Arts & Culture

Maternal Envy: Fact or Fiction

This is from a piece on a Psychology Today blog, that references my last book Baby Love about mothers who envy their daughters. It’s good to see professionals who understand the subtext of complex relationships. Half a century after Deutsche, … Read More

By / December 16, 2008

This is from a piece on a Psychology Today blog, that references my last book Baby Love about mothers who envy their daughters. It’s good to see professionals who understand the subtext of complex relationships.

Half a century after Deutsche, Susie Orbach, Kim Chernin and others argued that young women’s expanding career opportunities can (albeit not always) arouse a mother’s envy. A daughter may hold herself back, terrified that, if she does surpass her mother, she will be forced to eat of those proverbial poisoned apples – in the form of maternal disapproval, distain, guilt. Or, she may hope to win approval by her success, only to find that success does not give her mother pleasure; instead, her mother responds with envy, which a daughter experiences as disapproval.

 

This is a hotly debated subject, amd many experts deny and reframe what looks like maternal envy as maternal concern. And yet I hear from so many women who have felt undermined by their mothers. And mothers who have struggled with their jealousy of their daughters.

My feeling is not enough light has been shed on the subject, and, like mental illness, the kind of wounding that occurs in many mother daughter relationships is even more devastating because daughters are considered ungrateful for voicing their feelings, and punished accordingly. Especially in the black community, when so many mothers have had to work so hard for so long (and are perceived as uncomprehending of the suffering of past generations), and the Jewish community when the idea of a mother being resentful of her daughter cuts so against the grain of the kvelling, over-enthusiastic mother.

In both cultures, daughters are expected to be obedient and enduring of any kind of psychological burden; the idea of expressing upset is  unthinkable. And yet, as Audre Lorde wrote, "Our silence will not protect us."

What about you? Have you experienced any of these kinds of maternal conflicts? Either as a mother yourself or as a daughter?

I’d like to talk about this, to open the doors. We all have something to gain.