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Why Are Some Moms Jealous of Their Daughters?

It seems unlikely that a mother would be jealous of her daughter. Don’t all mothers want their kids to shine and get the opportunities that they did not have?

It is a common misconception that one excludes the other. Mothers can love their daughters and want the best for them, and still, feel jealous of them.

Here’s what some of them say

Mom 1

From the moment she was born, my husband was obsessed with our daughter. She’s almost 15 now and he is still mesmerized with everything she says and does. Annie is truly an amazing kid and I wouldn’t trade being her mom for anything in the world. Greg is such a great dad to her and I love him for that. This is why I feel guilty when I miss the times before we had Annie when all that Greg cared about was us.

Mom 2

Don’t get me wrong, seeing my daughter grow into a beautiful, smart, and attractive young woman fills me with joy. But I miss my body the way it was when I was her age. So when she puts on clothes that I can no longer wear and looks great in them, I feel awful for not wanting to give her a compliment.

Mom 3

I gave up so much to be a mom. Though I don’t regret it, I do admit that sometimes I feel jealous of my daughter for getting to be everything that I had to give up to have her. I am happy with the life I have, but I do wonder about the one I missed. A few weeks ago she told me that she could never be one of those women who trade ambition, career, and travel for staying at home and taking care of the kids and the household. She may not have wanted to insult me, but I took it as an insult and started to scream at her.

There are plenty of resources online that speak of unloving, narcissistic mothers who are jealous of their daughters. Unfortunately, there are a lot of examples of mother-daughter relationships that are cold, neglectful, resentful, and even abusive. 

The part of the spectrum that not many people write or talk about is jealousy in mothers that are otherwise committed, loving, and caring.

We often get stuck in categorizing people (and mothers) that we fail to understand that motherhood is often characterized by coexisting ambiguities. Such is jealousy and love.

Those mothers often carry the shame and self-blame for experiencing jealousy. They keep it a secret because many people would be too quick to judge them as bad or narcissistic for feeling jealous.

But the thing with jealousy is that the more it’s being kept a secret, the more difficult it can become for a person to cope with it.

The feeling that is not talked about, acknowledged, and understood can grow into a destructive force that damages the relationship.

Why do some mothers feel jealous of their daughters?

Jealousy rarely provokes empathy. The feelings of loss, inadequacy, neglect, and/or deprivation that often underpin jealousy, usually do. 

Motherhood is in many ways a rewarding experience that still comes at a high cost. A lot of personal sacrifices go along with the decision to have and raise a child.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of shame around complaining about the role, when all that mothers should be is “grateful for being a mom.”

This stops us from openly talking about all of the losses and challenges women experience on their journey into motherhood.

Though we’d like them to be super-humans (and often think of them as such), moms are human beings and therefore flawed. They too have unfulfilled dreams, personal regrets, cravings, and needs. 

Their daughters can often be a direct reminder of the painful insecurities they have difficulties coping with. Here are some of the reasons moms experience jealousy.

Daughters “steal” the attention of the spouse

What moms can experience is a loss of the affection that they used to get from their partner.

A mother can be jealous of the daughter’s relationship with her father because she can see the attention, affection, and care he provides for the daughter, while he puts her needs are put on hold.

Moms can feel rejected, unimportant (or less important), deprived and neglected, and feel too guilty and ashamed to talk to their partners about it.

Daughters are the reminder of the lost youth

A lot of moms experience menopause around the time when their daughters experience adolescence.

It can be challenging to cope with the hormonal changes and maintain self-confidence when you are constantly exposed to the image of youth.

Mothers can experience jealousy of the looks they no longer have. A daughter can look like a better, improved version of what they used to be.

Daughters can put themselves first

A mother should always prioritize her child’s needs – this is the expectation of motherhood. A daughter, on the other side, can choose to prioritize herself. This inequality can frustrate and sometimes provoke jealousy.

Daughters get to have the opportunities that moms did not

Moms can feel very conflicted about seeing their daughters take the paths they couldn’t.

On one hand, a mother can be very happy that her daughter has the opportunity to do so, and be very sad or frustrated that she has not been granted the same chance on the other.

This can be the case for those mothers that had to choose between their own education or careers and having or raising a child.

Daughters can outgrow their moms

Seeing daughters reach and get past the level of maturity or success of their mothers’ can provoke feelings of pride and joy, but also – feelings of inferiority or inadequacy. These feelings can plant the seed of jealousy.

Daughters can defy the norms and get away with it

Societal norms dictate what is appropriate for certain age groups. When we cross the threshold of adulthood, most of us don’t stop wanting to have fun the way we did when we were kids, teens, or college students.

We just feel embarrassed that we want to do so because of what it could say about us.

Adolescence allows you to test and experiment with the norms and not suffer significant consequences. This is another reason moms can feel jealous of their daughters. 

Daughters become the version of moms that moms never got to be

Moms can see in their daughters the versions of themselves that they were never brave, supported, strong, or smart enough to become.

To see someone, and especially your own daughter, handle challenges you thought were insurmountable with ease can cause you to question your own choices and capabilities.

How Can A Mom Recognize That She’s Jealous?

Moms can experience jealousy in different ways, more or less visible to their daughters and people around them:

  • She often compares herself to her daughter to prove that she is in some way better.
  • She feels annoyed when she “should” feel proud or happy for her daughter.
  • She is competing for attention with her daughter.
  • She diminishes her daughter’s achievements.
  • She tries to steal the spotlight. 
  • She does not speak of her daughter’s achievements.
  • She is guilt-tripping her daughter.
  • She is controlling her daughter, imposing her own choices onto her.
  • She does not praise her daughter in public.
  • She is changing her appearance, trying to look like her daughter.
  • She is demanding more time with her husband without the presence of her daughter.
  • She engages in activities that exclude her daughter.
  • She is hesitant to help her daughter.
  • She wants to know every single detail of her life. 
  • She criticizes not to help, but to point out mistakes. 
  • She talks behind her back.
  • She starts to dislike her daughter.
  • She is mean to her daughter (it feels like an impulse that she has difficulty controlling.)

Are Some Moms More Likely To Feel Jealous Than Others?

There are a few factors that affect how jealous moms feel or act. 

For example, moms who are more possessive of their husbands can have a hard time when his attention is divided between her and her daughter. She may find it challenging to accept that she is no longer in the spotlight of his attention. 

Also, moms who struggle to cope with the consequences of aging are more likely to be jealous of their daughters’ youth. This is likely to be the case with moms whose young looks are very much tied to their experience of who they are.

Or, it can be the number of unfulfilled dreams that provoke jealousy. Moms who have a whole lot of regrets can channel their frustration into the jealousy of her daughter’s choices. 

Still, it is important to notice that there’s no experience that a mom can have that unambiguously tells whether she will be jealous of her daughter or not.

A mom who gave up her career to raise a child can be super proud to see that her daughter is pursuing her dream job, as she can be envious of her daughter’s choices.

Jealousy has a lot to do with the attitude and the meaning we attach to our own choices and the choices of others. 

How Damaging Can Jealousy Be For The Relationship?

The feeling itself does not damage the relationship. It is the behaviors that come out of the feeling that can be destructive. 

A mom can feel jealousy and not express it, or express so much of other emotions (such as care and affection) that jealousy goes unnoticed.

The extent to which jealousy is damaging depends on the frequency and intensity of the behaviors that were mentioned above. 

Each of the behaviors from the list above leaves a trace on the relationship. Daughters learn from and about their mothers through the ways in which they treat them.

If a mother consistently shows that she is threatened by her daughter, if she competes with her or puts her down, the daughter is likely to learn that their relationship is not safe or supportive.

That kind of relationship can create a whole lot of personal psychological challenges for the daughter to cope with.

How To Cope With Jealousy?

Moms need to get to the root of the feeling. It can be very difficult to talk about this topic with a family member or a friend, which is why it is recommended to talk to an expert.

The expert can provide a confidential, judgment-free environment to help moms open up and work through feelings of jealousy.

The role of a parent, and especially the role of a mother, is burdened by heavy social expectations on what it should assume.

There’s no recipe on how’s done and most of it is informed guesses with a lot of improvisation. Jealousy is one of the emotions that not many people warn mothers about before they have their daughters. 

The more shame and blame we attach to this feeling, the more unlikely we are to help mothers cope with it and repair and nurture the relationships with their daughters. It is necessary that we drop judgments and listen with understanding and care.