Every girl needs a fairy godmother

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Insights
Mrs Carol McIntosh, Outdoor Education Teacher

Inspired by classic literature and animated screen fantasies, many little girls dream of having a fairy godmother, and in their mind’s eye, it may well be the Disney Cinderella-style fairy godmother that they wish for: the caring, motherly figure who appears to weave her magic precisely at a time of need, offer practical support, see things from a different perspective, and find a way through difficult times. This concept is fantastic (in the true sense of the word), and is obviously unattainable, belonging appropriately in its Disney guise to a magical realm. If this concept is too far-fetched, perhaps we need to redefine our concept of magic and look to see if we can take the best of the fairy godmother and bring these characteristics to life for our girls. Surrounding girls with women of wisdom is important at all stages of their lives; however, it is particularly pertinent throughout their teenage years. This phase can be a time of push and pull, of periods of connection and separation, as young people seek to find their place, establish their own identities and learn to be more independent.


Parents can mistake their daughter’s transition into adolescence and her quest for freedom and individuality as a sign to be more distant in relation to their parenting (or, in some cases, to ‘under-parent’ or, indeed, to be absent altogether). In actuality, Mellor and Mellor (2013) point out that this is a time when parenting is just as important as when the girls were babies and toddlers. Significantly, they need parental guidance and support in navigating the new dimensions and fluctuation points which they are entering and experiencing.

This is quite a task for parents to tackle alone. The proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’, highlights the concept that a community has a role in nurturing young people. Steve Biddulph (2013) in his book Raising Girls suggests that finding the right adult mentors to support your daughter is important for developing her character. He suggests an army of aunts (here appear our fairy godmothers): those aunties by relation, as well as those aunties by choice. These are the role models involved with our girls who listen deeply, talk sense, are not afraid to provide feedback and are in for the long haul. In particular, this is a group of women who offer female adult time and are women with whom your daughter can form a special relationship. While this support network can be wide and include people like teachers, coaches and neighbours, it is the one-on-one relationships that are particularly valuable.


Parents offer their daughters values, beliefs and ideas the aunties can support and nourish. They can broaden perspectives and, because they may have different skills and interests, they can enrich the experience base for the girls from which to draw strength and understanding. Aunties can fill some of the gaps that mothers cannot. Mothers are not always their daughters’ only confidantes. Parents can move in and out of favour through the teen years. It is during this time that fairy godmothers earn their wands and can truly spread their magic with our maturing Cinderellas.

A report produced by the Dove® Self Esteem Fund in 2008, entitled Real Girls, Real Pressure: A National Report on Self Esteem, highlighted that the transition to teenage years is the key time during which girls can lose their trust in adults. The report found that:

  • ·67% of girls aged 13-17 turn to their mothers as a resource when feeling badly about themselves compared to 91% of girls ages 8-12.
  • ·Only 27% of girls aged 13-17 will turn to their father for help when feeling badly about themselves compared to 54% of girls ages 8-12. (At 16, girls become more likely to seek support from male peers than from their own fathers.)
  • ·65% of girls aged 13-17 refrain from telling their parents certain things about themselves to prevent their parents from thinking badly about them, compared to 49% of girls ages 8-12.

Similarly, Hamilton (2008) in her book What’s Happening to our Girls reiterates that adolescent life has always been a process of disengaging from parents. However, the peer pressure and popular culture, combined with the constant access to friends on social media and mobile devices is pervasive but often occurs without the safety net that good parenting provides.

This all suggests the need for a broad network of adults with whom our daughters can communicate and by whom they can be influenced. It is the broader network that helps them realise they matter, that reflects back to our children that they are important, and provides reassurance of their self-worth (Ungar, 2009).

What Kids Need to Succeed: proven practical ways to raise good kids (2012), the resulting book from extensive surveys of American youth, identifies forty developmental assets. These assets are the building blocks of human development and were identified from those who lead healthy, productive lives, irrespective of genetics, socio-economic situations or trauma. After family support and positive family communication, the third most significant ‘support asset’ is other adult relationships: frequent, in-depth conversations with adults other than their parents. Ideally, this would involve three or more caring, principled adults who support, encourage and guide (Benson, Galbraith & Espeland, 2012).

It is important for teenage girls to spend time and talk with the wand-armed aunties who display genuine interest in them and provide positive messages. Aunties can sometimes possess that magic ability to deliver messages and have them heard, even if the messages are exactly the same as those their parents have already provided. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that ‘Aunty’ is the term used with Indigenous people to acknowledge the special place of female elders and the presiding role they play in their communities.


In their book How Girls Thrive, Deak and Adams (2010) support the notion of sustained relationships stating that, while ‘brief contact with a model/mentor can have some impact, the best results come when the connection is sustained over time’ (2010, p. 25). It takes patience for allegiance and respect to solidify. However, the relationship does not have to be ‘forever after, although some of the memories and learnings may make lasting impressions.

There is one warning, however. It is preferable that the aunties you choose do not fall into the new marketing category of the PANK (Professional Aunt No Kids). Yes, this is an identified group defined as women with large disposable incomes to spend on gifts and experiences. While Cinderella did go to the ball in a glamorous dress and glass slippers, we suggest that this is not the point of auntyhood. Expensive products are not substitutes for rewarding, personal experiences within these feminine alliances.

As we all strive to create that magical world for our daughters, we can take solace in knowing that there are modern day fairy godmothers available to our girls. These aunties, and the genuine relationships they share with our girls, are more powerful than any Disney fantasy. Experiences shared, the authentic exchanges, and occasional surprises that form part of this union, give our daughters another source of guidance on their journey. The essence of the magic they weave may come just at the right time; perhaps when you have exhausted your own bag of tricks (or perhaps when you are just exhausted). If Disney’s version of the fairy godmother no longer works for your daughter, look for a real one nearby. The magic inherent in that relationship promises to be more powerful than anything the celluloid world has to offer.


Benson, P. L., Galbraith, J., & Espeland, P. (2012). What Kids Need to Succeed: proven practical ways to raise good kids. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.

Biddulph, S. (2013). Raising Girls. London: Harper Thorsons.

Deak, J., & Adams, D. (2010). How Girls Thrive. Place: Green Blanket Press.

Dove® Self Esteem Fund (2008). Real Girls, real Pressure: A National Report on the State of Self-Esteem.

Mellor, K., & Mellor, E. (2013). Teen Stages: a guide to understanding the teenage years. Sydney: Finch Publishing.

Ungar, M. (2009). Turning the Me Generations into the We Generation. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin.

Published 20 February 2014