From the outset it is easy to see she loves hard, shoots straight, and tells it like it is; Stephanie Peeni is someone you could become fast-friends with. Mother to Marlee (AKA Bun), two year old twins Carter and Valentina and baby Manaia (AKA Pickle) She is equal parts chilled and determined – an ideal balance when it comes to parenting FOUR children. Yes FOUR, and she mightn’t be “done”. With the easy nature and squishy little face of her newest arrival, Mania, it is easy to see why she is considering just one (or two) more. We talk to Stephanie about her children, accepting her post-natal body and her husband’s Maori heritage.
(Did we mention she took the first flight out of Melbourne the night after being a bridesmaid at her cousins wedding to be part of the shoot? YES, all four kids were in tow. HERO)
How would you describe your mothering style?
Hmmm I feel like I embrace a few different mothering styles throughout the day depending on moods and behaviours… Mostly my mothering style would be free range with a side of drill sergeant 😂 I have a laissez-faire approach to parenting except for when it comes to dressing the kids, sorry kiddos I’m all over that!
Talk to us about your beautiful babies and what it was like welcoming Manaia into your family.
Oh, these wild babies of mine. They each have such strong personalities and our household is absolutely full of life day in and day out. So; If I’m going to be honest, when I found out I was pregnant with Manaia I was super worried at first. Hubby works away and the twins were only 2, life was mayhem! But she is an absolutely beautiful soul and an unbelievably chilled baby. Manaia has actually helped me to slow down and although life is crazy beautiful, to start embracing all the moments with my babies because they really don’t stay little for long.
And what does motherhood / mothering them mean to you
Being a mother is my greatest achievement. They say there’s no greater love than the love of a mother and it’s true. It’s instant, it’s pure, it lasts forever, and needs to be celebrated.
It’s also the most heart-breaking thing I’ve experienced. Seeing them hurt or unsure of themselves can rock you to the core. Being a mother to my babies is a life time adventure. It means being a continuous cheerleader for every milestone they will experience and it means showing them an abundance of unconditional love.
4 kids but 3 pregnancies – that two for one deal sounds like a bargain!? Can you tell us what it was like to give birth to twins??
INCREDIBLE. I got to bond with my son for a whole 15 minutes and then hold him on my chest while I pushed for his sister. It doesn’t get more magical then that! It wasn’t even an hour after giving birth to them that I turned to my husband and said ‘oh I want to do that again’. If we go for a 5th it may be 5 & 6 and then I’ll get to do it again ha!
And then for Manaia, your husband only got to be there for first few hours?
Yes! We had held off his return to work for 2 weeks thinking surely she would come early but nope! The little pickle came bang on her due date. She was born at 1am and he left to head to the airport at 4am! We were actually flown to the Waikato hospital when she was 7 hours old as she had PPH so it was tough not having him there but just as tough for him having to be away. He was away for 5 weeks that time and when he came back she didn’t leave his side!
Explain more about FIFO life and why that works for your family.
For those that don’t know, FIFO means ‘Fly In fly out’. We’ve been a FIFO family for 5 years now. It’s super hard only seeing him every 5th week but when he’s home for that week off our time together is so so precious and we really treasure every second spent together. We moved to New Zealand because of the lifestyle here for the kids and to embrace their Maori culture but with having a large family comes the financial pressure and as NZ wages aren’t so red hot we both decided to continue doing FIFO from Aus to NZ .
We were so lucky to have Niek home and able to be in the shoot. He is of Maori decent, can you tell us a bit about what this means to you, how you celebrate it and how do your kids identify with their heritage?
Embracing Maori culture is the main reason we moved to NZ. From a young age our eldest Bun was always so in awe of her papa when he would speak in Te Reo or perform the haka so we decided to put her into a full immersion class which means she learns her schooling curriculum in Te Reo! She is absolutely thriving and we are super proud of her. Wherever there is a celebration of any sort, life, death, marriage, you bet my husband will be there Haka ready. He is incredible, he is proud and has so much mana. It’s a pretty special thing that in a few years Neiks and our children will be able to perform Hakas together.
Four kids solo-mum style. Girlfriend! What do you do for yourself, to recharge?
Recharge? Girl these batteries are running flat! No, in all seriousness Manaia is the perfect baby. She goes to sleep at 9pmish, wakes twice a night to feed, falls asleep while breastfeeding and then wakes again at about 7:30am. So a decent nights sleep is all I need to get me through the days. When hubby is home though every 5th week he is so good to me and let’s me sleep in everyday and sometimes I’ll take a few hours to myself to head to the mall or get a massage!
Talk to us about your post-natal body, where are you at with body image?
I am absolutely LOVING on this body. It’s took me a 4th child, extra story lines and super soft and stretchy skin to look at myself and love what I see! How can you not love so hard on something that grew, nourished and birthed your child/children! Our bodies are amazing and incredibly beautiful in all shapes and sizes!
Does it get easier third/fourth time round?
Absolutely. I think after that amount of work, growing 4 little humans you learn to appreciate what your body has done. I am SO proud of my body.
Any advice to a mama just starting the journey to accepting those changes?
I once read a quote that said ‘A mother that radiates self-love and self-acceptance actually vaccinates her children against low self-esteem’. That was the driving motivation for me. How can we teach our children to love their bodies when we pick apart our own? Mama, take a minute and thank your body for all has done. It has kept you alive for all these years and now it has grown and nurtured your baby/babies. This is what our bodies are made for. Not for magazines, not for prying eyes or the opinions of others. So start there, by saying Thank you and over time the rest will follow.
In a world that craves authenticity do you feel a responsibility to share the harder, raw and more sensitive parts that come with motherhood on your social platforms?
Totally! Because what’s the point in being blessed enough to have a voice if you can’t use it to help others! I share the real life motherhood because I want mamas to know that I’m with you, I get it!
How do you balance a life online and being present with your kids?
To be honest it’s taken me quite some time and a lot of breaks from social media to find a healthy balance. I do most of my editing and admin work at night once they’re all tucked into bed and it’s only really when I’m taking photos or need 10 mins to check out that I won’t be fully present. I mean let’s be real, with 4 kids there’s always one that wants something, I don’t have time to sit on my phone all day. Getting the twins a 15th cup of water for the day is still being present right? Ha.
The values you hope to instil in your children?
To love fiercely! Themselves and others. To know their worth. To be resilient and determined. To forgive, be empathetic and kind, always. More importantly then teaching your children to be wonderful people, is to remind them they are wonderful people. Confidence is key!
What drew you to Frankie handbag
A- the colour! I ADORE the chocolate brown! And B- I wanted something big enough for nappies and snacks but also can be worn as a cross body and Frankie is just that! She is so soft and lush, I love her!
Next on your Saben wishlist
Definitely the fifi. She’ll be my ‘doing things without the kids’ kinda bag. But do I get the cocoa again or go black. Decisions decisions….