Some say that young adult women feel so competitive with their mothers that they should be called “Generation Jealous.” These are the daughters struggling with their mothers' success or beauty or happy love life. As one journalist noted, “Even if there is no competition between the mother and the adult daughter, there is always comparison.” And if the young women don’t make the comparison themselves, friends and family will do it for them.
Of course, jealousy is more likely to rear its ugly head if the daughter is not happy with where she is in her own life. If she is finding it hard to make headway in the world, she may resent her mother’s successful career. If she’s over 30 and not married or involved in a significant relationship, she may resent her mother and father’s strong bond. And if she is overweight or (feels) unattractive, she may resent her mother’s good looks. Given our society’s obsession with physical beauty, it’s no surprise that Internet forums on this topic are loaded with complaints from daughters who say their mothers are prettier than they. The younger women seem to particularly resent their mothers garnering more attention from men when the two of them are out together.
Writing in Psychology Today, author Peg Streep, author of Daughter Detox, characterizes the accomplished mother as “The Oak.” She says, “The Oak casts a long shadow over the sapling, and so the highly accomplished, sometimes witty and social, often beautiful and charming, mother makes it hard for her daughter to find her own place in the sun. In most cases, the daughter is very ambivalent. She’s proud of her mom, on the one hand, and is pleased to note the ways in which she and her mother are alike; on the other hand, she also feels the need to differentiate herself from the mighty Oak and find an arena which is hers alone in which she can distinguish herself.”
Daughter envy is not limited to the United States. In the British newspaper, The Telegraph, Radhika Sanghani wrote, “It’s not always an easy road, following in your mum’s footsteps—especially when she casts a long shadow.” Sanghani quotes Linda Blair, a psychologist and author of Happy Child. “It’s something I do hear a lot more than I used to,” she says. “It’s always been the case that daughters compare themselves to their mums but there weren’t many [successful working] mothers until about 50 years ago. Now with the increased opportunities for women and the fact that we’re so well for so long and we look great, it’s true that young adult daughters find their mothers doing the same things they’re doing, and of course they’ve been doing it for 20 or 30 years so they're ahead." As Blair concluded, it’s a very different world today.
The Telegraph article cited the following examples to illustrate this point. “My mum and I are basically the same person, which can be difficult when you’re trying to be yourself,” says Laura, an executive assistant. . .And it’s hard because I’m 26, I’m living at home, and she had a house at 21 and was married. I’m five years older than she was and I’m still playing catch up.” Ling, 25, says: “I do feel as though my mum had achieved so much more than me by her mid-twenties – she had bought a house, had a good (well-paid) job, managed to settle down and was even pregnant with her first child. I’m renting in London, I’m on a junior salary and my boyfriend and I aren’t thinking about marriage or anything right now. It’s difficult because you constantly compare yourself to the people you admire and it seems as though our parents did everything so much younger.”
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