Family

Why Miriama Smith felt so torn between family and her work

With the decision to take on the biggest role of her acting career came a lot of mother's guilt.

After making a life-changing decision, there comes a time when you are shown whether you made the right call or not. For 800 Words actress Miriama Smith, the proof came in a common, but horrible, package: a classic Auckland traffic jam.

Miriama, her husband Dylan Marychurch and their five-year-old son Rauaroha had made the move away from the big smoke in 2014 after realising that between jobs and life admin, they were spending half their day just trying to get to each other. So they moved to Katikati, and then to Waihi Beach. But because Miriama's job is Auckland-centric, she was aware she would have to commute back up.

On the day of her Australian Women's Weekly photoshoot, she did her normal heading-to-Auckland routine: woke up at 4am, showered, and got in the car to begin the two-hour drive. She hit the Bombay Hills – the area that marks the end of the Waikato and the start of Auckland – at 5.30am.

"I was high-fiving myself: 'I'll be able to go to the gym, get a few things done.'" Not so fast. One big car accident had blocked the entire motorway. And so it was that Miriama turned up to the photoshoot at 10am after around six hours of sitting in traffic – yet somehow still in good spirits. "The average Aucklander spends 80 hours a year getting somewhere," she recites. "That's two weeks of your life." She's never felt better about the decision to move.

"Time is the new currency."

The importance of whanau

The family's decision to move down country was partly for a better lifestyle, but it was also a chance to reconnect with their extended whanau. Miriama, raised in Whakarewarewa outside of Rotorua, and then Porirua, had grown up with her wider family around her, a relationship that was of great importance.

"If I think about the most influential person in my life, it's my grandmother. She still resonates with me a lot," she says. "My mum, my nana, my aunties – they ruled the house when I was growing up."

But with her own child, Miriama had found that Rauaroha's time with his grandparents, who live in the Bay of Plenty, was becoming more limited, and he was always having to relearn his connection to them.

"We realised we needed to protect that relationship, because who knows how long it's going to be around for. So that was a catalyst for us. Also, as parents, you want to put your stake in the ground. So we just threw caution to the wind and moved."

There's a reason why Miriama, who turns 42 this June, is so good at that commute to Auckland, however, and that's because – in a twist of Murphy's law – just as her family made the shift south, she was offered the biggest role of her career: as Brady, the ambitious matriarch of a troubled family in Filthy Rich. It was a lead role in a multi-million-dollar TV show – a dream for an actor.

But it meant commuting to Auckland and living there during the week, heading back to the Bay of Plenty at the weekend to be with her family and to also help run the five-hectare avocado orchard she and Dylan had taken on. The timing wasn't exactly perfect, but Miriama and Dylan had already decided she would head back to work when their son turned two. She had been at home with Rauaroha for 18 months, so while the role came ahead of schedule, it was too good to pass up.

"All the signs went to 'it's what you want to do'," she recalls.

She knew the decision to take the job would be potentially controversial and require a lot of effort. But she wanted to make it work.

"Being honest with myself and sitting in my truth… I really wanted 
to go back to work. Life is a great opportunity and we shouldn't live it out of guilt or apology. I was prepared for people to go, 'What do you mean you don't see your son for five days of the week?' And I did [get that], from a lot of mums, generally, who couldn't really comprehend how I could do that."

It also meant fighting against self-judgement.

"I had to sit back and ask myself, 'Where is the pressure really coming from?' And most of it was just myself. So [I had to] accept this desire to work, without feeling guilty."

read more from