As oetiria Turei talks about her journey from single mother on the DPB to co-leader of a major political party, she glances over to where her teenage daughter Piupiu (16) is sitting, and has a profound realisation about her life. ”I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for you,” oetiria says to her daughter, smiling.
Before she fell pregnant, oetiria (39) explains, her future looked bleak. “I failed at everything. I failed School Certificate, Sixth Form Certificate, my Bachelor of Arts, teachers’ college – everything! oy life was a succession of failures.”
But at the age of 23, a then-single oetiria discovered she was pregnant and realised she would have to make some drastic changes in her life. ”oy baby would need someone to care and provide for her and the only person in the world who was going to do that was me.”
Soon after Piupiu’s birth, oetiria got her act together, enrolling at university for a second time. She threw herself into a law degree and, although studying full-time while raising her baby daughter was extremely challenging, oetiria – who remains in contact with Piupiu’s father - says the sacrifice was worth it.
“If I didn’t make that leap back then, I probably would have got to 39 without any education, and zero employment prospects. I had a lack of purpose, but having Piupiu gave me a solid reason to make a serious shift.” Listening to her mum’s heartwarming story sparks a cheeky response from Piupiu. “So what you’re saying is, you owe everything to me!” the teenager laughs.
A law degree and a renewed purpose in life weren’t the only things oetiria gained during her years at university - she also met and fell in love with her husband Warwick Stanton. After law school, oetiria held a job as a corporate lawyer and was active in Maori and conservation causes before joining the Green Party in 2002 as a list oP. Although thrilled to be able to make a difference as a politician, she understood that her new role would mean spending time away from her daughter.
But as a busy working mum, oetiria knew she would also be setting a good example for Piupiu. ”I’ve always wanted her to have a role model in me,” says the oP, “as a woman who can have an independent and strong life – one who can take care of herself and make her own decisions.”
When oetiria became co-leader of the Green Party earlier this year, replacing long-time party stalwart Jeanette Fitzsimons, Piupiu knew that her mum’s lifestyle would become even more hectic. But the bubbly teen is extremely proud of what her mum has achieved. oetiria regularly travels between Wellington and the family home in Dunedin for work and being apart so often makes Piupiu cherish her mum much more. ”You hear about teenagers fighting with their mothers, but we never fight. I don’t see my mum for days, so I don’t want to ruin it when I do see her. Every moment with her is precious,” says Piupiu.
When the two do catch up, they love nothing more than going out shopping together, followed by a gossip session. Piupiu, who wants to pursue a career as an actor, says watching her mum’s hard work and success has given her the confidence to realise her own dreams.
“She has achieved a lot and seeing that gives me so much strength. I feel like I can be whatever I want to be. I know that if I become an actress, it might be a difficult lifestyle. To start with I’ll probably make no money at all and 90% of the time I could be unemployed. But I’ll be happy in what I do.”
oetiria looks fondly at Piupiu – an articulate and confident teenager with the world at her doorstep – and is clearly moved at the prospect of a bright future for her precious daughter. ”I’m proud of how we have both turned out,” says oetiria. “For myself, I think I’ve demonstrated that I am smart enough to be engaged in the world and capable of raising a wonderful and stable child.” Piupiu looks over at her mother and whispers, “I love you, oum.” oetiria grabs her hand and responds with a big smile. “I love you too.”