Jealous Mothers: Why Some Women Get Envious of Their Own Daughters

Updated on September 29, 2018
letstalkabouteduc profile image

My insecure mother was jealous of my sister and me and never wanted us to outshine her. She wanted us to do well...but not too well.

Moms can get jealous of a daughter's youth, beauty, accomplishments, and opportunities.
Moms can get jealous of a daughter's youth, beauty, accomplishments, and opportunities. | Source

Are You Experiencing Maternal Jealousy?

  • Is your relationship with your mother strained, but you don't understand why?

  • Is your mom competitive with you?

  • Is she uninterested in your classes, your career, your social life, and your kids?

  • Do you play the part of the parent in your relationship, giving her attention, advice, and reassurance?

  • Does she have a need to put you down and put you in your place?

If this dynamic sounds all too familiar, you may be on the receiving end of maternal jealousy. Because you didn't understand what you were experiencing, you may have long been confused about the relationship with your mom. You may have lived a childhood where you often felt alone, abandoned, and sad.

Debunking the Maternal Archetype

The maternal archetype is one of a woman who's always sacrificing, supporting, loving, and doing for her children. In reality, though, our moms are humans with all the faults, frailties, and confused feelings that come with that mortal state. While rarely discussed in polite company, the subject of moms being jealous of their daughters is one that's intrigued me for a long time due to my rocky relationship with my own mother. For as long as I can remember, she has waged a one-sided rivalry against my sister and me, fueled by her deep insecurity and undeniable envy.

Talking about maternal jealousy is perhaps the ultimate taboo, inimical to all we hold dear about motherhood and want to believe about mother love, especially that of a mother for her daughter. While maternal jealousy is a freighted topic, it’s not a rarity.

— Peg Streep, author of "Daughter Detox: Recovering From an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life"

Outshining Mom Is a Big No-No

Our mother has always found it intolerable when my sister and I outshine her in any way. When I had my first child at 36, I thought it would finally give my mom and me an opportunity to grew closer and bond over a new family member. But true to form, she became envious of the attention I was getting as a new mom and resentful that my focus was now on the baby and not her. The day after my son was born she took off on a spontaneous trip with her new boyfriend, signaling to me that she didn't intend on playing a significant role in my infant's life.

In those early days, she was infuriated when I nursed my son because she hadn't breastfed my siblings and me. When my boy grew older, she'd shut me down whenever I tried to relate a cute story about him. When he was diagnosed with autism at four, she wanted me to refuse the early intervention services he needed. Instead of bringing us together, the experience of me having a child pulled us further apart as she forced me to choose between her and him.

Envy comes from people's ignorance of, or lack of belief in, their own gifts.

— Philosopher Jean Vanier

Blaming Yourself for Mom's Envy

While growing up, a girl may realize the relationship with her mom is strained, but the idea that it's caused by maternal jealousy is not even considered. Instead, she may blame herself, thinking she's unworthy of love and attention. She may stop striving because her achievements are met with anger, ridicule, or silence. She may suffer from depression and anxiety like I did. It's not until she gets older and wiser (and, perhaps, seeks therapy) that she realizes her mom has been acting out of envy. That's when all she's been through starts to make sense.

I didn't truly see the depths of my mother's jealousy until I became a parent myself. I didn't feel any competitiveness with my sons—only love—and relished, not resented, their time in the spotlight. I didn't feel any of the rivalry with them that my mom had with me and my sister. Not experiencing a hint of competition with my boys made me realize just how sick my mom's relationship with her daughters was. In talking with girlfriends and reading what experts had to say, I found five key reasons why mothers get jealous of their daughters, some quite normal and others quite disturbed.

Normal or healthier mothers are proud of their children and want them to shine. But a narcissistic mother may perceive her daughter as a threat. If attention is drawn away from the mother, the child suffers retaliation, put-downs, and punishments. The mother can be jealous of her daughter for many reasons: her looks, her youth, material possessions, accomplishments, education and even the young girl’s relationship with the father.

— Karyl McBride, author of "Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers"

1. She's a Narcissist

While there are normal, natural reasons for moms to get jealous of their daughters, narcissism is not one of them. It's extreme and destructive and damages the child in profound ways. According to psychotherapist, Jasmin Lee Cori, a narcissistic mom's envy leaves a girl feeling unloved, abandoned, and confused. She develops no sense of self and keeps her voice silent.

My sister and I grew up with a narcissistic mother and it left us both with crippling low self-esteem. She'd compare us to her and always found us coming up short. She'd nitpick our appearance—criticizing our weight, hair, skin, clothes, and makeup. She was a great beauty in her own estimation and was troubled by her daughters not being the same. After picking apart our looks, she'd then wonder why we didn't have confidence to take on the world—finding boyfriends, becoming popular at school, and getting part-time jobs.

Her jealousy continued when we were adults and became mothers ourselves. Our homes were never clean enough, our meals never healthy enough, our kids never well-mannered enough. She'd remember her days as a mother when everything was rosy (not true) and she was super-woman (not true) and wonder why we couldn't do the same. It boosted her ego to find us lacking.

A daughter knows something is wrong in the relationship with her mom but jealousy doesn't come to mind.
A daughter knows something is wrong in the relationship with her mom but jealousy doesn't come to mind. | Source

2. She's Going Through Menopause

While jealousy from a narcissistic mother is extreme and destructive, envy from a mom going through menopause is normal and to be expected. Mother Nature plays a cruel trick on many moms, having them go through the traumatic change of life while their daughters bloom into young adulthood. A mom may feel less womanly, desirable, and relevant during menopause as she transitions from being fertile to infertile. She experiences physical changes that make her feel less attractive such as weight gain, drier skin, thinner scalp hair, and coarser facial hair. She may feel more anxious and less confident.

It's only natural that she may envy her teenage daughter, who's becoming sexier as she reaches the peak of her beauty. She may see her daughter attracting the attention of men when she no longer does. She may envy all that's ahead of her child and worry her life is going downhill.

I coined the phrase Perceived Transfer of Sexuality (PTS) to describe a phenomenon that is prevalent among my patients, regardless of background or socioeconomic status. PTS is a feeling that many moms have in regards to their daughters somehow taking away their own sexuality. In PTS, perception can lead to the feeling of competition between a mother and her daughter and thus be responsible for some of the most volatile interactions ever seen.

— Dr. Charles Sophy, psychiatrist and author

3. She's Overly Possessive of Her Husband

Some women feel territorial about their husbands and don't want to share them with anyone, even their own daughters. When I taught preschool, I was always impressed by dads who'd set aside special time to have “dates” with their daughters—taking them to the movies, having a tea party together, or going to the zoo. It was typically the wife's idea to encourage this ritual, and she often did the necessary planning to make it a reality. These moms loved their girls immensely and wanted them to reap the immense benefits of having a strong father-daughter bond.

Insecure women, however, can't see beyond their own needs. They want to keep their husbands to themselves, getting jealous when their daughters encroach on their turf. To avoid conflict with his wife, a husband might cave to her weaknesses. He may consciously or unconsciously neglect his fatherly duties and push his daughter to the side. As a result, his daughter is left without a healthy, loving connection with either parent. She grows up feeling like an interloper in her own family but doesn't know why.

4. She Regrets Her Unfulfilled Desires

Dr. Charles Sophy, a renowned family and child psychiatrist, argues that some moms get jealous when they see their daughters enjoying more opportunities and freedoms than they had. At middle age, a mom probably regrets some things she did in life and, even more significantly, things she didn't do. Perhaps, she was too scared to take risks, played it safe, and now laments it.

She see her daughter with unlimited opportunities in front of her and wishes she could be young again. She may envy the new freedoms young women have today to explore their sexuality, delay parenthood, enter male-dominated professions, buy their own homes, and become self-sufficient. She may wish she had succeeded in areas where her daughter now flourishes—playing sports, hanging with friends, dating, getting good grades, and being self-confident.

A mother may be envious of the new possibilities that are open to young women today.
A mother may be envious of the new possibilities that are open to young women today. | Source

What Does “Parentified” Mean?

A “parentified” child experiences a role reversal, becoming the parent to her own mother, father, or both. Because the parent is depressed, mentally ill, or unable to function after a divorce, the child steps in to become the emotional caretaker. She is forced to grow up too fast, experiencing a lot of stress at a time when life should be care-free. She often becomes an adult with profound psychological struggles including anger, depression, and anxiety.

5. She's Emotionally Immature

A mother who's emotionally immature lacks the empathy necessary to care about her daughter. She's psychologically stunted and sees her daughter as competition. When her daughter is successful, she reacts with jealousy—more like a green-eyed sibling than a proud parent. An emotionally immature mother is egocentric. She sees herself as the sun and her children as planets orbiting around her. In her mind, that is the natural order of things and she becomes frustrated if it changes.

Peg Streep, author of Daughter Detox: Recovering From an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life, says a jealous mom sees her daughter as a rival. Her envy grows greener when her child eclipses her in areas where she once felt special, accomplished, and superior. If mom, for example, was always considered a great beauty, she may get distressed when her daughter transforms from an awkward pubescent into a stunning teen. If mom was hailed as a fantastic home cook but now her daughter excels at culinary school, she may feel like her identify is being stripped away by someone younger and more accomplished.

This happened between my sister and my mother with interior design. When my sister bought a magnificent home and received kudos for how she decorated it, my mom couldn't hide her competitiveness. She'd interrupt the flattering comments to point out this flaw or that in how the furniture was arranged or how the walls were painted. She had always been known as the one in our family with the artistic flair, and my sister's talent in that area was beyond threatening to her.

From an early age, I learned to get attention from my mother by focusing on her. She would chat with me forever as long as she was the subject matter. If I brought up things happening in my life, she'd abruptly end the conversation. Her behavior turned me into a parentified daughter as I took on the role of advisor and confidant while she played the needy, self-absorbed kid. Even today, I refer to my mother as the teenage daughter I never had!

The Parentified Daughter Is Explained

Were You Reared by a Jealous Mom?

If so, what was the cause of her envy?

See results

This Book Helped Me Finally Find Peace and Understanding With a Jealous and Emotionally Detached Mother

The Emotionally Absent Mother, Updated and Expanded Second Edition: How to Recognize and Heal the Invisible Effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect
The Emotionally Absent Mother, Updated and Expanded Second Edition: How to Recognize and Heal the Invisible Effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect

When I became a parent for the first time at 36, I hoped the new baby would create a close bond between my mom and me. When she became jealous of my new maternal role, it made me look for answers. My search led me to this book and the concept of emotionally absent mothers. While reading it, I felt like the author knew me and my situation intimately. I often needed to put it down and walk away because it overwhelmed me with feelings of sadness. But, most of all, it brought me peace, knowing I wasn't alone in growing up with such a mom.


Questions & Answers

  • Why do these mothers hate their daughters and not their sons?

    It's not a matter of mothers hating their daughters but having a jealousy and rivalry with them. Moms don't feel the same competitiveness with their sons because they don't identify with them as strongly. It's perfectly normal that mothers feel twinges of envy from time to time as it's a basic human emotion. This is especially true when their daughters enjoy experiences in life they didn't: career opportunities, financial successes, travel to exotic places, etc.

    Emotionally unhealthy moms, however, feel more than twinges of jealousy. My mother, for instance, felt intense rivalry with my sister and me because she was incredibly insecure. She needed us to make decisions similar to hers in order to validate her life. Not surprisingly, we went to extremes to copy our mother's path so we'd win her love and approval. Sadly, we both became teachers like her even though neither one of us was suited to that profession. My sister got married at the same age as our mom (22), had the same number of children (3), and sent them to the same Catholic schools where our mom sent us. Even though my sister went above and beyond to get my mom's stamp of approval, she never did as my mother alternated between being envious of her and highly critical of her.

    When moms get jealous of their daughters, it's best for their daughters to distance themselves. I moved away from my mom (both physically and emotionally) after having my own kids. She had been jealous of the attention I showed them and I felt caught in the middle. When I thought about it, though, I knew it was time for me to grow up, choose my husband and sons, and start a healthy life away from mom. It was the best decision I ever made and contributed greatly to a strong marriage and happy family life.

© 2017 McKenna Meyers


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    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      7 weeks ago from Bend, OR

      S.M--Don't be so hard on yourself. I'm in my fifties and have just started sorting out these dynamics with my mother. You're way ahead of the game. Now that you have insight, you can tackle these issues, move forward, and not become a prisoner to your past.

      Part of becoming an adult is realizing that our moms are complicated human beings with insecurities, jealousies, and selfish desires just like everyone else. Like your mother and many others, my mom had fierce issues about food, her weight, and her body image. Not surprisingly, I inherited them all. If you could get a handle on those now (with professional help if needed), you'll save yourself years of struggle and heartache. It's only in the last few years that I've found peace with food. For decades, I had focused on dieting, exercising, and exerting willpower when I really needed to concentrate on my depression and anxiety.

      Remember self-esteem is built by challenging ourselves to do hard things and accomplishing new challenges. We have the power to become more confident women. It takes a lot of hard work, though, a willingness to take risks, and an ability to persevere after failure.

      Don't be too hard on your mom. Women in our society deal with enormous pressures to be thin and look beautiful. At the same time, we face enormous portions at restaurants and expectations to eat, drink, and be merry at the drop of a hat. It's a lot of crazy-making and unrealistic expectations for all of us.

      You have a wonderful life ahead of you. Embrace it!

    • profile image


      7 weeks ago

      I was in tears when I read this article. I graduated college in December of last year and moved back home with mom and dad. I realized that I have this dependency issue regarding my mom about something in particular. Today, I told my mom that I was interested in working out just to get in shape and she responded: "I don't want you too because I am scared you'll look better than me." Now, I know I am a grown adult and will go work out if I feel like it but her response shook me then I started questioning my childhood and figured out that my mom was always the jealous type. As long as I remembered she has always felt insecure when it comes to her body. As long as I remembered she has always made negative comments related to my body then she would say something positive and it would confuse me. No wonder I had an eating disorder for two years as a teen and during my last three years in college. No wonder that now I have serious trust issues regarding relationships and low self-esteem. No wonder I have commitment issues. I am so frustrated that I figured this out now than years before. Thank you for writing and publishing this insightful post.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      2 months ago from Bend, OR

      Wendy, you're a wise woman to step back from your family and look at it in an objective way. So much of the time we just react to whatever is happening at the moment and don't look at the big picture. I know now that so much of my relationship with my mom was shaped by her alcoholic mom. I get that on an intellectual level and it helps immensely. On an emotional level, though, I still ache for a loving, nurturing mother. But, at least, I can be that for my kids. Thanks for writing and sharing.

    • profile image


      2 months ago

      Love your line about "Even today, I refer to my mother as the teenage daughter I never had!" Exactly what I have concluded after reading many books on this topic. It's all she can offer and I have learned to "accept it." I've also learned that she brought some baggage with her from childhood, but she also left some behind. That being that her mother would be critical of her weight and was never satisfied. It also reminds me of when I was a child

      we would go to family functions and my mother would always be in my grandmother's shadow; kinda like when someone is talking about you, but you are standing right there. It's the very reason I don't attend extended family functions with my mother. I could even go back a generation further. From what I've learned, my grandmother had a deadbeat father during the depression era, was one of 12 siblings and she was the oldest and had to care for them in a motherly role at a young age. Would make sense then that may be she wasn't valued much other than what she could provide, so when she found her opportunity as an adult to get validation, she got it at all costs.

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      5 months ago from Bend, OR

      Cheryl, I'm sure it was painful to remember all that and write it down. In the long run, though, it will help you make sense of your life and move forward in a stronger, healthier way. As an objective someone reading it, I can feel your internal battle, wanting a relationship with your family but knowing it doesn't serve you well. I really don't see how having your parents in your life will benefit you or your child. In fact, I see the opposite. I hope you continue to write and work through your mixed feelings. Seeing a counselor would also be a great idea because you want to fully enjoy your husband and son and not let the past interfere with the present. You moved away, which was the right thing to do, and now you have a second chance to build the functional family you never knew. Please do this for yourself because you deserve to have peace and joy in your life. Much love to you.

    • profile image


      5 months ago

      My mom does exactly this. I’ve lived in New Jersey for 10 years after meeting my now husband. I have 1 son, and my mom was not there for my pregnancy, she wasn’t there for the birth. She didn’t even call to see if I was ok after my c-section. Yet she should always call and complain about her not getting to see her grandchild so I told her to come and visit us in New Jersey she said she didn’t have any money so I offered to pay for the gas to get here (minded I’ve took flights, greyhounds, and drove to Ohio every 4/6 months) so after I offered the money then then said her car wouldn’t make the drive from Ohio. So then my husband offered to get her a rent a car she said she didn’t have car insurance, then we offered her flight tickets she tried to say my dad was scared of flights yet he took flights going to Vegas when I was younger. So then I ask since he was so “scared” how about she just come then she said she had too much to do. Then we offered her greyhound tickets and she did she couldn’t sit for so long. There was just no way around getting them here. Yet I was the bad persons because I couldn’t just up and move back to Ohio. It’s always excuses. My mom bought my brother 3 cars all which he wrecked never once bought be any such thing. My mom also hates me so bad she’s turned all my family members against me. My brother gets all the recognition yet she even signed papers for him to drop out of school after the 7th grade. Before he was about to go into the 8th grade she allowed him to drop out. My brother also flunked kindergarten and fourth grade. And was trouble in school constantly. I never got in trouble and the teachers loved me and that made my mom angry. I graduated high school a year early and went off to college although I never finished college I at least made an attempt. My mom and brother smoke cigerates and pot and that was something I never did. So they’d both get in my face and said I acted like I was better than them. They were only happy when I was crying or upset about something. If I did well on anything they’d be furious and find something to compare themselves to. My mom would call me fat, which I was 4”10 and 109lbs she’d say I’d be a nobody and I was a whore, and would keep saying I had a pooch belly. Her name calling made me very depressed and even my dad would make fun of me when ever I was on my period he say go fly away on my air plane wings referring to the wings on the maxi pad. My brother is 30 years old and still lives at home and has no relationship and no kids he had 1 girlfriend and he beat and chocked her and the cops were called and my mom stuck by his side. My mom has another child from a previous marriage and that kid was removed from my moms care from cps. She to this day says her ex husband kidnapped his child but I think there’s more than what’s being said and I’ll never know. My parents never told me they loved me unless it was to show off around other people. My brother always got cell phones and expensive shoes and clothes. My clothes most of them came from the thrift stores I did get some new ones every now and then but they had to be on sale or cheaply priced or from the clearance rack while my brother got Jordan’s or Nike air shoes and designer clothing. My mom would even tell lies to my dad so that he would hit me with the belt, one time I was so scared that my mom said she was going to tell my dad something I did when he got home from work and I remember being so scared that I stuffed a pillow inside my pants so that I wouldn’t feel the sting of the belt as bad. As I grew up my mom would never let me get a job she said I wasn’t fit to get any job and would say things to make me feel small. For years I wondered why I couldn’t work like all the other teens and my friends. And my family members would call me lazy and stupid and a retard because they thought I simply wasn’t trying when I really was my mom never let me turn in any application I had to hand them over to her then I found out she was just throwing them in the trash. Later after I got married it all made sense she was getting a social security disability on my name and when I was little I’d ask her about it and she got angry every time I’d bring it up she threw a glass ash tray at my face. After that I ever asked her about it out of fear. She lied to my dad too saying she wasn’t getting any gov assistance. So when I moved out I was trying to get health insurance because I was born with dislocated hips and born at 2 pounds. My mom smoked through out her whole pregnancy and it caused my pre mature birth yet she blames me saying it’s my own fault and because of me I made all her teeth fall out while she was pregnant because I took all her calcium. She said I was born early because her uterus was tilted too much. My moms 1st child and my younger brother also came out pre mature but they weighted at 4 and 5 pounds as I was 2 pounds. I’m sorry I’m all over the place with my post I’m going back to my childhood remembering different things. My dad also used to beat my mom and I was so scared I urinated in my bed once and the next morning I was whooped for “peeing the bed” me and my brother would be in bed and all a sudden you’d hear glass breaking or you’d hear my dad crank up the heavy rock music and they’d start screaming and fighting and me and my brother would run and shake and scream e wry time dad would punch Mom in the face or drag her around the house. It was always some sneaky stuff that my mom would do that set my dad off but I was scared to death around both of them. I may have been a happy kid on the outside and we seemed like a normal family but behind closed doors it was so different. My dad put my moms head through the apartment wall that my mom covered it up with a large picture frame. Then when I grew up I’d bring up the fights and the domestic violence to my mom and she say I was lying and none of it never happened. I remember so many nights my dad would be in a drunken rage and me and my brother would have to sleep all night in the car but my mom would never leave that man she was more worried about getting his money from him. My dad paid the rent and my mom was taking the rent money and spending it all and we ended up getting sued and evicted and my mom blames the landlord saying she was lying too. Everybody is lying but my mom. Everyone is at fault but my mom. No one is good enough and when someone is better off than she is”they’re stuck up” or “they think they got it all” the jealousy and rage really shows through my mom and my brother. I believe my parents were on other drugs as well that I’ll never know because I was so young at the time but I have my doubts. Anytime I was happy or I had something positive happen I was always put down. She’d squash anything that filled me with joy. Even today now I’m 31, I hardly hear from my mom or dad, and when I do hear from my mom she still puts me down or wants to gossip about someone. It’s never happy phone calls and my dad he just doesn’t want any involvement with his children he has 5 kids and isn’t in contact with any of them. They have no remorse and my mom even took all my gold I got over the years from family members. It’s just so many things I could write forever but deep down I get so sad and depressed when I see families together laughing in a restaruant or at the park, I feel a bit jealous myself when I see a father with their daughter. I’ve brought this up to my parents and all I got was the cold shoulder and a utter discrace response saying I was acting retarded. I wish my whole life that my family functioned normal. My mom wouldn’t even let me wash my clothes in warm water she removed the knob from the washer so that I could only use cold water. It just got to the point I had to move out of Ohio and far away from that state. I love Ohio but the people there are toxic. I also from being born at 2 pounds I walk with a limp and had many operations on my hips I was told by realitives that my dad shoved my mom down a flight of stairs when she was pregnant but Mom says no she says she didn’t even know she was pregnant with any of her kids?

    • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

      McKenna Meyers 

      11 months ago from Bend, OR

      I'm sorry your mother does that, Lee. I know how much that hurts. My mother would sabotage me with that behavior when I was growing up and beyond. When I was all dressed up and ready to go somewhere—prom, a job interview, a musical performance—she'd nitpick my appearance. She'd point out a hair out of place or a tiny spot on my blouse. It would drive me nuts and make me so insecure. At least, you and I are now aware of that pattern and, while still annoying, it won't damage us like it once did.

    • profile image

      Lee nichol 

      11 months ago

      I have a mother exacaly like'that when u look good or happy they try there best to put u down

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      15 months ago from The Caribbean

      This article is very insightful and your points really make sense. Thanks for the education on a topic to which I'm sure many women can relate.


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