Born in Tauranga to a teenage mum, Darrell Winning was given up for adoption during the first few weeks of his life. At the age of four, the unthinkable happened, and he lost his mum for a second time, when his adoptive mother passed away. Without a solid family framework, Darrell grew up fending for himself and quickly got caught up in the wrong crowd. His teenage years became a series of criminal activity, violence and aggression. No one could have imagined (least of all Darrell) that just a few years after dropping out of school, he would become a youth worker – advocating for and supporting ‘at-risk’ kids, just like him. Understanding the pressures and pitfalls of the teenage years – especially for boys – Darrell was the perfect mentor for struggling youth, and had an enormous impact on the lives of countless Kiwi teens.
Fast forward a few years, Darrell, now married to Shanel, moved to Sydney to set up and run a programme for high-needs foster kids. “All I wanted to do was help kids,” says Darrell. “In addition to our work in Sydney, I also became involved in coordinating respite camps for at-risk kids in LA and Mexico, before returning to New Zealand to start a family of our own.”
Back in New Zealand, Darrell worked part-time for a while, but as Shanel’s business grew, the family rhythm shifted. “My wife is very passionate about her career, and I’m very passionate about young people and raising the next generation, so it just made sense that I would stay at home with the kids, and that she would pursue her career. The way I’m wired, kids don’t tire me. I’ve worked as a youth pastor and youth worker with kids who had some pretty intense needs. When my own kids came along, I could now pour all of this love and passion into them. Every family is so different, and each one will have its own style. In our family, having me at home and Shanel at work is the way we do it, and it’s great.”
With mum at work and Talia (5), Asher (9) and Jaydon (11) all at school, Darrell takes care of the housework, cooks the dinner and plans elaborate adventures and activities for the kids. It only takes one glance at the family garage to see that the Winning family is into sports – especially surfing, skateboarding, mountain biking and basketball. This may sound like a lot of fun – and it most certainly is – but Darrell has put some deliberate thinking into the activities his kids take part in. Darrell admits that being a stay-at-home dad has its challenges, and when he’s doing school runs, the ratio of mums to dads highlights the fact that his situation is not the norm. “With me at home instead of Shanel, something our kids have missed out on is play dates. Often, play dates are as much about mums hanging out as they are about getting the kids together. I guess I could hang out with the mums, but I doubt their husbands would be very happy with that arrangement,” says Darrell.
“I want my kids to be spending their time involved in sports that will help them create memories, learn life skills and build resilience. For example, what I love about skating and biking is that they’re not easy. To master these sports it takes a lot of hard work, falling over, and grazed knees. Kids need these kinds of things to learn perseverance, to fall down and get back up 20 times before getting it. Learning to stick with something until you’ve got it, and then feel a sense of mastery over it, is so valuable for kids.”
Watching the Winning’s YouTube channel is more than enough evidence to prove Darrell’s theory. His kids ooze with confidence. One video shows Darrell standing next to Talia at the age of 20 months as she learns to skate – nappy and all. Countless others show the kids soaring over ramps, zooming through the trees on a downhill track or getting knocked off their surfboards by giant waves, only to get back up and conquer the next ones. “On a typical Saturday, we load the car with bikes, surfboards and skateboards. Then it’s up to Woodhill for biking, Muriwai for surfing and on the way back, we stop at the skate park,” says Darrell. This may not be every family’s cup of tea, but with Darrell’s unlimited energy and his kids’ obvious love for these sports, it seems to be working for them.
With memories of his own very troubled teenage years, Darrell is particularly passionate about getting his kids safely through this tricky developmental stage. “Kids need to take risks – and teenage rebellion is all part of healthy development. As kids reach their teens, they begin to individuate. They push on all the boundaries and what they’ve been told as kids, and set about deciding what their values and beliefs are, and where they belong. If teens (especially boys) don’t have resilience, they can easily turn to alcohol, sex and cars to get the thrill and sense of mastery they’re after. So my question is, ‘What are we giving them to master now?’ I want my kids to be mastering things now that they won’t drop out of as teens – and I think skating, surfing, and biking fit the profile.”
The Winning’s parenting philosophy doesn’t only include physical activities – they are also deliberate about shaping their kids’ technology and media habits. Enjoying technology is encouraged, but instead of gaming, Jaydon and Asher are learning how to use Google SketchUp, InDesign and Photoshop. “The crazy thing about gaming is that it is so much fun and so stimulating, that once you get into it, nothing else can compete. I reckon this is why it can become so addictive,” says Darrell. Thanks to their computer skills, the boys have already started their own little lawn-mowing business on the weekends, distributing their home-designed flyers around the neighbourhood, and having great success.
The Winning kids are also allowed to watch TV and movies, but not just any TV. Darrell records movies, documentaries and programmes on sport, science, history, and the latest innovations. So when the kids go to watch TV, they have a carefully-selected menu to choose from. For the most part, this works a treat, but Darrell admits that it is getting trickier as the kids get older and come home from school talking about The Bachelor and how all their friends are watching it. “They’re not quite teens, so I am yet to see how these things will play out, but I am going to try hold my ground,“ says Darrell.
In response to these kinds of comments from his kids, Darrell encourages them to search for the programme on YouTube, watch a snippet, and wait to be disappointed with the result. “I am certainly not saying that all parents need to do what we’re doing – everyone has their own way of parenting and being a family,” concludes Darrell. “I would just like my kids to do better than I did. I just hope that I can get out of their way and let them go for it.”