and many others that have reached the top around the world give considerable credit to the personal expectations installed in them and the support given by their fathers. Men like John Key say the same about their mothers, as I say about mine.

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New Zealand has a severe man drought during the child-raising years of 20 to 45 that has also been developing since the 1980s. It is close to one in 10.

Considering that a third of children grow up in one parent families, this translates to almost a quarter of these children never having the opportunity to have two active adults in their lives, let alone their extended families, simply because the men aren't in the country.

Add to this that men have been on the receiving end of the message that their parenting value is near zero, those that remain often have zero expectation, appreciation or the skills to support their value in the role.

I often hear people talk about China's one child policy and how this created a male surplus of around 40 million men over women. This is quickly linked with condemnation to the value their society has for women, yet I hear no such comments about New Zealand's situation which is gender reversed to theirs.

We have gone from a society that supported the viability of a single income family with a stay at home parent to a situation that requires two parents working just to make ends meet.

Those women that have gained the skills to make a good income are naturally pairing up with partners that have the same skills. In part, it is these duel high income partnerships that have the buying power to drive up prices, which in turn makes life harder for those not in this situation.

They can pay the higher prices to gain the assets that then demand the higher end user cost to pay for it, which in turn keeps the lower income families uncompetitive financially. Social, as much as economic change has made this reality.

Two high income families have greater leverage over two low income families because their proportion of discretional spending power is disproportionally greater. Mid-tier single income families are having the same issue. Those that are not in these groupings bring children into a poverty situation.

How do we get past the issue of child poverty that is the legacy of economic and social change? We need to fix what we did wrong.

We need to look at what those who have avoided the trap have done right, talk about it, support it and promote it. The folly of saying to those that bring children into the world, that all options are OK because anything other is an infringement of their freedom and rights underlies the problem.

Freedom is not free. Someone has paid, or will pay, for it. Freedom is about personal responsibility not about making somebody else pay for your actions.

I'm very pleased to be able to say that I am very proud of who my children are and what they are achieving despite the exceptionally poor start we had and the hardship and strife that followed.

It is a credit to their durability that they do so well. It wasn't easy on any level providing for their needs on one income and there is one thing that will stick with me for life from the experience.

No matter which way I turned, as a man determined to be an active parent, the system and people within it mostly either stood in my way or stabbed my achievements in the back.

When the value of active fathers is again valued and the men return to New Zealand, then you will see child poverty rates drop.

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