Prior to 2013
The Tepania family have been interested and engaged in nonviolent parenting for several years. Wheturangi’s partner came to workshops with Ruth in 2010, and persuaded Wheturangi to come to events in subsequent years. Their extended family have been exploring and practising the kaupapa ever since, and Wheturangi has also been thinking about how the concepts might apply in his practice as a teacher at a girls’ high-school.
At the same time, Wheturangi has been going to classes in Te Reo Māori, and in 2012 he attended a wānanga about Poutiria te Aroha that was delivered in Māori. All of this interest culminated in the decision for Wheturangi, his partner and their two tamariki to journey to Los Angeles for 3 months in the summer of 2012-13. This allowed Wheturangi to take part in a ‘Train the Trainer’ course there: the Parent Educator Certification Program, led by Ruth Beaglehole and Brian Joseph.
The story of 2013
The year began for Wheturangi, with his family, in Los Angeles. Upon his return, Wheturangi met with the core group of men and the Te Mauri Tau team, supported by his whānau members, to share his story of the LA experience. He received positive feedback and offers of support for him, whenever he felt ready to begin delivering workshops in Whaingaroa. In June the monthly meetings of Te Rōpū Tāne began (see the separate story about the men’s group).
When Brian visited in October, Wheturangi took the opportunity to co-facilitate men’s group sessions with Brian, in a supervised setting. He also delivered an introductory half- day workshop on nonviolent parenting, and an evening focus topic on brain development.
At the end of 2013, Wheturangi reflected on how this kaupapa is now threading through his life, in his roles as a father, a teacher and a facilitator. Foremost in his thinking was the importance of the work he is doing to understand himself and the story of his own upbringing.
“The first thing is that I see a counsellor once a fortnight, and that is influential in keeping me in tune with the philosophy – in terms of knowing my own narrative, and insight into why I am reactive. I work on strategies to manage my feelings of frustration and anger – that is huge. There is so much learning from it, and I get to take that into being a facilitator, a teacher and a parent. That is my practice of self-healing and I wouldn’t be able to do half of what I do without that space.”
On being a parent
This year, Wheturangi has experienced a shift in terms of how he rises to meet the challenges of parenting. “It is a new learning curve. I treat each challenge as something I can learn from. Before, it was overwhelming. I felt lost. Now each challenge is empowering, it’s like ‘Yes, OK, what can I do here?’ I could easily slip into depression about being a bad father, but I haven’t felt depressed this year. I am in a new space – to be a proactive learner, to better my fathering process in a connected, loving way. And it is more empowering to share that with others – parents and teachers. It feels so real, with every challenge to think ‘I can learn from this and help others to learn’. I get a sense that the men in the men’s group resonate with my ongoing practice and process as a father. I can say ‘This happened to me last week and this is what I did.’ That’s a big shift – seeing challenges as awesome, amazing.”
Also in the spirit of sharing information, Wheturangi and his partner take time to discuss what is coming out of his fortnightly counselling. “After a counselling session, I debrief with my partner about anything and everything – I want to share with her, we spend an hour going through what came up. She gets clarity, gets to understand me. I’m excited I found something about myself and she knows more about my triggers. I would like to find that support for her as well.”
Wheturangi sees support for one another as an important part of their parenting practice.
“We put in strategies – little conscious acts of trying to help and support each other. I have to leave early in the morning for work, but I can get the kids’ porridge ready as a small thing, symbolic even, before I leave.”
Wheturangi also tries to take time with the kids when he gets home. He aims to finish his work at work so he can focus on the family when he gets home. He also tries to find time to be one-on-one with his son to establish a strong connection. Wheturangi believes his son internalises his sadness, unlike his outward-looking daughter. So Wheturangi tries to make a connection and special time to talk with his son before he goes to sleep. “I say to him, ‘Did you feel my love today?’ He will tell me, it’s his safe space of letting me know.”
Empathy books are used to focus on feelings arising from situations in the children’s lives. The children respond individually. “My daughter is not so engaged – an A5 ‘card’ with one picture on it and she’s happy with that. My son loves the books.”
Wheturangi has a sense that as a result of their intentional parenting based on the nonviolent philosophy, their children are becoming empathetic and caring. “The children are physically very affectionate. My daughter – I am sure she will have the language of feelings and needs. My son has that, he articulates quite well compared to other children his age. I appreciate him for his kupu.”
One parenting challenge is in finding ways to encourage their son, who is 5, to do more around the house. “I want to bring a value that it’s time for you to start helping. He’s reluctant to offer that support. We have been trying to say how much we need that [a new baby is on the way] and he is getting it but he wants to choose. I appreciate he wants to hold onto his autonomy, and I want him to understand there’s fulfilment in helping out whānau, without making it coercive. It’s a long journey of talking. For us as parents, how do we instil these values in our children without threatening? Sometimes, reflecting on our practice, how we’ve done things badly, violently, we say ‘Yeah, that’s not OK’, we give each other empathy. We’re tired too, at the end of a busy day. If we go down that road then we say ‘OK, what will we do?’ We have to talk to our children about how we need support. It’s not the path of ‘Do what I say or else!’ It doesn’t mean he’ll always do it - it’s too hard. But he says ‘OK, I’ll do it this time.’ I’m appreciating my expectations now are different, informed by child development – I can be more empathetic and compassionate, trying to hold onto those attributes of connecting with my children.”
When they find themselves inevitably slipping into dominant patterns of parenting, the couple try and help each other realise they are ‘losing it’. “We have talked about how to help each other regulate. She says if I can be an advocate for our son, then that snaps her out of it.” They also try to pull themselves up by being conscious of their own patterns. “I can feel those things I’d love to say but I bite my tongue, say ‘let me give myself a minute here’. If I find myself walking towards my son in an intimidating way, sometimes I can take a breath, get down, and say ‘OK son’. It’s fine-tuning, refining what I do. There is still a lot of repair – I’m big on apologies. I say: ‘When I raised my voice, Dad shouldn’t have. I’m going to try this next time.’ The conversations are great.”
Different strategies are needed to suit the temperament of their daughter. “She is hitting, she’s very physical, she doesn’t want to talk, or stop what she is doing in the moment. She has big feelings, so I’m curious for strategies for her to help regulate as she is so different to our son. Just having the curiosity is good. The ongoing talking, strategising, reflecting on what we are doing as her parents.”
The family is also trying to consciously express gratitude. “We do gratitude practices, say what we are appreciating in that moment – the sunset, the kai, the house, with the kids. Gardening – I am new to that, and the kids and I are getting into that ‘farmer life’. So we celebrate all those things, and I hear my son repeating those statements of gratitude.”
On being a teacher
Wheturangi takes the feelings that arise from being in the classroom to his fortnightly counselling sessions. “They are the same feelings – feeling powerless, not in control, I am reactive, stressed, overwhelmed. My practice as a connected teacher goes out the door. I have had to work on how to empower myself in the classroom so I can be the connected, compassionate teacher I want to be.” A useful strategy is to have some self-talk for difficult times. “I give myself inspirational messages, and I tell myself it’s OK to make mistakes. When I think ‘this isn’t working, this is going to s***’, I say, ‘OK, this is grounding’. I see it as an empowering opportunity to improve my practice.”
Empathy was one thing Wheturangi wanted to bring more strongly into his classroom practice this year. “A focus was to practise empathy with the students, to lead with empathy. My language around giving empathy improved. And I got feedback from my students; they voiced it as ‘At last someone understands me.’ They keep talking.”
Wheturangi looked at different ways of setting limits around behaviour in the classroom.
“I used statements like ‘This isn’t working for me.’ Now I only have to say ‘OK class’, and they say ‘Cellphones not working for you right now, Matua?’” It doesn’t work for some girls. They took the empathy and said ‘Yeah, you totally get me and why I need my cellphone right now’, and carried right on going with their phone. I had to be a little bit more curious. If they say ‘Music helps me concentrate’, I might say ‘I would need a little more evidence to test your theory. I don’t think that the cellphone really helped you concentrate today.’ You have to celebrate the small steps – I do get the comments through the classroom surveys about my connecting skills.”
The practice takes time, but Wheturangi thinks it is time well spent. “Learning and speaking is a real skill, to be able to articulate your thoughts. At the start of the year, they struggled to say what they were thinking and feeling, but at the end of the year they were using words like anxious, stressed. I have been using a ‘check-in’ process at the start of class. For students, there was relief hearing that others felt the same way about class, about the work, the pressures. They got a sense that it’s not lonely, that nobody was working alone.
For me, I also get an idea of where they are at, and what I need to do tomorrow. If the students are stressing out, I will make a plan. ‘You mentioned you are stressed, time management is an issue; so here is a guide of what you can do to get on top of it.’ They felt supported by the plan of action – ‘You need to do this and this, tick the box, and you’ll get there.’ If they weren’t doing it all, we’d go back to the plan and say, ‘OK, you could probably do without this one.’”
Wheturangi also calls his students on their use of language. “They say ‘that’s gay’. I say ‘you know that word - we really need to come up with another word.’ It’s laying down guidelines on how we are going to talk about things. It feels like at school sometimes nobody’s holding the values.”
On being a facilitator
Wheturangi has appreciated the support and mentoring he has received in his role delivering workshops about this kaupapa. “Again, it’s having the opportunity to talk with the counsellor. And Brian has been very supportive of my growth, debriefing over Skype. My biggest need is around holding the kaupapa, holding the group, which I have grown more confident in as a result of practice, reflection, dialogue and what comes up. That’s ongoing.”
Wheturangi has come to feel comfortable, knowing the men’s group. Initially, he wondered about how much to talk about his own practices, and give his own examples.
In debriefing Wheturangi’s delivery, Brian encouraged this, saying that those moments were very real, connecting and honest: “You are modelling it, it feels authentic, and it lets everybody know you’re one of them. It takes it to a deeper level and shows your trust in them.”
While he appreciates the positive feedback he receives from the men, Wheturangi is conscious he still has a lot to learn. “I am still in growth mode. Don’t put me on a pedestal. I am still on the journey.” He receives learning as well as sharing his own knowledge. “I am grateful to hear from the fathers of teenagers. I have real curiosity around my children at that age – I sense they will have a lot to say, have big feelings. Sometimes I rehearse what talk they might have about me as their father...”