The rivalry that dare not speak its name
Published 06/01/2013 | 06:00
A daughter is meant to be the apple of her mother's eye, but what happens when the apple turns sour and mum finds that she is jealous of her daughter's youth?
Oscar Wilde once said: "As long as a woman can look 10 years younger than her daughter, she is perfectly satisfied."
It sums up the conflict that women so often feel within: while they love their daughters and want the very best for them, pangs of jealousy can strike – and often.
A mother's jealousy of her daughter is still taboo, but the relationship between a mother and her female offspring can be one of the most hostile and competitive alliances within the family unit.
Most psychologists declare that it is inevitable and completely natural for a mother to feels envy towards her daughter throughout different cycles of her life.
It's only reasonable to draw comparisons and similarities between herself and her daughter. It's not surprising then that the mother/ daughter relationship can be the trickiest and most fractious of all, especially during a girl's teenage years.
"Because people feel that envy is so shameful, they're reluctant even to admit to it, so it's not easy to bring it out into the open," says Windy Dryden, one of the leading practitioners of psychotherapy in the UK.
However, the notion of mutual mother/daughter jealousy or envy is an old one in psychology, known as the Electra complex.
In her recent book, 'Difficult Mothers: Understanding and Overcoming their Power', psychologist Terri Apter maintains a woman who suffers envy of her daughter is likely to be powerless in many other areas of her life.
"A mother's envy betrays the most basic terms of the parent/child emotional contract, which is to take pleasure in seeing a child thrive," says Apter.
"An envious mother resents her child's positive development. She sees her daughter as someone she herself should be, and believes, on some level, that her daughter is depriving her of the talents and achievements and happiness she craves."
Psychotherapist Bernadette Ryan, of Relationships Ireland, agrees, and feels a mother can vent her anger and frustration to conceal jealousy in all sorts of ways.
"Dressing inappropriately, trying too hard to be your daughter's friend, being overly critical or harsh, overly strict or indulgent and restricting freedom or giving too much are all signs. It can come out in comments about your daughter's dress, friends, activities," says Ryan.
Strong father/daughter relationships can also fuel the jealousy of a mother.
"Mother, father and daughter can end up in a triangle, in which Dad feels so thrilled to have a little girl that he lavishes all his love and affection on her, leaving mum feeling left out and neglected," says relationship psychologist Jacqueline Marson.
Family therapist Owen Connolly believes that often, when a young girl is enjoying the stage of being 'daddy's little princess', a mother can resent the child as she is getting all the attention from dad.
"This can be the beginning of the breakdown in the daughter/ mother relationship. A father recognising his girl needs to have an early relationship with him should not be seen by mum as a threat but as an early attachment to dad," says Connolly.
"This familiar dynamic with dad usually finishes by the time the little girl is eight years of age with a successful transfer to mum, where she holds the responsibility of helping her to be happy in her skin and her sexuality. Mum is the ' queen maker'."
However, this transfer doesn't always necessarily happen.
Television cook Nigella Lawson recently spoke out about her difficult childhood and how her depressed mother Vanessa Salmon, who died from liver cancer in 1985, "just didn't like" her.
Growing up with the constant threat of her mother's short fuse pushed her towards, and made her inseparable from, her father Nigel Lawson.
Nigella has said that part of the reason for her mother's unhappiness might have been jealousy at her close relationship with her father.
The foodie recalls her devotion to her father: "In the evening when I was doing A-levels, he would come home and, since he didn't like drinking alone, would say, 'Darling come and have a drink with me while you're doing homework'."
Writer Nuala O'Faolain also confessed before she died in 2008 that she was jealous of her partner John Low-Beer's daughter, Anna, and how it left him feeling 'torn' between the two of them.
In a documentary on the late writer, Anna revealed how Nuala competed with her for the attentions of her father.
"It was a new thing for me for a girlfriend of my father's to be jealous of me. I was eight years old," Anna said.
"She would complain to him about how he spent too much time with me and I would complain to him about how he spent too much time with her.
"She never really blamed me. She always blamed herself. She knew she had some problems with attention that she didn't get when she was a child, I guess. And she carried those issues throughout her life."
John, a Brooklyn lawyer, described how Nuala, who displayed low self-worth, would compete for his affections and appraisals.
He said: "She (Nuala) just easily felt that she was second. She would say that. And I would say, 'Well, Anna's just a child'. She would say, 'Well, I'm just a child, too'."
Physicality also has a part to play in an older woman's envy of her youthful offspring. Women eye up, study and compare themselves to their peers, but what happens when 'that other woman' is your own daughter?
The moment when a daughter flourishes and blossoms often coincides with a mother's transition to middle age.
Being overshadowed in the house by a younger, trimmer, firmer and more beautiful woman at the same time as one battles the onset of middle age can, understandably, be difficult to deal with.
"In middle age, a woman is pushed out of the sexual limelight, and as she sees her daughter achieve the first blush of maturity, she can grow envious," says Apter.
When your own clothes no longer look as good, but everything hangs beautifully from your nubile daughter can be hard to accept.
"Mothers can experience both envy and jealousy; envy of their daughter's beauty and youth, and jealousy that the daughter now possesses what she once had and is losing fast," says Ryan.
"These feelings are mostly unconscious and are coupled with the fact that the mother loves her daughter, and may be fearful or repulsed by these feelings if they do come into her awareness."
Supermodel Cindy Crawford, who was discovered at 16, admitted recently she got a little jealous of her 10-year-old daughter Kaia, despite being one of the world's most revered beauties with a stellar career to boot.
At a one-off modelling project, Cindy's daughter starred in a Young Versace campaign in 2011, which resulted in the elder catwalk model yearning for her once-youthful gravity-defying figure.
The mother of two, who is now 46, said: "I look at my daughter and I'm like, 'You have my old skin and I want it back. You have my old legs, I want them back. You have my old hair, I want it back."
Crawford has since put a halt to her daughter's modelling career, saying she is too young for the harshness of the industry.
So, if one of the world's most beautiful women feels a little threatened by her pre-pubescent daughter, can you blame us mortals for feeling something similar.
According to Beverly Hills psychologist Dr Lillian Glass, Jolie dressed "the adorable tot like a boy because she was feeling insecure that she was no longer the most photogenic member of her family".
"I believe Angie is actually jealous of her beautiful little girl, so much so that she gets the child's hair closely cropped and dresses her in hand-me-down clothes from her brothers.
"In recent pictures of Shiloh, her outfits have consisted almost entirely of boys' clothes. While Angie is undoubtedly one of the world's most glamorous women, I suspect she also secretly desires to be the most feminine star of the Pitt-Jolie family," Glass adds.
The Jolie-Pitts, however, contend that Shiloh relates to her masculine side more, and prefers to be referred to as John.
Another nasty side to maternal jealousy is trying to compete with a daughter on a sexual level by dolling oneself up in skimpy attire, overtly flirting with boyfriends and competing for male attention.
When Britney Spears was carried out of her house to be hospitalised for a mental-health evaluation in 2008, she apparently kept screaming that her mother wanted to admit her because "she wants to sleep with my boyfriend".
Every daughter wants to be judged on their own merit and ability, not to hang on their mother's coat tails, and many chase down professional success accordingly.
This can affect mothers who feel their career prospects and possible promotion are dwindling as they enter the autumn of their lives.
Thus, career envy is another source of angst for mothers, as Apter argues in her book.
"A mother who demonstrates envy when a child succeeds is likely also to be an inflexible mother who has high expectations of her child.
"This leaves her child with ambivalence about achievement: she tries to meet her mother's demands by excelling, and then discovers that this increases her exposure to maternal anger.
"At one time, maternal envy of successful daughters was thought to be common; it was thought that mid-life women felt powerless themselves, and feared a successful daughter would reject and despise them," Apter adds.
American documentary film-maker and writer Eleanor Coppola was very honest in her memoirs when she spoke about her accomplished daughter Sofia successfully juggling her career as director, producer, screenwriter and actress.
Eleanor never had as lengthy or as successful a film career as her daughter. Born in 1936, the wife of director Francis Ford Coppola and mother of three did not have the same access to opportunity as her offspring.
"I am very happy for Sofia, happy that Francis is being such a good father and mentoring her, but I also feel a hot, aching jealousy in my chest. I'm trying to just notice my emotions, the way I was instructed in Zen meditation, to neither wallow in them nor push them aside," she said.
Marie Murray, clinical psychologist and family therapist, believes mothers comparing different lifestyles with their daughters' is inevitable, but it does not necessarily come from a place of envy and destruction.
"While the past few generations of women may sometimes, understandably, have wished that the opportunities and equalities their daughters take for granted were available in their time, they equally celebrate anything that enhances the life of their child," she says.
Family therapist Owen Connolly, meanwhile, believes mother/ daughter jealousy to be the worst thing that could happen to any girl.
His practice receives many clients who have experienced a lifetime of this type of jealousy – the constant undermining and put-downs, the flirting with their boyfriends and the subsequent criticism of their parenting, which really hurts.
"The young woman can't understand what is going on, as she has tried her hardest to please her mother – and no matter what she does, nothing seems to please," Connolly explains.
"When I share my opinion with them, it is such great relief. They start to recover their self-worth and, interestingly, they want to forgive their mother, as they have always wanted to love them."
While it might be easy to understand the roots of this maternal jealousy, it's not healthy, nor should it be excused.
"The important thing is to acknowledge the possibility, to acknowledge these very human and understandable feelings, to aspire to being 'the good enough' mother who is both good and not so good, not super mum – that is the way of damage limitation," concludes Ryan.
We asked some mothers to comment on their relationships with their daughters.
CAROLINE DESMOND AND DAUGHTER STORM
"As a mother, I am very close to my daughter Storm, who is 22 and in her final year at college. Storm and I are very similar in everything we do, but she is much smarter and much more together than I was at that age.
I'm not so sure she is a mini version of me, but we are often told by others that she is a mini-me.
My daughter steals my clothes all the time; we also have the same shoe size, which is never a good thing for a mother.
I agree that Storm maturing is a sign of me ageing.
While Storm's youth doesn't niggle me, when we are photographed together, I am reminded of how much I have aged.
While I wouldn't like to be young with a full future ahead, I would like to be 30 years of age again.
In my eyes, Storm is perfect – she looks after her skin, hair and body. She eats well and exercises regularly, while I have always crash dieted and still eat badly.
I encourage Storm to enjoy her freedom as, in time, she will have the same responsibilities as I have now, which she understands.
I want her to travel and see the world for as long as she can before she settles down.
I think it is important for each child to enjoy a close relationship with both parents, as each parent
brings something different to their upbringing.
Mother/daughter envy is a strange phenomenon. While Storm and I don't compete, some mothers do.
It would be wrong for me to live vicariously through Storm. A daughter's youth, vitality and success should not make a mother envious if you love your daughter; one should just take pride in how amazing she is."
TANYA AIREY AND DAUGHTER LAUREN
"I am mother to 18-year-old Lauren, who is studying for her Leaving Cert. We are very close and get on very well most of the time, but, like most mother and daughters, we have the odd run-in.
People would know we are related, but we don't look very alike. Lauren is similar to me in traits, having a strong personality, which can cause a few problems between us. Like me, she is very determined and ambitious; she knows what she wants and goes after it.
We are at completely different stages in our lives, so we don't share wardrobes – I would look ridiculous in her clothes and vice versa.
Handbags are the only thing we would have similar taste in.
There is a certain amount of envy on my part when it comes to Lauren's looks. I would love to have her skin, but I have to accept that I will never have youthful skin again – c'est la vie. I look after mine and that is the best I can do.
To have as much energy as her would be fantastic. I'm not able for half the stuff Lauren would do.
I do envy the fun, the excitement and the thrill she feels when she is getting ready with friends, all together to go out. And then when she is out, the sheer abandonment – they forget about everything – whereas a mother can never really forget about everything as there are so many things to think about.
However, I'm not envious of the overwhelming pressure she is under to do well in her Leaving Cert next June.
Being the only daughter, Lauren has a very close relationship with her father, Phillip. They chat about lots of things, such as sport. He goes to most of her hockey matches and they have a good laugh together.
I love seeing them have a good relationship. I have a very strong relationship with my father and it's brilliant the way she also does.
I am very protective of Lauren, but I wouldn't live through Lauren.
Anybody I talk to wants only the best for their daughters. Being young is fantastic in a lot of ways, but whether I want to go back there I don't know.
Watching her blossom makes me feel older. It is also tinged with sadness, as I'm entering into a different phase of my life, with previous phases moving too fast, and I wish I had savoured the moments more. You do feel a sense of loss, but I would find a mother being envious of her daughter very shallow."
MARTINA FOX AND DAUGHTERS MEGAN AND LORNA
I'm very close to my daughters, Megan, who will be 21 this month, and 16-year-old Lorna. I wouldn't want them to be mini versions of me; in fact, I pity mothers who try to turn either their daughters into themselves or, worse, themselves into their daughters.
I don't socialise with my children, as I think children should live their own lives and have their own social circle.
There is nothing I envy about my daughters – I embrace their youth and am so proud of both of them. I love seeing how they are maturing and turning into beautiful young women.
I'm very happy and confident in my own skin, and more content in my 40s than in any other decade of my life, so their youth would never bother me. I don't want to be in my 20s again with all the drama that comes with it.
My children are as close to me as they are to my husband Robbie. Megan has socialised with Robbie quite a few times and that doesn't bother me. It's healthy for them to spend time with us both individually. Robbie is a good dad to the girls and any time he has with them he enjoys whole-heartedly – why would I be envious of that?
I feel sorry for any woman who envies her daughter. We put so much into our children, why envy them their life?
There was a stage when Megan was 'finding her footing' in her early teenage years when I believe she felt she was competing with me, and she had a hard time with that. Our relationship was a bit cool for a short period of time.
This was just an immaturity thing with her. She is very similar to me in many ways, but as her confidence grew, and her personality matured, that sense of competition evaporated.
I would never want to be a woman who thinks she is her daughter's 'girlfriend'. I have no aspirations to be a 'hip' mum, I just want to be what I am – their mum.
I look at my girls and think how lucky they are to be in a position where they can shape their whole lives, they are so young and their whole life is ahead of them. The opportunities they will have are endless compared with when I was growing up.
I really feel sorry for a mother who is envious of her daughter's youth, vitality, and success. Thankfully, I am not one of them."
ANNEMARIE GANNON AND DAUGHTER AMY
"I have an 11-year-old daughter called Amy. Due to the sad passing of her father Vincent when Amy was only three, our mother/daughter relationship is extremely close.
Being a single parent has its challenges and it can also create concerns where Amy feels as if I am all she has.
This year, Amy discovered that her father died by suicide, and that has presented huge emotional and traumatic challenges for her.
Being a former model, make-up and fashion play a role when we spend time together. She takes after me very much in that department.
In the past year, Amy has become more conscious of her hair and skin, which has made me notice the increasing amount of lines on my own face. I am envious that, because of her youth, she has no stretch marks.
As Amy is growing up, I have to admit that I have become more conscious of trying to stay fashionable within limits in relation to my own age.
I hate seeing women let themselves go because their children are getting older, or looking like mutton dressed as lamb because they want so badly to be as young and glamorous as their daughters.
Amy is at that awkward stage of adolescence – she is tall, blooming, developing and becoming self-conscious, but she is still a child.
My bathroom cabinet reveals the truth of my ageing and Amy's youth, with a bottle of Simple moisturiser sitting beside a tub of over-40s anti-ageing cream. I wish I could say the Simple was mine, but life is what it is.
As a self-employed single mother, I am the breadwinner, cook, cleaner, nurturer, therapist, chauffeur, so I have a lot of responsibilities. Your time is not your own; it is fully focused on my daughter, and her growing up without a dad is hard. You do your best and are fully responsible for every single need in your child's life.
Who wouldn't at times enjoy more freedom like my daughter has? I can't remember the last time I took a trip to a beauty salon – there is always something to be paid for.
I didn't have the same career opportunities open to me as Amy will have. I love the fact that now there are so many opportunities for young girls to educate themselves.
I'm a 'go girl' type of mum, so if Amy wants to try something that she thinks she might like, I encourage her and tell her to go for it.
It depends on the mother if a daughter's youth, vitality and success can make her envious. For me, the more I age, the more Amy blossoms and I wish her every success that life has to offer. I don't miss my youth."
ROZ FLANAGAN AND FOUR DAUGHTERS
"I have four daughters: Melissa (27), Victoria (25), Stephanie (21) and Moniquea (14). I'm very close to the girls. We do a lot together and socialise frequently.
If my husband Vincent is away on a business trip, myself and the girls would go out into town or have a drink in the local bar.
I would know all their friends and boyfriends and we all get along very well.
Fashion-wise, the girls would look at me as fashionable and would ask me to help pick them dresses. They wear all my clothes as we're the same sizes in everything, both dresses and shoes. We would have similar tastes.
I see my younger attributes in them all. When my second eldest, Victoria, is dressed up and ready to go out, she practically looks like my twin, but a younger version.
As Cindy Crawford saw herself in her daughter, I would see a bit of myself in each of the girls, too. People often comment how alike we all are, which is nice to hear. I am way too busy being proud of my girls to be jealous.
It makes me happy that they look as well as they do. Yes, I would love to have the figures that they have now, but I am happy in my own skin.
Jealousy is a strong word; it's not that I'm jealous of them, but rather envy them.
As you age, you can be looking at your daughters and taking note of how your own legs used to look. I can understand this aspect for sure. I wish I had my legs back, but I wouldn't be jealous of my daughters. I am happy they look well.
Their youthful looks don't niggle me. I gave birth to them and am extremely proud watching them grow.
Do I want to be 14 again and to not have aged? No. I love where I am in my life and I'm happy I have my children at this stage of their lives.
Of course, my daughters blooming is a sign of me ageing, but I don't feel old and I'm not sure I ever will – I will always be young at heart.
At this stage, I have all the freedom I want. I consider myself very lucky because my older daughters can accompany me to events that my husband Vincent does not like attending.
True, I have loads of responsibilities compared with them, but responsibilities are something everybody has – it's how you approach and handle it that counts.
I am so happy where I am right now and, despite my age, I feel I have a full future ahead of me. I also have the pleasure of being part of my daughter's futures – what more could I want?