Jealous Mothers: Why Some Women Get Envious of Their Own Daughters
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.
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.
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?
This Book Helped Me Finally Find Peace and Understanding With a Jealous and Emotionally Detached Mother
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.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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.Helpful 57
My alcoholic mother refuses to admit that I had a poor childhood due to her alcoholism and tumultuous relationship with my stepdad whom she never married. I’ve finally cut her off, but now my sisters, who have never married and are as unsuccessful in life as she is, are trying to guilt me because, “she’s your mother.” Should I let her back in? This is not the first time I have cut her out of my life. I’m 42.Helpful 1
I have separated myself from my mother, both physically and emotionally. But she went a step further by convincing two of my children to live with her. Now I have no family or my own children. Because I won’t have anything to do with my mother, I barely get to even talk to my kids. Much less get to see them. Do you have any tips?
Your situation has decades of complexities that I can't address. I hope, though, that you've discussed them with a therapist. Even when it's necessary to separate from a parent for one's mental well-being, it's still a traumatizing experience. We all long to have a warm and loving mommy and daddy and, when realizing that's not going to be a reality for us, it's devastating, no matter what your age.
While it's hurtful that your kids have chosen to live with your mother, you should do everything in your power to stay connected with them. Fortunately, we have texts, cell phones, and e-mails today so you can contact them without talking to your mom. Set up get-togethers for coffee, lunch, walks, or movies in neutral locations. Make it clear that you want a relationship with them even though you've disconnected from their grandma. Don't put them in the position of taking sides.
I'm sorry this is happening in your life and the heartache it's causing. Keep the lines of communication open with your kids. If they experienced you as a loving, supportive mom, they'd want to stay connected. If that wasn't the case, you could offer a sincere apology for where you failed and promise to do better. Best to you and your family.Helpful 9
© 2017 McKenna Meyers