NZ parents hope for more than just happy and healthy babies

14 October 2014

What do expectant mums and dads hope for their children? According to new research from Growing Up in New Zealand, a baby’s health and happiness may be high up on the list, but today’s parents want a lot more than that. Many of them desired things for their child that others take for granted, such as a life free of financial worries, discrimination, drugs or violence.

Studies have shown that parental wishes and expectations are important because they may be self-fulfilling, influencing the child’s development and future. For example, children whose parents have high educational expectations have been shown to demonstrate better academic performance at all ages, stay at school longer, and have high educational aspirations themselves.

“Given the potential significance of parent’s wishes for their children, the study aimed to document these beliefs as early in the child’s life as possible. Growing Up in New Zealand is the first large scale study to ask parents this question before their child was born,” says Dr Elizabeth Peterson, one of the lead authors of the paper and co-leader of the Psychosocial and Cognitive Domain of the Growing Up in New Zealand study.

“Perhaps most revealing were parents’ concerns for their child’s future including that they ‘never have to worry about money or food’; that they are not ‘bullied or suffer any racial discrimination’; and that they ‘grow up in an environment that allows freedom of belief and thoughts’.”

One mother was concerned simply that her child would ‘not hate me, that’s the main one’ and that ‘she doesn’t do the same mistakes that I did’.

Amongst the lighter comments, parents hoped that their unborn child would ‘have her mother’s nose’, ‘have ten fingers and ten toes’ or ‘that they are an All Black’, adding ‘No pressure’.

The findings published in the latest edition of Family Matters, the research journal of the Australian Institute of Family Studies are based on data collected as part of the Growing Up in New Zealand study which tracks the development of about 7,000 New Zealand children from before birth until they are young adults. To find out what expectant parents want for their children’s future, Dr Peterson and her colleagues analysed the responses of 1,000 expectant mothers and their partners taking part in the study.

Both mothers and partners had broadly similar hopes and dreams with mothers tending to focus slightly more on the child’s safety, health and sense of belonging than the partners.

Differences between ethnicities were observed with some ethnic groups talking more about family, cultural belonging and respect, and spirituality and religion.

The team is currently in the process of exploring whether these differences are statistically significant and also whether people from different socio-economic backgrounds have different hopes and dreams for their children. This analysis is being done with the full Growing Up in New Zealand sample.

“We also found that today’s expectant parents speak more about maximising their child’s individual potential, with relatively few comments made about their child being a good citizen and contributing to the greater good of society,” says Dr Peterson.

“This does not mean these qualities were not endorsed, but that they might be further from parents’ minds at this early stage in their child’s life,” she adds. Given that social responsibility is a crucial factor for creating a successful life and helping build a well-functioning society, it is perhaps interesting that this category of responses received the fewest number of comments.

Parental hopes, dreams and expectations are not set in stone and might change once the child is born, something that Growing Up in New Zealand has the capacity to assess, due to its longitudinal setup. “We are looking forward to adding to these early insights as the children grow older, to assess if parents’ dreams for their children do come true and what factors may enable the children to flourish.”

Find the full article online


For more information and interviews with our researchers and families please contact:

Sabine Kruekel
Growing Up in New Zealand Communications and Marketing Manager
Phone: 09 923 9690
Mobile: 027 886 0722


Media coverage of this paper: