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Do Boomer Mothers Envy Their Daughters?

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So here’s one for the shrinks out there: envy. We’ve all felt it around people who are more attractive, who earn more, who lost their baby weight before they stopped breastfeeding. But what happens when the object of your envy – that thinner, more beautiful, more popular and successful person – is your own daughter?

Impossible, you say? Just Google “jealous of my daughter” and the truth comes out (along with some other crazy stuff). Looks as if there are a lot of washed-up moms out there raising some pretty bodacious babes.

I’ll explain my questionable Google history. I’ve heard rumors. Women in my mother’s generation were born in times of austerity – under stricter measures than even the ones some of us are living with today. Many of them were told they couldn’t (or shouldn’t bother to) pursue an education. And if they did go on to higher learning, the opportunities open to them were “nurse” or “teacher” and very little else. Women who didn’t fit the profile were SOL.

Then the West grew more affluent and our mothers raised a generation of children who were expected to excel beyond their hopes. Each generation since the Second World War has improved upon the last. That was the way the world was supposed to work. But it didn’t mean our mothers had to smile about it. The sacrifices they made for us paid off, but it must have stung to watch so many of us sail through university, party through our twenties, marry for love, have fewer babies (and help for the ones we did have).

All while they were losing their looks.

Nor can it be easy to admit you might feel just a tiny bit bitter about the successes of your own daughter. Nevertheless, hundreds do. One of them got this response after writing in to Slate magazine’s agony aunt Dear Prudence:

“In the initial telling of the Brothers Grimm story Snow White – about the young girl whose stepmother ordered her killed because she had replaced the older woman as the fairest in the land – the stepmother was actually her mother,” says Prudence. “I mention this not because your feelings are despicable but because they are archetypal.”

(Prudence also suggested the writer see a therapist.)

Many women my age wonder if their mothers rue the day they set them free. We perceive schadenfreude when our own children cause us grief. Or when we complain that the sitter hasn’t shown up. We notice the strain in their voices when they “ooh” and “ahh” over our vacation snaps, or when they remark at how wonderful a cook or cleaner or all-around dad our husbands are.

Are we next?

I sometimes wonder if I’ll come to resent the tremendous opportunities we’re giving to our daughters. If they emerge from adolescence with top grades, several languages, confidence and looks to boot, will I be forced to look back on my own life with regret? Will there be strain in my voice when I congratulate them on being accepted to Ivy League universities? If they fall prey to the lousy economy, will I secretly feel relief?

I’m not saying I’m the Wicked Queen type. But even her destructive jealousy must have started with a harmless pang.

If only she’d seen a therapist.