Mother's Day maternal figures

7 women on the maternal figures that aren’t their mothers – from friends and aunts to grandmothers

Mother’s Day is the time to celebrate our mums but what if the best maternal figures in our lives aren’t actually our mothers? Stylist spoke to seven women about just that and their stories will warm your heart. 

Mother’s Day is a springtime occasion to treat your mother figure, but it can also bring up difficult feelings around motherhood, families and parental role models.

For many of us, Mother’s Day is a happy occasion filled with spa days, afternoon teas or other lighthearted antics. It’s a day that often involves sending a nice card and maybe a bouquet of flowers but perhaps not given much deeper thought. For others, however, the day can summon up difficult emotions around what the perfect mother looks like.

What if your idea of a perfect mother doesn’t actually revolve around your biological mother at all?

When you break down the concept of motherhood, we’re left with stereotypical ideas of strength, life lessons and inspiration. So, why can’t those qualities be found in other people or relationships within our lives? For some of us, those dynamics can be found in other family members, friends and unlikely acquaintances.

To mark Mother’s Day (27 March), Stylist asked seven women about the maternal figure in their lives who isn’t their mother. If you want to feel all warm inside, scroll on. 

Great Aunt (Nano)

Hera Mother's Day
Hera and her Nano.

“I come from a family of matriarchs on my mother’s side, as my grandmother had eight sisters! All of them were like grandmothers to me and I was fortunate to spend lots of time with them when I was growing up. But as each of them died, it was like losing a part of my heart. Many are still alive, though, and we remain close.

“I called (and call) them Nano, which means maternal grandmother in Punjabi and Urdu. They were – and are – always so loving and warm in the typical Punjabi fashion: they are so happy to see me and make me feel like a little child that has the shield of her elders.

“It’s hard to translate this feeling but they give advice and just being in their presence, you learn so much. In South Asian and Persian cultures, there is a concept of Sohbat (to be in the company of) and you learn by observation. But the unconditional love, laughter, kindness and life lessons are hard to come by when they leave.

“My bond with them has been made so special by the little things: them making my favourite food, buying me gifts, their faces lighting up when they see or hear me, or telling me stories of my childhood. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend so much time with all of them in Pakistan, the US and Canada and now, we keep in touch through voicenotes and texts on WhatsApp groups.”

Hera, 32, Manchester 

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Jo Marie
Jo and her aunt Rosie.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have not one but two mother figures in my life: my wonderful mum and then her older sister, my Aunt Rosemary, who is always Rosie to me.

“My mum’s mum died before I was born so, to me, Rosie has always been the head of my family on my mum’s side.

“She is very much the glue that holds the family together and whenever anyone in the family needs anything, she is always on hand to help find a solution. From medical appointments to life admin, she has acted as a sort of superhuman personal assistant to us all for as long as I can remember.

“As a child, I thought of her as a sort of magic fairy godmother – she could always make me laugh and cheer me up no matter what. Whatever I needed, she could magic it up, whether it was a last-minute fancy-dress outfit or help with a creative project for school, she always had a magic wand (and a sewing machine) on hand.

“Despite her being pretty much everyone’s go-to person, she has always had unlimited time for me. Always making sure I knew I had her acceptance and support, she never judged my terrible teenage decisions, whether they were haircuts or boyfriends, and has always been my greatest cheerleader in life being on hand to celebrate whenever I’ve achieved anything big or small.

“I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without the role she has selflessly played in my life for the last 34 years.”

Jo, 34, Chester 

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Zoe Mother's Day
Zoe and her friend.

“I had a slightly different relationship with my mum growing up than the norm so I always sought out motherly figures in friends.

“One of my friends – who is older than me – has always been a maternal figure to me. I refer to her as my mum at times and we have little jokes about it.

“We’ve been super close since the day we met through a friend nearly two years ago – I was looking for a place to live and so was she. We met up for a coffee date to see if we’d get on and instantly I felt like I’d known her for years. We laughed, spoke about our interests and both left hoping the other felt the same. We did and started looking for a flat.

“We’d met at a point where I was in the middle of healing from some trauma I’d experienced through my mum’s illness. My mum was an alcoholic (she’s now in recovery, 20 months sober) and I’d also come out of a toxic relationship so I was trying to piece together who I was. While my mum is very lovely, when you have a parent who struggles with mental health, sometimes you end up taking on the role of carer.

“My friend feels like home because she feels stable to me and I feel really settled, which isn’t a normal feeling for me.

“She sits and listens when I feel a certain way and doesn’t ever judge me for how I’m feeling, she just offers guidance from experience. I feel like that is what mums are ‘supposed’ to do (even though I feel like there is way too much pressure on mums to be everything). She’s really taught me how to stand up for myself, how to be kind, how to show up for others and myself and how to also have loads of fun while doing it. I go to her when I need advice or someone to cry to or celebrate with. She’s my number one supporter but will also call me out if I haven’t been mindful in certain situations.”  

Zoe, 30, London

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“My mother passed away when I was 25 and my aunt has been my ‘mum’ ever since but, more recently, so has my mother-in-law.

“I’ve known her since 2018 – almost four years – and she’s slotted into the maternal role through the many things she does: little mum-like things and many small moments where she has mothered me and made me feel like a daughter again. It’s odd to explain but once you lose a parent – and in my case have no contact with my father – you lose that feeling of being someone’s daughter.

“Whenever I’m unwell, she’s on my case about going to the doctor (much like my mum used to do) or she will bring medicine over to the house. When I need anything, at any point, she does not hesitate for a single moment. She showers me with affection when I need it or even just for the fun of it. It’s hard to describe it exactly but it’s a feeling she gives me that’s very maternal.

“My wedding and everything leading up to it cemented her as a maternal figure for me. She planned the whole thing and, to make it even more special, she sent me away to a hotel for three nights so that it would all be a big surprise for me. The reception took place in our home and she absolutely transformed it into the most magical scenery I have ever seen, well beyond my wildest imagination, and she did all that because she wanted to see the look on my face when I walked in for the first time.

“She helped me pick out my dress, plan my hair and make-up, and really held my hand throughout the entire process in a way I always envisioned my mother would have.”

Lina, 32, Lichfield 

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Family friend 

Nikki Mother's Day
Nikki and her family friend.

“My mum’s best friend doesn’t have kids of her own and has always been a bit like a second mum to me. She and my mum have grown up together so she’s already basically part of the family. We’re very close and go for days out, meals together and I always ask her advice on things for a slightly different perspective.

“She’s so caring and supportive and while she may be my mum’s best friend, I can also tell her things in confidence.”

Nikki, 30, London 

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“My late aunt was more than a mother to me. She raised my sister and I from a young age and we lived primarily with her. This is common practice among Nigerian families – we’re used to spending infinite amounts of time with extended family members.

“When I had some difficulties during my undergraduate years, she was a guiding, reassuring and soothing presence. She never criticised or made me feel awkward about what was happening. She told me to come home while I sorted things out and gave me the unconditional support that I always knew I would receive from her.

“The unending love she provided is the one thing I miss sorely about her as well as her presence and humour. I was not her biological child but she treated me like so. To this effect, I called her mummy because there was no other word to describe her.”

Davina, 28, London 

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Laura Mother's Day
Laura, her sister and her father.

“I’m from Colombia and when I was eight years old, my mum moved to Spain to seek a better life for me and my twin sister.

“During that time, my dad took care of us and he used to help us with homework, cooked for us and even did our hair.

“The whole experience benefited me because I was able to create a deep relationship with my father. It also helped me to build resilience and be more open-minded towards talking about different things that you typically wouldn’t with your dad.

“Having your mum so far away and only seeing her once a year was tough but at least I had my dad – he was always seen as the ‘cool dad’ who allowed us to throw parties at home and loved cooking for us and our friends.”

Laura, 31, London 

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