More Top Stories


Alleged rapist in remand

27 April 2024

Rugby league

Moana target 2025 World Cup

11 November 2022

Super mum: Young mum shares her journey of motherhood

Saturday 4 May 2024 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Features, Memory Lane, Other Sports, Weekend


Super mum: Young mum shares her journey of motherhood
Sunielia Tom and partner Li Ponini with daughter Mahana, sons Te-King, Treyvhon, and Andrew and youngest daughter baby Hannah-Erika aka ‘Pretty Girl aka Dumpling’. SUPPLIED / 24050403 / 24050405

Young mothers face challenges every day, and local rugby league player Sunielia Tom’s message is to live in the moment, avoid stressing yourself out, be patient with your child, and find strength in prayer.

Tom became a mother at the age of 15, two weeks before her 16th birthday. Now, at 34, the proud mother of five believes parents should be open and honest with their children.

She says being a young mum was an eye opener.

“I didn’t see it coming. One of my biggest fears back then was the obvious, having to tell your parents.”

Tom, who hails from Mitiaro and Aitutaki, says that since her father was a pastor, she didn’t feel it was the godly thing to do. However, to her surprise, he gave her the biggest support when she broke the news to him.

Sunielia Tom with eldest daughter Mahana Sijp and youngest daughter baby Hannah-Erika. SUPPLIED / 24050404.

“He changed my mentality of being pregnant at a young age.”

Looking back, Tom shares that her teenage years were more about acting out and having fun, “without realising when you have your own children, you never want them to do that”.

“I look back at it and I’m just grateful that I had the support, the family. Mahana’s (Sijp) father’s family were very supportive of our relationship as a young couple and as young parents.”

Looking at young mothers today and reflecting on her growth as a mum, Tom says: “My best advice is to be yourself. Don’t stress too much on how your son or daughter is going to be when they’re older. Live the moment now.”

“Especially when having a new-born, they grow fast. So take every moment, be patient with yourself. Yeah, and just always tell yourself it’s a blessing to have a baby.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself.”

Talking about the challenges faced by young mothers, Tom says depression is a real thing, and while she hasn’t personally experienced it, she’s seen others struggle with it.

She says mothers need to be strong and don’t let themselves go through a phase like that.

“I do encourage all the young mothers to be strong. Stay strong for the child. If you’re in an unhealthy relationship, don’t ponder on it. Let it go.

“If it has to be let go, let it go. Focus on the child itself. The well-being of the child is very important. We all know that, just surround yourself with good people, good energy, and positive people.”

Including prayer as a daily habit is also important, adds Tom.

“I do encourage prayer, praying about your daily lifestyle, praying about what you want to be further in life and where you want to take your children further in life.”

Growing up, she recalls her mother’s advice – which she found quite amusing – “You make the kid, you look after it.”

At that age, after giving birth, Tom says she still wanted to be out in the open, do her own stuff and figure things out.

“We had left Mahana with our parents and went off to be, try to be something, knowing that she was in safe hands.”

Now a mother of five, Tom is grateful for the support she has had in raising her children.

Mahana Sijp, 17, is actively involved in local and international sports, playing rugby league and has represented Cook Islands at the recent Pacific Games in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

She also has three sons Te-King, Treyvhon and Andrew and the youngest in the family is 14-month-old Hannah-Erika.

And now watching her children grow up, Tom acknowledges that she put a lot of pressure on Mahana. This is because Mahana came into her life at a time when Tom herself was still young and growing up.

“I’m quite blessed and lucky to have a daughter that’s the total opposite of my young day errors,” Tom says.

Sunielia Tom on the touch rugby field with daughter Mahana Sijp. 24050406

“I grew up with her because I was so young. It’s one thing I tell them and that I will never ever lie to them … the relationship that I have with them is purely open.

“Learning from my experiences, I tell them everything. I’ve told them that I used to be this party animal and I used to roam these streets and they know everything about me.

“And that’s one thing I encourage a lot of parents to do is to tell them the truth. Be open with them. You don’t need to lie about anything.”

Tom says her partner Li Ponini, who is from Avatiu, came into their lives and became a role model that her children needed.

Together they have two children – the youngest son and daughter.

“I’m a stay-at-home mum right now and my partner has moved back from New Zealand from Invercargill working in the meat works when Covid hit.

“So he returned last year to be with us, which was kind of a really good thing for us because our kids are starting their era in rugby and everything.”

A fitness fanatic, Sunielia Tom at the Top Shape Gym. 24050401 / 24050402

As a fitness fanatic, Tom says her children have grown up surrounded by the gym, fitness, and sports.

“When we do get a chance to go and do something together, it’ll be like, let’s just go to the movies once in a blue moon. We tend to do a lot of family trips as well. Try to get them away to Australia, to New Zealand.”

Being a mum and sister figure on the sports field, Tom tries to portray herself as a beast encouraging rugby players.

“I’d definitely be yelling and swearing and all that kind of stuff. But these days, the young ladies that are coming within rugby are such a development to us that we just only want them to be good, to be better. And the potential that they bring to the table is so high.”

She says it’s important not to smash young female athletes down, but encourage them

“As a young girl, I heard everything that people were saying to me. And some were harsh, some were, you know, positive. But if I can give a lot of positive vibes, they will try to do better.

“I am heavily involved with all these sports, and because it’s not individual sports, it’s teamwork. I do a lot of community stuff because my kids are involved in it. And then I end up being Aunty Sun everywhere.”

In wishing all mothers a Happy Mother’s Day, Tom acknowledges both her village for moulding her into the best woman she can be, and her mother for the never-ending support and love in raising her children together.