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5 Inspiring Women on Lessons from Their Mothers

Cecile Richards, Anna Quindlen, Maaza Mengiste, and other trailblazers on what their mothers taught them.

By Tory Hoen

Mother-daughter relationships are as complex as they come, but inevitably, we look to our mothers (or mother figures) for guidance on how to live. Sometimes that guidance is given freely and explicitly; sometimes it’s unspoken, but still clearly communicated. Here, we ask six women whom we greatly admire to share the lessons and advice they got from their moms.

Activist and Co-founder of Supermajority

Cecile Richards

“My mother was a tough, no-nonsense Texas woman. She gave me lots of advice: Never wear patterns on television. If you’re going to be in the public eye, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble if you pick a hairstyle and stick with it. Before naming your child, think about how it’ll look on a bumper sticker. (The list goes on!)

One of the best pieces of advice she ever gave me was this: If you hold out for an invitation, chances are you’ll miss the party. When she first ran for office, it wasn’t because someone knocked on her door and said, ‘You know, Ann, you’d be really great at this!’ It was because she knew in her heart she could do it, even if nobody else thought so. In other words, if you see a job you want to apply for or a chance to make a difference, don’t wait for someone to come along and ask you—just go for it.”


“My mom is not interested in what others think of her. When I was writing my book, The Likeability Trap, she was completely baffled by my preoccupation with likeability. ‘I assume everyone likes me,’ she said. ‘And if they don’t, screw them.’ That may never be me, but it is a sense of self I aspire to!”


“My mother had a gift. She wasn’t what you’d call witty or clever. She had no more than a high school education, and once the first of her five children was born (that would be me), she never worked outside the home. But she had a gift for unconditional love. I think each of us believe we were her favorite. And maybe, given the sheer size of her heart, that was the case.”


“Since I was a girl, I’ve admired my mother’s ability to work around the barriers of culture, patriarchy, education, and every other thing that gets in the way of an ambitious, intelligent woman. Whenever I came to her to talk about a new project, a new job, a new step in my career, she knew immediately that I wasn’t ‘telling’ her anything—I was silently seeking her advice without doing so. My mother and I are both stubborn. In those moments, she listened to me carefully, and when I finished, she’d say casually, ‘Well, I don’t know why you wouldn’t do it. Why not?’ And leave it there for me. These days, whenever I come up to a new challenge, I hear her still: Why not?

Graphic Designer

“My mom tells me, ‘You need to eat and put on some weight.’ As simple as that. At surface level, there’s nothing profound or even intellectual about it, but it’s a mom’s love for a child who is obviously more interested in doing things than sitting down for a meal.”

Tory Hoen

Written By

Tory Hoen

Tory Hoen is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. She spent five years as the Creative Director of Brand at MM.LaFleur (where she founded The M Dash!) and has written for New York Magazine, Fortune, Bon Appétit, and Condé Nast Traveler. She loves doughnuts and inter-species friendships.

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