An exploration of the darker side of maternal behavior drawn from scientific research, psychology, and the real-life experiences of adult daughters, Mean Mothers sheds light on one of the last cultural taboos: what happens when a woman doesn't or can't love her daughter.Read more...
An exploration of the darker side of maternal behavior drawn from scientific research, psychology, and the real-life experiences of adult daughters, Mean Mothers sheds light on one of the last cultural taboos: what happens when a woman doesn't or can't love her daughter.
Mean Mothers reveals the multigenerational thread that often runs through these stories--many unloving mothers are the daughters of unloving or hypercritical women--and explores what happens to a daughter's sense of self and to her relationships when her mother is emotionally absent or even cruel. But Mean Mothers is also a narrative of hope, recounting how daughters can get past the legacy of hurt to become whole within and to become loving mothers to the next generation of daughters. The personal stories of unloved daughters and sons and those of the author herself, are both unflinching and moving, and bring this most difficult of subjects to life.
Mean Mothers isn't just a book for daughters who've had difficult or impossible relationships with their mothers. By exposing the myths of motherhood that prevent us from talking about the women for whom mothering a daughter is fraught with ambivalence, tension, or even jealousy, Mean Mothers also casts a different light on the extraordinary influence mothers have over their female children as well as the psychological complexity and emotional depth of the mother-daughter relationship.
Healing the wounds of childhood
Western society has carefully cultivated the myth that every mother sympathizes uniquely with her children and loves them unconditionally. Even fairy tales have been revised to reflect the idea that a biological mother is incapable of cruelty; centuries ago it was Snow White’s own mother, not a jealous stepmother, who was forced to dance to her death in hot iron shoes for treating her adolescent daughter as a rival. In Mean Mothers: Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt, Peg Streep explores the uncomfortable reality of mothers who lack an inherent ability to love their children—especially daughters. Streep, herself the daughter of what she terms an “unloving mother,” deftly weaves her recollections and those of other Baby Boomer-generation daughters together with scientific studies of mother-child bonds and psychologists’ observations to illuminate the reasons why some mothers are unable to nurture their daughters. Born in an era when married women were expected to have children regardless of their capacity for caring, the adult daughters interviewed remember mothers who constantly insulted their appearances, criticized their lifestyles, discounted their achievements and—perhaps causing the deepest wounds—refused to offer the everyday comforts of kind looks, calming voices and gentle touch. Without asking for pity, Streep shows how daughters denied their mothers’ intimate gestures can develop uncertainty in their self-images, leading to compensatory behaviors like overeating, overspending and overachieving. At age three Streep recognized her mother’s detachment as the inability to love her, knowing “more than anything, that her power was enormous and that the light of her sun was what I needed. But that light could burn, flicker, or disappear for any or no reason.” Despite her painful history, Streep has been able to write a legacy of love with her own daughter. Ultimately, she concludes that while we learn many behaviors from them, we are not our mothers, and we can triumph in disrupting the cycle of hurt. Jillian Mandelkern is a teacher and writer in Pennsylvania.