It was a phone call early in May that first alerted Leanne Rouse of Hikurangi (Northland, NZ) to the idea that people were talking about her.
It took Leanne several long moments to realise the caller didn't want her to do anything, organise anything or fundraise for anything.
“You are one of 10 finalists for New Zealand's ‘Mother of the Year' title,” said the caller.
A quick read of the promotional website confounded her. “My four children had each nominated me as ‘Mother of the Year,'” Leanne says. “It was humbling to realise they really do appreciate what I do for them.” After reading the profiles of the other nine nominees, Leanne went about her week “just like normal.” “The other mums were amazing,” says Leanne. “I didn't have grand hopes of winning— it was enough for me to have been nominated.” Within days, one-third of voters had judged Leanne to be New Zealand's “Mother of the Year.” The title and the prizes were hers.
everyday “Mother of the Year”
Essentially, Leanne is mother to anyone who walks through the door of her home.
With her husband Roger, Leanne has four biological children, as well as two full-timefoster children—both of whom have special needs. Additionally, three or four exchange students live with the family, most of whom stay for six to 12 months.
Leanne's 19-year-old daughter, Jayme-Lee, says, “It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, my mother takes everyone into her home and treats them as one of her own.
She has been the most supportive and understanding mum we could have asked for. We all love her to pieces.”
her driving force
Leanne's motivation is love. “I want to give my kids everything—and I'm not talking about money,” Leanne says.
“I'll do anything to make sure they have the best start in life.” Three years ago, Leanne was asked to look after an eight-year-old child with cerebral palsy and an intellectual handicap. “I remember the day my little foster sister arrived,” says Jayme-Lee.
“She was in a wheelchair, with her hair shaved and wearing clothes that were far too small for her. Seeing how she's developed into a confident 12-year-old is a testament to Mum's commitment and passion for motherhood. This child had been shifted around 12 different homes in the year before she was placed with us. My mum made sacrifices others were not willing to make.” Once again, Leanne's motivation for others is love. “I love to see kids grow with love,” she says.
Leanne dreams of the day she will go on an overseas holiday. “We've had exchange students from all over the world stay with us,” she says. “Norwegians, Canadians, Germans, Columbians, Brazilians ...” she rattles off a list of countries. “I keep in contact with most of them and, when we do take our holiday, we will probably be able to get right around the world without staying in a motel.” “At most times,” says Jayme-Lee, “we have four non-paying students from all over the world living with our family.
They fall in love with my mum and never want to go home. Every summer, past students return to our home to visit their ‘Kiwi mum' and family.” Leanne's second daughter, Jordyn, says, “Many times we have had more than 15 people squashed into our home.” Sons, Cody and Klay, add, “Our house is always completely full with no beds empty. There is nobody that my mum hasn't opened her home for. We have had cousins come and live with us so that they could have a fresh start. We have even had street kids live with us.” It's no surprise that Leanne's favourite Bible verse hinges on love. “John 3:16 is the central theme of the gospel,” says Leanne. “For God loved the world so much, He sent His only Son.”
Leanne doesn't consider herself to be super-organised. “I'm organised because I have to be but naturally we're very laid back. We don't get stressed and we take each day as it comes.” She's not big on delegating either.
“I don't have a life,” she says cheerfully.
“The kids go to school, I take one child half an hour away to school, I come home, tidy up, then it's time tostart collecting kids and taking them to after-school activities.
My motto: keep going, don't get sick, you'll be right.” As an afterthought, she says, “There needs to be a bit of a routine.”
Before kids, Leanne's chief interest was photography competitions.
One day, there will be time for pursuing this passion but in the meantime she gives herself a daily treat communicating with friends via email.
“Every day I check my mail,” she says. “For 15 minutes, I chat with my past exchange students and their families.
That's ‘my' time.” The happiest moment in Leanne's mothering career is, without a doubt, reading the letters her children wrote when they nominated her for “Mother of the Year.” “It's really hard being a teenager,” she says. “When you see they really appreciate what is done for them it makes everything worthwhile.” Kids often comment that Leanne has shown them they need neither alcohol nor drugs to have fun. “If that's what they learn by living with us, then that's just fantastic,” Leanne says.
Roger gets the last word about his wife's win. “I'm so proud of my wife but I won't build her anymore rooms, as I think eight bedrooms and 10 children is quite enough! I love her very much and never had any doubts she would win.
“She has so much love. I have told her no more children—she has no time for herself. She can't say no, and never thinks of herself and her own needs.
“She deserves to be ‘Mother of the Year' because of her unselfish, loving, caring nature. I'm very proud to call her my wife.”