My Perspective on the Complex Mother and Eldest Daughter Relationship
Happily Ever After...
The mother's perspective
Before the kids come along there is a budding and growing relationship between two people. The world goes away in each other's presence. Nothing is more important than passing time in order to see each other again. They are emotionally invested in each other and they love being in love.
In a classic Disney movie the girl always gets her prince and their wedding implies happily ever after. Most of us grow up idealizing and chasing this concept but one never sees what happens after the wedding—or once the kids start coming.
Singular, devoted attention is now compromised and shared.
Birth Order Traits
Alfred Adler, a medical doctor and founder of Individual Psychology, was a pioneer of modern psychology. He theorized individuals were driven to maintain control over their life and behaviors in order to fulfill their ultimate potential. Adler's theories were the first to encompass all people working toward the goal of self-actualization. Through his studies he was also the first to coin the term, "inferiority complex." Since everyone is unique, he proposed a theory that birth order affected personality traits.
Everyone has preconceived notions about birth order and how they are labeled. An only child and first child have a lot of common traits and parental hurdles; they tend to be the "go-to" child - responsible, reliable, independent but tyrants to their younger siblings. In a sense they "break in" the parents and blaze an easier path for their younger siblings. Middle children tend to be more rebellious, attention-getters, and social rock stars with many friends. The youngest child is always labeled the baby. They are generally easy-going but they can also be manipulative.
What does this have to do with the relationship between a mother and her eldest daughter?
If a mother is a middle child she is now dealing with the potential of personality conflict with her eldest child. The mother's childhood experiences with her older sister, negative or positive, could model her behavior toward her child. If she felt inferior as a child she may inappropriately project her sibling animosity onto her child. We're only peaking at the tip of the iceberg in this theory of mother - first daughter theory.
Adler's Four Ruling Types
Get along with others - Passive - Rarely inventive
Isolation - Avoidance - Distant & Cold
Likes to control others
Socially Useful Type
Values control - Strive to do good - Societally responsible
The Other Woman
Happily ever after becomes a harsh reality once the honeymoon is over. Cohabitation, gender or spousal role assumptions, bills and money issues, and eventually children test the most devoted couples.
A female first-born adds a surprising dynamic to the challenges facing a new mother: Her child is now "the other woman."
This little "bundle of joy" is now the center of your husband's attention. She gets the love and attention, the smooches and cuddles. He plays and tickles and kisses her hands and feet. She's got him wrapped around her little finger and the wench only drools and poops while you are completely exhausted and feeling less-than-sexy.
Nature of the Beast
There is a reason why lions eat the young. Do not be fooled. Infanticide is rampant throughout nature and time and again we witness newscasts of mothers killing their offspring. It's horrifying but we cannot ignore this dynamic for it is an essential part of the mother - first daughter issue.
With lions, a dominant male kills his predecessor's young so the mother becomes fertile quickly and the new bloodline thrives. This practice is not limited to males. Females kill their young just as readily and for various reasons. From pagans and ancient Greece to modern times, infanticide is committed for dominance or self-preservation. Economic, social, and religious aspects prompt this action.
In ancient Greece infanticide was considered barbaric. No one really wants to outright kill a child. That being said, if a child was unwanted or could not be cared for by the parent they practiced exposure instead. This practice essentially abandoned the child on the roadside and at the mercy of weather, nature, or a merciful passerby. This was not considered murder because there was a chance someone would rescue it.
Consider this: The drastic change in the socio-status may leave a new mother feeling bitter, resentful and sincerely guilty for feeling that way. Far from committing infanticide those feelings potentially cause an emotional and sometimes physical rift the child can neither recognize nor fully understand until perhaps, she becomes a mother herself.
Time will tell
In their younger years, the first-born daughter may feel rejected by her mother. There is a sense of rivalry in some invisible competition.
As the daughter gets older and more independent the mother is finally free from the burden of being dependable and 100% responsible for her child; she may begin to focus on herself again.
Understand these are worst-case scenarios and theories for a complex relationship between mother and first child. This is not to assume all mothers and first daughters are so negatively affected. Once the initial shock of role changes are overcome; once a daughter becomes a mother, there is a certain beauty to passing the torch from one generation of women to another. Once a daughter, now a mother is elevated into a new peer group where her mother can now be her friend.
Once the dust is settled from our childhood perhaps then there is a sense of equanimity.
Only time can tell.
© 2014 Meredith Loughran