mothers and daughters

25 Famous Women on Their Mothers

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No matter how you slice it, most mother-daughter relationships are dizzyingly complex, filled with laughter, fighting, and so much love. As part of the Cut’s All in the Family series, we’ve rounded up a list of uplifting, profound, and heartbreaking quotes from powerful women including Kamala Harris, Jada Pinkett Smith, Michelle Obama, and Maya Angelou about their relationships with their mothers. Read on for memories on love, loss, anger, and understanding.

1. Mindy Kaling
“My relationship with my mom is really the single most profound relationship that I’ve ever had in my life … I said to her, ‘Mom, I’m going to be so lonely without you.’ And she just said, ‘You have to be your own best friend. If you always remember that, you will always have someone there with you.’” — Vulture, September 2012

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

2. Michelle Obama
“When it came to raising her kids, my mom knew that her voice was less important than allowing me to use my own. That meant she listened a lot more than she lectured. Growing up, she was willing to endure endless questioning from me — Why did we have to eat eggs for breakfast? Why do people need jobs? Why are the houses bigger in other neighborhoods? She didn’t chide me if I scrapped with some of the neighbor kids or challenged my ornery grandfather when I thought he was being a little too ornery. She listened intently to the lunchtime conversations I had with my schoolmates over bologna sandwiches, and nodded patiently along to tales of my contentious piano lessons with my great aunt Robbie.

In today’s world, it’s easy to hear all that and think that Marian Robinson was bordering on negligent, that she was letting the kids rule the roost. But the reality was far from that. She and my father, Fraser, were wholly invested in their children, pouring a deep and durable foundation of goodness and honesty, of right and wrong, into my brother and me. After that, they simply let us be ourselves.” — People, May 2019

3. Nora Ephron
“If you came to [my mother] with a tragedy — and God knows children have a lot of tragedies — she really wasn’t interested in it at all. She wasn’t one of those mothers who went, ‘Oh honey, tell me what happened to you at school. What did the bad girls do to you?’ No. She just would say, ‘Oh well, everything is copy.’ And all she meant was that someday you will make this into a funny story, or a story, and when you do, I will be happy to listen to it, but not until then. I think she basically taught us a very fundamental rule of humor — probably of Jewish humor if you want to put a very fine definition on it, although she would not think so — which is that if you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you, but if you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your joke, and you’re the hero of the joke. It basically is the greatest lesson I think you can ever give anyone. I always worry I didn’t teach it well enough to my own kids, because I was such a good mother. I always said, ‘Oh honey, tell me what happened to you.’ I’m kind of mystified that she didn’t, ‘cause it really is weird and sort of against human nature practically, but that was just who she was.” — Academy of Achievement, June 2007

4. Gloria Estefan
“My mother was a teacher in Cuba, and when she left the country they tore up her title. But they can’t take away your education. She didn’t cry, and I never heard her complain. Instead she went back to school to revalidate her title so that she could work as a teacher. So, for me, ‘no’ is a challenge; it inspires me to prove that yes, it can be done.” — HOLA! USA, March 2019

5. Cheryl Strayed
“One Christmas at the very beginning of your twenties when your mother gives you a warm coat that she saved for months to buy, don’t look at her skeptically after she tells you she thought the coat was perfect for you. Don’t hold it up and say it’s longer than you like your coats to be and too puffy and possibly even too warm. Your mother will be dead by spring. That coat will be the last gift she gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life. Say thank you.” — Dear Sugar, February 2011

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6. Hillary Rodham Clinton
“Shortly after we moved to Park Ridge, my mother noticed that I was reluctant to go outside to play. Sometimes I came in crying, complaining that the girl across the street was always pushing me around. Suzy O’Callaghan had older brothers, and she was used to playing rough. I was only four years old, but my mother was afraid that if I gave in to my fears, it would set a pattern for the rest of my life. One day, I came running into the house. She stopped me. ‘Go back out there,’ she ordered, ‘and if Suzy hits you, you have my permission to hit her back. You have to stand up for yourself. There’s no room in this house for cowards.’ She later told me she watched from behind the dining room curtain as I squared my shoulders and marched across the street. I returned a few minutes later, glowing with victory. ‘I can play with the boys now,’ I said. ‘And Suzy will be my friend!’ She was and she still is.” — Living History, June 2003

7. Maya Angelou
“My mom was a terrible parent of small children but a great parent of young adults. She’d talk to me as if I had some sense … She taught me so much … And once, we walked down to the pickle factory at the foot of the hill, where the air was redolent with mustard and vinegar — ‘Baby, you know something?’ my mother said to me. ‘I think you’re the greatest woman I’ve ever met — and I’m not including my mother or Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt in that.’” O, The Oprah Magazine, December 2000

8. Kamala Harris
“My sister Maya and I were raised by a strong mother. My mother taught us the importance of a good education. ⁣She taught us the good old-fashioned value of hard work. ⁣She taught us don’t let anyone tell you who you are. You tell them who you are. ⁣She taught us not only to dream but to do. ⁣She taught us to believe in our power to right what is wrong. ⁣And she was the kind of parent who if you came home complaining about something, she’d say, ‘Well what are you gonna do about it?’ So I decided to run for President of the United States.” — Instagram, July 2019

9. Patti Davis
“My mother and I have never been mild with one another. Whether we were miles apart and blaming each other or strongly and lovingly bonded together, our emotions burned up the color chart. Nothing was ever gray. We do have a friendship now — not that dissimilar to the one I imagined so long ago. But it’s been hard-won. At some point, I stopped looking back at the journey and just enjoyed where we’ve ended up. Apparently, so did she. One day on the phone she said, ‘I just don’t really think about those years anymore.’” — The Lives Our Mothers Leave Us, April 2009

10. Diane Keaton
“You know, mom, sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had told you how much I love the sound of your laughter. Would that have made you feel proud of yourself? Or what if I just told you how proud I was to be the daughter of a really special former Mrs. Los Angeles? Would that have made a difference? Or if I’d, oh god, told you how quickly I ran home to you the day Dave Garland stuck his finger in my padded bra and made me feel humiliated? Would you have finally understood that you were irreplaceable, mom? Or what if I just told you how much fun it was for me just to sit across from the kitchen counter and watch you make your midafternoon snack of Wheat Thins with longhorns and dill pickles on the side, would you have felt fulfilled?” — The Hollywood Reporter, December 2012

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11. Stevie Nicks
“My mother was always totally supportive of me at whatever I wanted to do — even as a young girl. But she was also very strict with me and she was hard on me in a lot of ways because she wanted me to be independent…and she wanted me to not ever have to depend on anyone. And she wanted me to be fearless — so I had to work for everything I got … My mom would always say to me, ‘You better be the president of your company or the lead singer of your band or the boss — because you don’t like being told what to do.’ And she was totally right. — Oprah’s Master Class, March 2013

12. Diane von Furstenberg
“I didn’t used to talk nearly as much about my mother. I took her for granted, as children do their mothers. It was not until she died in 2000 that I fully realized what an incredibly huge influence she had been on me and how much I owe her. Like any child, I hadn’t paid much attention. I’d brush her off, or even pretend not to hear. I bridled, too, at the unsolicited advice she persisted in giving my friends. Now, of course, I feel I have had the experience and earned the wisdom to hand out my own unsolicited advice, and I press every lesson my mother taught me on my children, grandchildren, and anyone I talk to. I have become her.” — The Woman I Wanted to Be, October 2014

13. Jada Pinkett Smith
“When I was growing up, my mother only put her foot down once: She said, ‘You are going to college.’ And that was a lifesaving moment. But she never talked to me about my clothes or hair. So I learned how to parent my kids through her.” — Redbook, June 2013

14. Gloria Steinem
“Before I was born, [my mother] had what was then called a nervous breakdown. So the truth is, I don’t quite know what happened. Decades later, when I was in college, she was in a mental hospital for a couple of years, and she finally got some help. I asked one of the doctors there … He said the closest he could come was that it was an anxiety neurosis. I asked him if he would say her spirit was broken, and he said yes. It was only then that I began to understand she had given up being a pioneer reporter, given up on her friends, and everything she loved … Like so many women, I was living out the unlived life of my mother – so I wouldn’t be her. But the price I paid was that I distanced myself internally. I wasn’t as close to her then as I now, in retrospect, wish I had been.” — Interview Magazine, July 2011

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15. Kathy Griffin
“Even at 51, I still turn to her for advice. One thing I’ve done ever since I got my first apartment is whenever I go out with friends or to an event, I stop by my mom’s apartment afterward. It’ll be one in the morning and I’ll be in a ball gown and I can’t resist going to do the postmortem with her. She keeps very late hours like I do, so I’ll knock on the door and she’ll have a glass of wine and we’ll talk and laugh until three in the morning.” — Gourmet, May 2012

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16. Jodie Foster
“We had a career together, we traveled everywhere together, she made decisions. She was a mostly negative influence in my life [laughs]. No. She just liked to tell me all the bad things that were going to happen. So there was a lot of — she’d lean over to me and say, ‘By the way, by the time you’re 17, your career will be over. So what do you want to be when you grow up — a doctor, a lawyer, something like that.’… She always said to me, ‘By the time you’re 40, your career will be over,’ too. There was a lot of that … And she’d always say, ‘You’re on a downward spiral!’ [Laughs.] … I was nominated for four Academy Awards but only won two. So for the fourth one, she was like, ‘You’re on a downward spiral!’” Late Night with David Letterman, May 2011

17. Erica Jong
“My mother used to say, ‘You’re a wonderful poet, but when I read your novels, I feel I’m reading my obituary.’ People think I’m outspoken, but she was even more so — and now I know that was a gift … My mother hated Mother’s Day, as she hated hypocrisy. Here was this anti-war holiday demoted to treacly sentimentality. It was supposed to be a holiday for peace, not for chocolate truffles. When my sisters and I tried to give her Mother’s Day gifts, she never let us forget how false Mother’s Day was. Mothers are about giving life, not chocolates.” — The Daily Beast, May 2013

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18. Rashida Jones
“My mother and I are more than best friends; we are partners in crime. After she and my father, Quincy Jones, separated when I was 10 years old, my sister, Kidada, who was 12, went to live with our dad, and I stayed with my mother. Mom is the most unconditionally loving person I will ever know, and she has always supported me on every level. Until last year she worked with me before every audition; she’s given me perspective, and she has let me cry when things haven’t gone my way—which, when you’re an actress, can happen a lot.” — O, The Oprah Magazine, April 2009

19. Mary H.K. Choi
“I work a lot. I’ve never had the weeks between Christmas and New Year’s off, but these days I don’t love money how I used to. My mom though, I’m crazy about. I think about her all the time and can’t stand it. When she rings during a meal I get indigestion if I don’t call her back immediately. There’s a roiling shame spiral wherein I become resentful that she called at all and punish us both by prolonging the wait. I have no idea when my perception of my mother became the calculated crush of my life but it has. I don’t go home for birthdays or holidays, and on the occasions I do visit, I express my affection in strange ways. I wait for her to fall asleep and peer over her body and imagine what it’d be like if she died. I just stand there, hot silent tears coursing down my face. We’re not a demonstrative family, and such maudlin, psycho behavior is fair grounds for riotous derision. I love my mom and it’s a secret. I love her so much it kills me, and you bet I’d sooner die than tell her.” — Aeon, April 2013

20. Goldie Hawn
“The truth is that no matter how old we are, as long as our mothers are alive, we want our mother. And it’s a very powerful relationship if it’s healthy. I miss my mother today. I think the transition does happen but I don’t think we ever lose our positioning because we don’t want to lose our mother. It’s a very, very interesting walk.” — The Associated Press, May 2013

21. Lindsay Peoples Wagner
“My mother spent a lot of time talking to me about how if I wanted to be in this creative field, then I needed to stand out. She was like, ‘If you’re going to do this, then you need to be doing something different and dynamic and be what you needed when you were younger.’” — Fashionista, November 2018

22. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
“My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent. The study of law was unusual for women of my generation. For most girls growing up in the ’40s, the most important degree was not your B.A., but your M.R.S.” — via the ACLU

23. Jane Fonda
“I can now understand that my mother was all the things that people have described — the icon, the flame, the follow-spot — and also all that I had felt as a child — a victim, a beautiful but damaged butterfly, unable to give me what I needed — to be loved, seen — because she could not give it to herself. As a bright, resilient child, I had sensed, with the animal instinct children have, deep wounds that had been inflicted on her early in her life. I had caught the doomed scent of her fragility, which was probably only intensified by the men she chose. As a child, this scared me, and I moved away from it. Now, as an adult, I can see it as her story, not mine, and begin to move into my own.” — My Life So Far, April 2006

Photo: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

24. Tracee Ellis Ross
“Well, my mom was very glamorous, but that was her work world. Our home was filled with beautiful things. My mom had beautiful clothes; my mom is elegant; my mom is glamorous. But my mom is also really real, and I grew up with a mother who had babies crawling on her head and spitting up on her when she was wearing gorgeous, expensive things, and it was never an issue.” — The New York Times Magazine, January 2015

25. Zadie Smith
“I do have more sympathy for my mother, which I guess recently I have been lacking. We have a pretty fiery relationship, and my mother and her mother have a pretty fiery relationship. Now I have a daughter and I’m almost thirty-five, and I realize it is not so easy to have a kid. Mother was twenty and so young and innocent, married to a man thirty years older. You start to appreciate what somebody else went through so it makes you more sympathetic, I suppose.” — Brick, June 2010

25 Famous Women on Their Mothers