By Charlotte Phillips, The Times
The author looks at the corrosive effect of a mother’s jealousy of her own daughter.
Meg has two daughters, a loving, supportive husband and the sort of house that estate agents fantasize about. She has worked hard for her success, only recently taking a break from her high-powered job in publishing.
You’d think hers would be the sort of lifestyle any mother would want for her daughter. In Meg’s case, though, nothing could be farther from the truth.
“I read somewhere that the only women you want to be cleverer and more beautiful than you are your daughters,” she says, ruefully. “Not my mother. I’ve even stopped sending her postcards when we’re on holiday in case it makes her envious.” Her mother’s resentful feelings go back to childhood. “I remember sitting exams. The night before, she’d be horrible. Afterwards, she’d highlight all the areas where she thought I’d failed.”
Like many in the same position, Meg spent years trying, and failing, to gain the approval of her green-eyed parent. Nothing made an iota of difference. “I treated her to a trip to London. I got her Centre Court tickets for Wimbledon and meals at top restaurants,” Meg says. “At the end, all she said was, ‘You take me to these places to make me feel small’.”
Maternal jealousy is a corrosive emotion but one that, in other circumstances, we relate to.
Sibling rivalry, for example, is a must-comment topic in every parenting chat room, and jealousy when partners develop a close friendship with a potential rival is understandable. But when the envy emanates from parents, particularly mothers, it’s something we find difficult to accept. And that’s largely on account of society’s expectations.
Maternal jealousy is strictly taboo
I know from painful experience that even mentioning that, as a mother yourself, you might feel twinges of jealousy towards your children, is strictly taboo. The only time I confessed at a coffee morning that I’d have to swallow a big mouthful of unmaternal gall if my elder daughter succeeded in her long-term ambition to write a bestseller, the collective intake of breath from the other mothers was strong enough to suck the foam off my cappuccino.