Jenne Roberts (with her daughter Saveeta) after winning the NT Mother of the Year Award.
With nominations now open for the Barnados Mother of the Year Awards, we spoke to a 2015 finalist who said her sexuality was no barrier for the recognition she received.
As a lesbian and single mother, Jenne Roberts has faced her share of discrimination in the past 20 years of her parenting journey.
So when Roberts found out she had been nominated for a Barnardos Mother of the Year (BMOTY) award, she was convinced she would be disqualified because of her sexuality and marital status.
“It didn’t affect anything. There was no hint of homophobia, no issue at all,” she said.
“They (Barnardos) were so good to us and so positive and so genuine, they were about celebrating mothers.”
Roberts went on to win the Northern Territory BMOTY earlier this year after her 17-year-old daughter Saveeta nominated her.
Saveeta jokes she made the decision to nominate her mum because she had let her take the day off school.
“The thing with mums is you don’t see them fighting for you. It’s when you stop and take a step back and look at what they’re doing for you, you see how hard they work,” she said.
“We had been through such a tough time… I could see how she had helped me.
“I’m not good at expressing emotions so that’s why I put in the nomination.
“I’m just so full of gratitude and thanks to her.”
The tough time the mother and daughter duo faced began a couple of years ago when Saveeta fell into a deep depression and attempted suicide a few times.
Doctors originally dismissed Saveeta’s health issues simply as a teenage issue and “lots of girls go through anxiety”.
“Doctors were like, ‘she’s just a teenager’, without listening or thinking about it.”
Homophobia also prevented doctors from correctly diagnosing Saveeta’s condition, with one psychiatric registrar in Darwin allegedly suggesting it was Roberts’ “unusual lifestyle” causing Saveeta’s anxiety.
“You do have to deal with that homophobia and mother blaming a lot,” Roberts said.
Roberts’ tenacity and determination to help her daughter eventually resulted in doctors discovering an underlying genetic condition causing Saveeta’s health issues, which taught her a valuable lesson.
“Nobody cared about my kid as much as I did, not the paid professionals. Nobody was going to push and investigate and be there day in and day out,” Roberts said.
“I didn’t have much energy left to stand up, I was using all the energy in my fight to help Saveeta.”
Roberts has been fighting for Saveeta since before her birth. Twenty years ago when Roberts decided to become a mother, she faced a number of “legal battles to access fertility” and had to leave the Northern Territory.
“I didn’t know other lesbians who had kids. It was just a challenge to get pregnant and become a mum,” she said.
Barnardos Australia — a leading child protection charity — hosts the annual BMOTY event and its director of marketing Manisha Amin wanted people to put their thinking caps on to nominate a great mother they may know.
“[The Roberts] touched our hearts for a number of reasons. Firstly, because her daughter nominated her and we saw a mother that dealt with a challenge in a pragmatic way,” Amin said.
“She rolled up her sleeves and got on with it.”
Some of the 2016 BMOTY ambassadors include high-profile lesbian couple, Kerryn Phelps and Jackie Stricker-Phelps.
Nominations are open for the 2016 BMOTY awards and Amin said a woman’s sexuality didn’t matter, it’s about how they mother.
“Think about what exceptional means in parenting. Think about your own journey and people that have helped you though that journey?” she said.
Nominate someone you know who is a great mum!
(This article was first published in the Star Observer and was written by Shannon Power.)