Why Some Moms Get Jealous When Their Daughters Outshine Them
Debunking the Maternal Archetype
The maternal archetype is one of a woman who's always sacrificing, supporting, loving, and doing for her children. But, in reality, 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.
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.
She became infuriated when I nursed my son. When he got older, she'd shut me down when I wanted to relate a cute story about him. When he was diagnosed with autism, she encouraged me to refuse the early intervention services he needed. Instead of bringing us together, the experience pulled us further apart as I was forced to choose between her and him.
Blaming Yourself for Mom's Envy
When growing up, a girl may realize her relationship with mom is strained but doesn't understand that jealousy is the reason. She may blame herself, thinking she's unworthy of love and attention. She may give up trying 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 mom has been acting out of envy.
I didn't truly appreciate 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. Being a parent and experiencing not 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 have to say, I found five key reasons why mothers get jealous of their daughters, some quite normal and others quite disturbed.
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. Since we were girls, our mom compared us to her— always finding 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, 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.
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 daughters immensely and knew they'd benefit their entire lives by having a strong father-daughter bond.
Insecure women, however, can't see beyond their own needs. They want to keep their husbands to themselves and get jealous if their daughters encroach on their turf. To avoid conflict with his wife, a dad might cave to her weaknesses. This is extremely damaging to the daughter because she doesn't develop a healthy, loving connection with either parent. She grows up feeling like an interloper in her own family.
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 regrets 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.
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 feel threatened and 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
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.
© 2017 McKenna Meyers