Visitors to Tamati Coffey’s Rotorua home know the drill. Put your cell phone away or he’s likely to confiscate it. “It’s a rule I’ve introduced,” explains the Labour MP and dad to 20-month-old Tutanekai Coffey-Smith. “So many times you see a group of people all on their phones, and I look at my son and wonder what he must be thinking as he sees everyone staring at their devices. That makes me think that we need to do better than this – we need to talk to each other more.”
The phone ban is one of the ways Tamati reckons he’s changed since becoming a dad. He tries to see the world through his toddler’s eyes and make things better where he can. Being an MP means he can try to do that on a national level, but even small changes at home can make a difference.
Tamati’s quick to add that he’s not completely against screen time for his youngster, who will be two in July. “Last night, we watched The Lion King together and that was really special. Sometimes we’ll sit down to watch Postman Pat – we’ve really been getting into that. But it’s about balance.”
Parenting is a steep learning curve, tells Tamati, 41, and he and husband Tim Smith are learning something new every day. “Tutanekai’s at a really cool age where he’s growing, changing, walking and talking, and grasping new concepts – it’s just so amazing. We’re teaching him all the time about the world and how to live in it, but the more I’m around him, the more I learn as well. It’s not a one-sided thing.”
He’s come to realise that it takes a village to raise a child.
“I’ve always heard that and it’s true. We’re so lucky to have so much support. My sister Awhina lives with us, and my mum and dad Waiarangi and Gerald live downstairs, so we’ve got our own papakainga [village]. They help us to deal with our crazy life and it’s good that there are other people to call on because nobody on their own has the energy to match Tutanekai’s! I really feel for anyone who doesn’t have that village around them.”
When it comes to raising their son, Tamati and Tim have been inspired by their good friend, Rotorua paediatrician Dr Johan Morreau. “He talks about how the negative experiences babies have in their first 1000 days will be carried with them through life, as will their positive ones. So our work is to make sure that as those 1000 days are ticking by, Tutanekai’s surrounded by positivity and support, and he feels connected to te ao Maori [the Maori world view] as well as te ao Pakeha.. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s the most important thing we can do.”
One of the things the couple has had to come to terms with is that being supportive doesn’t mean wrapping their beloved boy in cotton wool.
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