You can rent just about anything these days. An hour with a litter of kittens? Done. Someone to stand in line for you to buy Broadway tickets? No problem.
Now, you can even rent a mother.
Nina Keneally, the mind behind NeedAMomNYC, recently moved from Connecticut to Bushwick, the Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood where hipsters flock in droves. Soon afterward, the 64-year-old attended a yoga class in which she was often the oldest person. She began listening to the problems of her much younger counterparts and dishing out advice.
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“It seemed to give them some support and some comfort and I enjoyed doing it,” she says. “So I thought, Maybe there’s an opening here for some kind of temporary, non-real, nonjudgmental, mom-type figure.”
Nina will listen to you gripe about your roommate over a cup of tea, teach you how to make a pecan pie, buy your real mom’s Christmas gift or even review your résumé. Her primarily 20-something clientele wax indignant about everything from modern dating to their fledgling acting careers. She launched in October 2015, and her services cost $40 an hour. Most of her clients are women, and she sees a few weekly. Nina emphasizes that she is not a licensed therapist. But she does have a clinical background; she is a certified drug and rehab counselor and worked in a methadone clinic for eight years.
She enjoys being a temporary mom figure for young adults. “I get insight and information from my younger clients and that keeps me energized and engaged with life,” she says. “It’s also very fulfilling to be useful and sometimes even help people.”
Intrigued, and living in a new city away from my own mom, I tried her service for myself via an hourlong Skype session.
Laptop and green tea in hand, I wandered around in search of an empty conference room at my office. I had knots in my stomach and sweaty palms. I have never seen a therapist before and rarely talk about my problems with friends or family, so this experience was going to be new for me.
I stared at the Post-it note full of problems stuck to my laptop screen and began at the top of my list: drinking. I’m 26 years old and feel sick nearly every time I drink alcohol. If it’s not a migraine, it’s a stomachache. I don’t enjoy drinking, yet I do it because of the social pressure attached to it. I voiced my concerns to Nina.
Her primarily 20-something clientele wax indignant about everything from modern dating to their fledgling acting careers.
“I would be happy with never drinking again,” I said. “But in social situations, I feel like it’s really awkward to be the one 26-year-old who doesn’t like to drink. Do you have advice for situations where I don’t know people and feel uncomfortable not drinking?”
In true mom-fashion, she gave me the advice I had expected: Be honest. “I think in this kind of case, honesty is the best policy,” she told me in a motherly tone. “I think it’s bothering you more than it will bother other people.”
She was trying to be comforting, but this wasn’t particularly helpful—I already knew I could try being honest. But then she added a morsel of practical advice in the event that I didn’t take the honesty route: Order a club soda and cranberry juice with a lime and no one will be the wiser.
Yes! That’s exactly what I was looking for—an actual coping mechanism for a problem that makes me socially anxious.
When she saw I liked the club soda idea, she laughed and reminded me that being dishonest can also create misconceptions: “You don’t want people to think you’re an ex-substance abuser if they don’t have to.” I laughed, too, and began warming up to my new rental mom.
Nina’s venture has aroused some strange reactions. At first, Mary Quigley was skeptical about the business. Quigley, a New York University professor and journalist, writes frequently about parenting adult children—both for the AARP blog and on her own blog, Mothering21. She says after she contemplated it more, though, she saw merit.
“Long-term—if you need a therapist, you need a therapist,” Quigley says. “But short-term, to get through some issues that can be easily resolved, it helps to have somebody with no emotional attachment, but who has common sense, who has lived life, who has a couple of kids of her own and who knows what it’s like to be that age. That’s valuable.”
Nina would agree; she cites her objective perspective as one of her major selling points.
“Even the best family relationships, parent-child relationships, there’s baggage,” says Nina, who has two sons, ages 31 and 28. “And they don’t check the baggage at the door. I don’t have any of that baggage; I don’t have the history.”
My own mom is my sounding board for the things I’m worried or self-conscious about. Lately, that has been my vitiligo, or lack of pigment in my hair and skin. I have fair skin, so I am able to cover up most of my vitiligo with makeup. But I still get very self-conscious about my white streaks of hair or how my skin looks without makeup. “I know most people can’t tell I have it with my makeup on, but it still really bothers me,” I tell Nina. “Is there any way to feel better about it?”
She said that unfortunately, we live in a society where appearance is very important, especially for women. “But I think the important thing for you is you have the rest of your appearance—your hair, your clothes—you keep track of all that,” she said. “You take pride where you can take pride.”
My own mom probably would have said something similar. But it’s hard to be comforted by a stranger talking to me through a computer screen.
I did find our lack of intimacy advantageous when I talked to Nina about a friend I’m worried about, an issue with a freelance writing job and a disagreement I had with my fiancé—something I’d never discuss with my own mom. Because there was no attachment or bias with Nina, I felt I could talk more freely.
It was awkward at first, but I came away from the hour of pseudo-mom time feeling rejuvenated… and a little strange. Nina gave me some valuable advice, and it felt nice to talk things through with someone. I can see how this would be useful. But in the end, it’s still a surface-level interaction. The whole thing did make for a fun conversation later that night, though, when I called my own mom.
This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer based in Chicago and the former features editor of SUCCESS magazine. Her work has been published in The Cut, VICE, Inc., The Chicago Tribune and Business Insider, among other publications. When she's not writing, she can usually be found drinking matcha tea into excess, traveling somewhere new with her husband or surfing Etsy late into the night.