The conflict can spread out from the mother-daughter dyad to envelope the husband and father. Some fathers will become rescuers – the knight in shining armor the daughter needs to hold her own against her mother – while others will become complicit, either ignoring or denying the mother-daughter dynamic. In other families, particularly those in which the burden of childrearing is assumed to be the mother's, a father will simply defer to his wife's assessment of their daughter. Divorce further complicates matters for the mother who already has a weak or non-existent foundation of love for her child.
The power of the mother- love myth affects daughters in myriad ways, one of which is reflected in the reluctance of the daughters of mean mothers to come forward and talk. One woman, the mother of ten-year-old twins, declined to talk about her mother from whom she is long estranged for fear it would make her sound whiny or self-indulgent. Another was afraid to talk outside of a therapeutic environment, fearing the pain she knew she would experience. One woman pulled out after we spoke because she felt guilty, while another was convinced by her older sister that it was "unseemly" for her to talk about their mother, even though they both share the same vision of her as withheld and self-absorbed.
With one exception, all the women I interviewed requested that I use a pseudonym and change details of their lives to further assure that they couldn't be recognized for fear that family, friends, acquaintances and colleagues would think less of them. In some cases, to further disguise them, I have given a single woman more than one name so that the thread of her story in these pages won't reveal her identity. A girlfriend who is also a writer sends me a list of her close friends who might possibly agree to be interviewed and then, just a few hours later, emails back:" On reflection, I don't think you should approach these women because I'm not sure they actually recognize that their mothers are mean to them. I've witnessed some pretty awful stuff first-hand but that doesn't mean they see it that way."
The myth of mother love requires a daughter to maintain her silence.
Diane, a married woman who chose not to have children, sums it up this way: " I don't feel good talking about my mother because I'm afraid people will think I'm exaggerating the things she said to me and still says, for that matter. The few times I've tried talking to a girlfriend about her, I felt that somehow that friend ended up thinking less of me because of how I criticized her. Besides, my mother is super-careful about what she says to me in front of other people so complaining makes me sound crazy or worse. I swear it took my husband a few years to catch onto what was really going on. He adores his mother so it was natural for him to make excuses for mine, at the beginning at least. He knows now and he's totally with me on that. But other people? Well, no."