Kids and Teens

Teenage girls need “other mothers” as mentors

Daughters can be deaf to maternal wisdom — so we need female mentors to help raise them

My two teenage daughters have reached the age where they stop asking me for advice. They no longer require my input because they already know everything (more than Google even). At 13 and 14, I believe they need to visit the bank of mother-love experience more than ever, but as any psychologist will tell you, teens refuse to make withdrawals from this particular account.So how do you help them become emotionally robust females? By finding “other mothers”, that’s how.

This week I met the feminist campaigner Nell Merlino. Almost 25 years ago she set up Take Our Daughters to Work Day in the US. About 37m Americans take part every April, and a network of female mentors has arisen out of the initiative, which has been adopted by other countries. Nell doesn’t have children, yet she has put her time and energy into helping young girls just like any devoted mum.

“I am an ‘other mother’,” she explains. “Most young girls need other mums — role models and mentors who help them define who they are. Someone who is not their actual mother to talk to.”


  • 50 The number of minutes teenage girls should spend with their mothers each day to maximise wellbeing and academic achievement (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2015)

The psychologist Steve Biddulph advocates a similar concept of “aunties” in his book Raising Girls, explaining that our daughters now spend much less time around influential older women, turning instead to social media for affirmation — which is stressful for anxiety-prone youngsters. The circle of women is “one of the great secrets of wellbeing for girls at puberty”, he concludes. And it doesn’t need to stop at teens.

The Turkish novelist and international political commentator Ece Temelkuran, who has no children of her own, tells me she has “adopted” several young women as would-be daughters, advising them on life’s tougher decisions. She once met a twentysomething stranger in a cafe and lent her a pair of smart shoes to go to a job interview. The woman stayed in touch after she got the job and still treasures the shoes 10 years down the line.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and right now I’m damned if I’ll let that village be Snapchat — so the hunt is on for some suitable “other mothers” for my teen girls. I’m secretly hoping Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman may apply, but failing that, candidates need to be patient and possess a sense of humour (gratitude is not in the teenage repertoire, FYI).

The prospective OMs should be able to convey the message that status and stuff are irrelevant — you can’t take either with you when you go — and that it’s OK to fail because tomorrow is another day. They should also be genuinely strong and stable females who can tell the story of a woman’s life well lived. Any takers?