Courtesy of Nina Keneally
- Nina Keneally founded Need a Mom NYC, where she offers the services of a mom for $40 an hour.
- She’s been tasked with everything from doling out dating advice to helping navigate social services.
- She’s also had to turn down jobs to impersonate a real mother, talk dirty, and go to a colonoscopy.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Nina Keneally, a 71-year-old mom for hire in the Berkshires region of Massachusetts about her job. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Everyone needs a mom at some point in their lives.
When I was 63 years old, my husband and I moved from Connecticut to Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was there that I discovered young adults seemed to flock to me in public places like laundromats and coffee shops in search of guidance on everything from doing laundry to giving gifts to navigating the complex world of dating.
I also remember thinking that over the course of my adult life, I had managed to take on three significant roles — as the mother of two boys, a theater producer, and a rehabilitation counselor. Each role allowed me to develop a very different skill set, and I began contemplating ways to put them all together and create something.
I started Need a Mom NYC in 2015. The work is part time, and I charge $30 an hour for the first two sessions and $40 after that for services a mom may provide. Here’s how I built it into a business.
A professional mom is many things
I consider myself a cross between a personal mentor and a parent, and there’s an understanding between me and my clients that I do things with them, not for them.
I won’t do laundry or clean your bathroom, but I’ll show you how to get it done because my goal is to help you develop the basic life skills you need to survive as a fully functional adult.
Parents are too enmeshed in their children’s lives these days. There used to be helicopter parents — now there are cockpit parents. I’m old school in that I want to help instill a level of self-sufficiency while also providing a certain level of maternal support to my clients.
I’ve helped reformat a résumé, taught a guy how to iron his shirt before a big job interview, and shared recipes for chicken soup. I’ve also lent an ear about a bad breakup, shared dating tips, and even helped a client who had been raped get the support services she needed.
I’ve turned down plenty of jobs that raised red flags
One guy asked me to accompany him to get a colonoscopy, and someone else wanted me to talk dirty with him. I also always turn down requests to pretend to be someone’s actual mother. I’ve been offered a lot of money countless times by guys who either didn’t have good relationships with their mothers or were embarrassed by them to get on the phone with their new girlfriends and pretend to be their mom.
I always tell them if they truly like this woman and think they might have a future together, they’re digging themselves into a pretty big hole starting off the relationship this way. It’s better to be upfront than doom your relationship from the start.
Clients often come to me with an idea of what they believe a mother or family should be, and I try to work with them to help them understand that those perceptions are not necessarily real. I find that’s a particularly important message to convey to young women who may one day want families of their own.
The first thing many clients say to me is ‘I’ve never done anything like this’
My job requires a lot of listening because I want my clients to feel comfortable, and I take cues from them. I always tread carefully and initiate the kind of friendly conversation one might have with a friend or neighbor, which allows them to get a sense of who I am and helps put them at ease.
I’m quick to point out I’m not a therapist. A lot of my clients have me and a therapist and find that we each fulfill a different hole in parts of their lives. In that sense, I’m filling a gap.
One of the biggest differences between a therapist and me is I’m able to do some self-disclosure about incidents in my own family to help clients feel that they’re not alone. The ability to share examples of my own loss of a loved one and relationship tensions allows them to understand that others have survived whatever it is they’re going through, and they will, too.
I was hesitant at first to work with clients in their 40s and above
I thought they were looking for more of a friend or grandmother. In the end, I gave in and started working with that age group and found it to be very valuable, because their insight at that point in life somehow makes my insight more valuable. They don’t need different services, but at that age, my advice hits differently.
One thing I know for sure is no one really likes unsolicited advice. That’s why I’ve learned not to offer any, whether it’s to my own two sons, now 34 and 36, or my clients.
Keneally with her own sons and daughter-in-law.
Courtesy of Nina Keneally
Everyone tells me I should charge a whole lot more, but I haven’t raised my rates since I launched because I want to continue to be accessible to people. I never started this to make a fortune anyway.
I now offer mainly digital services
For years, most of my work was in person, but since I moved to the Berkshires five years ago and then the pandemic hit, my sessions are now primarily by phone, text, Zoom, and FaceTime. While I’m certainly open to local in-person sessions, I don’t do any marketing, so most people aren’t aware I’m even here. All my clients have come from word of mouth.
I do have a Facebook page, and in the beginning, I got some comments like “Why would anyone need another mom?” and “This is stupid.” I was taken aback and upset, but then my sons told me not to worry about it. They said, “Haters gonna hate,” and that was all I needed to hear to move on and go about my business.
I’ve been approached about franchising the idea, but a wise friend asked me if I really wanted to be in charge of a lot of people and take on that kind of responsibility, and it hit me that I really don’t.
A literary agent also once asked me to do a proposal for a book of tips for parents raising young adults, and while it never happened, if I had written a book on the subject, it would be very short.
It all boils down to this: If you stop and ask yourself, “Should I butt in or out of my child’s life?”, unless the situation is life-threatening or really dangerous, my answer is always going to be butt out.