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Dear Readers,

Last week’s letter was from a woman who is an only child. Her mother is a widow who lives with her daughter’s family. She seems to be a very loving mother-in-law to the woman’s husband and a very wonderful grandmother to the woman’s children and grandchildren. In fact, the only person she is not loving and warm to is her only child. Though the mother cooks for everyone, and even finds time to assist with the cleaning, the daughter is in a great deal of pain from the way her mother treats her.

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The daughter expressed in her letter that there is nothing she can do to please her mother who has much to say about the way she looks, dresses, deals with her children, etc.

While the letter-writer is a professional who has a lot of confidence in her work and in her dealings with others, when it comes to her mother, she is at a complete loss.

She wrote asking for our help in navigating this relationship. She signed her letter, “Hurting daughter.”

 

Dear Hurting Daughter,

You noted in your letter that your mother had been raised by critical parents and that you try very hard to be positive in your dealings with your own children. Let me commend you on stopping the cycle of criticism. It takes a lot of courage to do that.

Another thing you noted in your letter was that your mother is an insecure person. One of my favorite lines is “Don’t mind the he who puts you down, he is trying to cut you to his own size. People who are very critical are generally insecure and they belittle others to make themselves feel better.

It is unfortunate that your mother has picked you as her scapegoat. As strange as this may sound, it could be that your mother is jealous of you. You seem to have a wonderful husband, children who truly care about you, and a successful career. Most times parents are happy for their children and do not begrudge them anything; however, parents are human and can be envious, even if they are not aware of it.

Yes, maternal jealousy is a taboo topic, but it does exist and can be very harmful to the mother-daughter relationship. We like to believe that all mothers are proud when their daughters surpass them; however, research shows that this is not so. A study by Carol Ryff and others showed that while mothers felt better about themselves when their son’s achievements surpassed their own, they actually felt worse when their daughters did better than them or achieved more than them. Furthermore, research also shows that maternal jealousy can be exacerbated by a daughter’s closeness to her father. Since you seem to fall into both of these categories (you mentioned that your father was always loving to you), these are definitely areas that are worth exploring further.

Your mother, who tries to impress the family with her amazing cooking and baking, was never able to achieve professionally or financially what you have achieved; thus maybe she is subconsciously envious.

Did your father prefer you to his wife, your mother? Was your mother envious of your father’s love for you? You do not speak about your parents’ marriage, so all of this is only conjecture.

The same goes for your mother’s relationship with her mother. Is your mother angry with her mother for being critical and taking it out on you? Or is she just repeating a cycle without even recognizing what she is doing? There are many unanswered questions about your situation.

Have you spoken to your mother about her criticism? I think not. And now might be the best time. Ask her, respectfully, if she would agree to speak with a third party with you. Explain that you so want to have a better relationship with her, and that the constant criticism makes that hard. It is very possible that she doesn’t understand the pain her actions are causing you. As we said, people who grow up with criticism can very easily become critical people. You have already broken the cycle of being a critical parent, now its time to end the pain.

I admire the fact that you are trying so hard to be mechabed your mother in the proper way in spite of the way she deals with you. It is my hope that professional help will make your situation easier. Hatzlacha.

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Dr. Yael Respler is a psychotherapist in private practice who provides marital, dating and family counseling. Dr. Respler also deals with problems relating to marital intimacy. Letters may be emailed to deardryael@aol.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist, co-authors this column and is now in private practice providing complete pychological evaluations as well as child and adolescent therapy. She can be reached at 917-679-1612. Previous columns can be viewed at www.jewishpress.com and archives of Dr. Respler’s radio shows can be found at www.dryaelrespler.com.
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