5 REASONS MOMS GET JEALOUS OF THEIR DAUGHTERS: WHAT’S NORMAL AND WHAT’S NOT
By McKenna Meyers
Ms. Meyers grew up with an insecure mother who loved to be center stage while preferring her daughters wait in the wings.
Is Your Mother Jealous of You?
- Do you have a strained relationship with your mother but don’t know why?
- Is she competitive with you, treating you more like a rival than a daughter?
- Is she uninterested in your life, rarely inquiring about your career, your activities, and your kids?
- Is she possessive of your dad, making it almost impossible for you and him to spend time alone together?
- Do you get a strong sense that she wants you to do well in life…but not too well?
If this dynamic sounds all too familiar, your mom may be jealous of you. As a child, because you didn’t understand why the relationship was tense, you were left in the dark: bewildered, unsupported, and emotionally abandoned. Today, though, you can finally acknowledge your mom’s envy and accept her limitations. You can stop blaming yourself for the tension between the two of you and find peace.
Why Does My Mom Hate Me?
While growing up, a girl may sense that the relationship with her mom is strained. The possibility that it’s caused by maternal jealousy, though, is the furthest thing from her mind. Instead, she blames herself, as kids are prone to do. She convinces herself that she’s unworthy of her mom’s love, attention, and support.
She may stop striving because her achievements are met with her mom’s anger, ridicule, or silence. As a teen, she may suffer from depression and anxiety. However, It’s not until she grows older, gets wiser and, perhaps, seeks therapy that she realizes her mom has been envious of her all along. With that aha moment, everything finally begins to make sense and she can begin to heal.
Like other women, I didn’t appreciate the depths of my mother’s jealousy until I became a parent myself. I only had feelings of love for my sons, not competitiveness. Instead of resenting, I relished their time in the spotlight. With them, I didn’t experience any of the rivalry that my mom had with my sister and me.
By interviewing women with envious moms and in reading what experts on the subject had to say, I found five key reasons why mothers get jealous of their daughters. Some are quite normal and understandable, such as going through menopause and being regretful of their life choices. Others, such as being narcissistic or possessive of their husbands, are quite disturbed.
5 Reasons a Mom Gets Jealous of Her Daughter
- She’s a narcissist or has narcissistic tendencies.
- She’s in menopause (or perimenopause).
- She’s possessive of her husband (your father).
- She regrets her unfulfilled dreams.
- She’s emotionally absent (her jealousy makes her cold).
1. She’s a Narcissist
While there are normal, natural reasons why moms sometimes get jealous of their daughters, narcissism is not one of them. Dr. Karyl McBride writes about self-centered women and the damage they inflict in Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. Her book helped me understand how my childhood with such a mom led me to become a grownup with a flimsy self-concept and erratic self-care.
Dr. McBride says that daughters of jealous, narcissistic mothers may battle crippling self-doubt in adulthood. When they were kids, their moms treated them like accessories and not full-fledged individuals. As a result, their feelings, worries, and struggles went unnoticed and unattended. They grew up in an environment where they were to reflect well on their mom but never outshine her. In the process, they suppressed their own needs and desires in favor of hers.
This is why it’s vital that they focus on themselves today by embracing their inner world: their thoughts, emotions, and dreams. Writing in a journal daily is a valuable way to accomplish this. It gives these women an opportunity to get in touch with themselves and, finally, figure out who they are and what they want from life.
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”
2. She’s in Menopause
While jealousy from a narcissistic mother is extreme and destructive, envy from a menopausal mom is quite normal. It’s difficult for some middle-aged women to undergo the change of life just as their daughters bloom into adulthood. It’s understandable that they may covet a daughter’s youth, vigor, and infinite prospects during this time.
During menopause, a mom may feel less womanly, less desirable, and less relevant in our youth-obsessed society. She may endure physical changes such as weight gain, dry skin, thinning hair, and coarsening facial hair. She may witness her daughter attracting men’s attention when she no longer does. As a result, she can feel more anxious and less confident.
The daughter of a jealous menopausal mom should be patient and compassionate. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, hormonal changes during this stage can make a woman irritable and depressed. A daughter, therefore, may need to turn to an aunt, a grandmother, or friends for support during this time when her mother is struggling and emotionally unavailable to her.
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?”
3. She’s Possessive of Her Husband (Your Dad)
One of the most destructive things that jealous moms do is come between their daughters and their dads. According to psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez, this is caused by a mom’s low self-esteem. Her insecurity leads her to become territorial about her husband. She doesn’t want to share him with anyone, even his own flesh and blood.
When her mom is envious and her father is weak, a daughter can potentially lose both her parents. To avoid conflict, a feeble husband may surrender to his wife’s insecurities. He might do anything to keep the peace, even forsaking his own child. Consciously or unconsciously, he neglects his fatherly duties and pushes his daughter to the side. Tragically, she’s left without a healthy, loving connection to either parent and grows up feeling like an interloper in her own family.
Not appreciating that her mom’s jealousy is the reason for the distant relationship with her dad, the daughter blames herself. She becomes convinced that she’s unlovable. As an adult, she may still feel sad and confused about her childhood and her relationship with her parents. Working with a good therapist can help her understand her mother’s envy and the role it played in keeping her and her father apart.
4. She Regrets Her Unfulfilled Dreams
Another common source of a mom’s envy are her daughter’s seemingly unlimited prospects. At a time when her own possibilities may be narrowing, she sees her child’s world open up. She may wish that she had enjoyed the freedoms that young women have today: exploring their sexuality, postponing motherhood, entering once male-dominated professions, buying their own homes, and being financially independent. As such, she may be resentful of her daughter and regretful of her own life choices.
Dr. Charles Sophy, a family and child psychiatrist, says that some moms even perceive their daughters as thieves who steal their sexuality. He has dubbed this phenomenon Perceived Transfer of Sexuality (PTS). A mother feels threatened as her daughter’s sexuality peaks and hers declines. To her, it seems like she’s now in a fierce competition with her own offspring. Her daughter, meanwhile, is left flummoxed by the escalating conflicts with her mom, wondering what they’re about and hoping to de-escalate them.
5. She’s Emotionally Absent
Occasionally, daughters experience maternal jealousy because their moms are numb and detached. According to Jasmin Lee Cori, author of The Emotionally Absent Mother, many of these mothers were themselves severely under-mothered when they were children. As a result, they grew up to be desensitized adults who can’t connect with their kids emotionally. When their daughters are in the spotlight, these moms don’t feel pride and joy like most parents do. Instead, they feel sad and resentful because they didn’t have the same opportunities to shine when they were kids.
When a daughter figures out that her mom is emotionally absent, it’s both a revelation and a relief. She now knows the cause of her mother’s envy and no longer blames herself. If she starts practicing acceptance, realizing her mom won’t change, she can look elsewhere to build emotionally satisfying relationships and a strong support system. To learn more, read How an Emotionally Absent Mother Impacts Her Daughter’s Life.
In this video, Dr. Jonice Webb explains what it means to have an emotionally absent mother.
Debunking the Maternal Archetype
The “maternal archetype” is a woman who’s always sacrificing, supporting, loving, and doing for her children. In reality, though, our moms are human, 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 has intrigued me for a long time due to a 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-seated insecurity and undeniable envy.
But healing is possible. To learn more, read 5 Ways for Daughters to Heal From an Emotionally Absent Mother.
Were You Reared by a Jealous Mom?
Questions and Answers
Question: Why do these mothers hate their daughters and not their sons?
Answer: It’s not a matter of mothers hating their daughters but having 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.
Question: What do you think about a mother who is envious of one daughter but not the other?
Answer: A mother who’s jealous of one daughter but not the other isn’t unusual. In fact, I spoke with a woman recently who had just that situation. She had married an anesthesiologist and had traveled the world with him. They built a home together on several acres, and she was able to afford designer clothes and well-crafted furniture. Her sister, on the other hand, was married to a blue-collar man like her dad and lived modestly.
Their mother was extremely envious of the wealthy daughter and always referred to her as “the doctor’s wife” in a haughty tone. She preferred spending time with her less affluent daughter because they had more in common. She rarely spent time with her other daughter, the doctor, and their two kids because she felt inferior to them. Even though the family did everything in their power to make her feel at ease, they couldn’t stop her from running the same negative tapes in her head that said: “I’m less than. I’m lacking. I’m not as smart. I don’t fit in here.”
Part of maturing is seeing our parents as human beings with frailties and limitations just like everyone else. Hopefully, you can stand back now, realize your mother struggles with jealousy and insecurity, and not take it personally. It has everything to do with her and nothing to do with you. Accepting her “as is” will bring you peace and relieve you of stress.
Question: 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?
Answer: 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.
Question: 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.
Answer: Since you’ve cut your mom off in the past only to reunite with her, you’ll probably have the same failed experience unless you change yourself and how you react to her. Albert Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Unless your approach is different, you’ll just wind up re-wounding yourself and that would be utterly pointless.
Certainly, bringing her back into your life only because your sisters are making you feel guilty isn’t proper motivation. You have to be certain that this time you’ve evolved and can confidently handle the challenges of the relationship and not be undone by them. You may just not be ready for that, depending on what else is going on in your life right now.
If you want to give it a try, you should practice what psychologists call “radical acceptance.” As much as you want your mother to validate your painful childhood and the part she played in it, you need to let go of that. Assume that it’s never going to happen. She may be in denial about it or be too racked with guilt to ever admit what she did.
You know what happened and that should be all that matters. You have your truth and she has hers and they will never be the same. If you can’t come to terms with that reality, you shouldn’t reunite with your mom. You’ll only end up feeling frustrated, hurt, and resentful. You also need to appreciate that having a decent relationship with an alcoholic is futile so your expectations must be kept extremely low.
Whether you reunite with your mother or not, radical acceptance can bring you some much-needed peace. Once you accept that you never had nor never will have a warm and loving mom you’ll find tremendous relief and stop struggling to make it different.
I hope you find serenity with your decision. Take good care of yourself!
Question: I have a mother who acts almost childish. She’s a God-fearing woman, but I notice she’s been getting jealous because I spend time with my son and husband on weekends or I barely come out of my room (I currently reside with her). I just don’t know what to do with her behavior. She’s always undermining me when it comes down to certain things I do. She’s in therapy, takes meds, and has hobbies. How can I better understand my mother’s behavior?
Answer: The problems with your mother most likely aren’t related to the subject of this article: mothers who get jealous of their daughters. As an adult child who lives with your mom, you’ve put yourself in a situation ripe for conflict. It’s one where old patterns from your childhood come into play, and your mother once again sees you as a dependent youngster and not a mature, autonomous grownup.
As long as you’re under her roof, expect your mom to undermine your decisions and see you as incompetent. Instead of focusing on why she behaves the way she does, you would be much wiser to look in the mirror and ask yourself: Why did I put myself, my husband, and my son in this situation? While you may have practical reasons (you lost a job, you need to save up money for a down payment, etc.), you must appreciate that you had other options but chose this one.
You may be wanting to re-visit your childhood in the hopes of fixing the past. You may be unconsciously hoping that this time your mother will be the loving and nurturing parent you longed for as a kid. There may also be something in your life that you’re trying to avoid and your mother’s house is serving as your hiding spot.
Dr. Robin Smith says, “Adulthood is to finish the unfinished business of childhood.” You can’t go back to fix the past, but you can use what you’ve learned from it as a guide to move forward. Since your mother is in therapy and on medication, she’s in good hands and is getting the professional help that she needs. Leave her up to the therapist and concentrate on yourself, your marriage, and your son. If your struggles with her persist, call the therapist and ask her if you can join in on one of the sessions with your mother to discuss some issues.
Question: My mom is an insecure narcissistic and jealous. I am also a child of rape. I have always thought that the latter was the reason she hated me, but now I understand there are other reasons to explain her contempt. My biggest issue right now as an adult is her jealousy of me spending time with my stepdad to take him to doctor’s appointments. I’m 61 she’s 80. There’s no reason for her to be jealous at this point is there?
Answer: With you being 61 and her being 80, it’s time to practice acceptance from this point forward. Your mother will be jealous, petty, and insecure until the day she dies. She may be jealous that her husband enjoys spending time with you. She may be jealous that you’re able to do things she can no longer do. She may be jealous because you’re younger and in better health. It doesn’t matter why she’s envious; it just matters that you accept she is and not let it bother you. It has everything to do with her, not you.
I’m answering your question after a week-long visit with my 82-year-old mother. She’s a deeply insecure woman who’s always gotten easily jealous of others, especially my sister and me. She sees other people’s happiness, achievements, wealth, and acquisitions as a personal affront. During her visit, she expressed envy that I have two teenage sons who are thriving academically and socially. Instead of complimenting me on my good parenting and their hard work, she constantly labeled us as being “so lucky.”
In the past, it would have bothered me but now I just let it go. In fact, it even makes me chuckle to myself. When I’m with her, I use the words of the spiritual writer, Eckhart Tolle, as a mantra: “Accept this moment as if you had chosen it.” Instead of fighting the situation, I learn from it and become a better person.
It’s said that whoever causes us the most emotional pain is our greatest teacher. I imagine that you’ve learned many lessons from your mom’s insecurity and jealousy. The fact that you put up with it in order to take your stepdad to his medical appointments says a lot about your honorable character.
I know that you wish your mom was different and you had a loving relationship with her. Yet, when you accept her with all her limitations, you’ll let go of a lot of stress.
Question: I’ve been the victim or enabler for all 56 years of my life. I’ve always wanted to have the love of my mother, but it was never there. I cannot remember a constant stream of normal behavior from her for any length of time. I did go for over a year with no contact. But she did sneak contact with my children through their biological father with her tactics. What should I do?
Answer: The author and speaker, Bryon Katie, said: “If you argue against reality, you will suffer.” I’m afraid you’ve been doing that for 56 years over your mother, and it’s now time to liberate yourself from that struggle and finally have peace. Accepting the truth that you’ll never have a sweet and loving mommy is long overdue. Accepting that your children have their own journey to travel with their grandmother is another fact to embrace. Accepting that you have no control over their relationship with her is yet another.
After a year of going no contact with your mom, you have a good idea of whether or not it’s the way to go. If it brought you serenity, I’d go back to it. If not, have limited contact. Trust yourself that at 56 you do know how to best handle this situation. It’s not how you want things to be but have confidence that you’ve got this!
If you have been a loving and supportive mother to your kids, your relationship with them is strong and stable and nobody can damage it. If they choose to have a relationship with their grandmother, they’ll eventually discover who she is when her failings are revealed. They need to learn these lessons for themselves, and you can’t protect them from her.
Our kids, in fact, often have more insight into our mothers than we do. They can have the objectivity that we lack. My teenage son recently said to me about his grandmother: “She sure is passive-aggressive.” I thought to myself: Wow! He’s figured that out already and it’s taken me a lifetime!
Today is an opportunity for you to ask yourself: How do I want to live the rest of my life? How do I want to spend my time and with whom? While I certainly don’t know how you’d answer these questions, I know that you don’t want to be wasting your time thinking about your mom. Hasn’t she taken up enough of your headspace for all these years?
When she starts to creep into your psyche, gain control of your thoughts and shoo her away. Then make a point of doing something that you enjoy—something that puts you into a positive frame of mind. It could be dancing around the house to your favorite music, painting a picture, calling a friend, or going for a run.
The spiritual leader, Eckhart Tolle, said: “Negativity is a denial of life.” As we grow older, we don’t have time for destructive thoughts that bring us down and keep us immobile.
Question: My mother was jealous of any attention my father gave me… but so is his own mother. I can find no literature about this. Is it common to find grandmothers who compete with their granddaughters?
Answer: Grandmothers get jealous of their granddaughters for the same “normal” reasons moms do: their youth, beauty, and sexuality and the enhanced opportunities they have to travel, pursue their education, get ahead in their careers, and create lives for themselves other than wife and mother. Grandmothers also get jealous of their granddaughters for “not-so-normal” reasons such as being mentally ill, being narcissistic, or being unusually selfish, shallow, and insecure.
However, as you say, grandmothers being jealous of their granddaughters isn’t so pervasive and destructive that it’s been studied and written about in books and articles. Since grandmothers and granddaughters don’t live in the same home and don’t interact on a daily basis, their relationship (problematic or not) is not seen as worthy of study.
In your particular situation, your father is the common denominator. Perhaps, he chose a wife similar to his mother or, perhaps, he behaves in ways that trigger a woman’s possessiveness and jealousy. Perhaps, he’s weak and the women in his life seek to control him.
If you step back from the situation and look at it objectively, you may be able to understand the dynamic in these relationships. It was probably there long before you were born. If you’re struggling with this, you may want to talk with a therapist to gain insight. After all, It’s hard to spot the dysfunction in our families because it’s always been a part of our experience. We know nothing else.
It’s wonderful that you’re curious about this and aren’t blaming yourself. I hope you find the answers you need.
Question: My mother had an affair with a married man and also slept with our former pastor’s brother a few years ago. What steps can I take to get rid of church shame?
Answer: I’m sorry that you’re struggling. Please understand, though, that the shame and guilt are your mother’s alone, not yours. A good and decent person will experience them when they’ve done something wrong. Then that individual will want to make amends and do better in order to relieve themselves of that baggage. You, however, have done nothing bad in this situation and, therefore, shouldn’t be shouldering any “church shame” as you call it.
Perhaps, you’re putting the incorrect label on what you’re really experiencing and need to talk with a close friend, trusted adult, or even a therapist to get clarity. One possibility is that you’re feeling a lot of anger, resentment, and disappointment toward your mom. Because you’re conflicted about these emotions, you might be suppressing them. Talking to her and clearing the air would be useful.
Another possibility is that you’re feeling let down and abandoned by your faith community. If you believe folks in the church are gossiping about your family, you may be feeling betrayed by them. You may resent them for passing judgment on you when compassion is what’s called for in this situation.
Church communities and religions should be loving, kind, and supportive during the trying moments of our lives. If you’re not experiencing that, you may want to look elsewhere. First, though, discuss this matter with your pastor. You’re one of their flock and they want you to be nourished by your faith. Their mission is to teach people how God and religion bring comfort and meaning to our lives, and they’d feel awful if someone left without knowing that.
Feelings of shame can immobilize us and keep us from moving forward and achieving our goals. They have no purpose whatsoever when they weren’t earned as in your case. Don’t let this unwarranted dishonor hold you back from relishing life.