Friday, August 10, 2007

When the World Revolves Around Mom

Korea -

A toned body that easily fits into a size XS. The face of a woman in her early 40s. A professional job. Perfect. So what if the dishwashing, cooking, cleaning and other household chores are left to the family? So what if the daughter has to endure snide comments about her cellulite thighs? The husband, now in early retirement, isn’t about to make a fuss.

Narcissistic mothers of this kind are mostly in their mid-to-late 40s and early 50s, and most invest significantly more in themselves than in raising their children or doing household chores. They may appear strong and independent, but experts say many sacrifice their own children to their interests. This is especially apparent when such mothers go shopping with their “ugly” ducklings.

They’re forever fishing for compliments from the salespeople. “Are you really her mother? I thought you must be her older sister.” That’s what they need to hear. The psychiatrist Kim Byeong-hu says there are more of these mothers now that parents no longer sacrifice everything for their children. “Now they put more value on their own lives,” Kim says. Prof. Kwak Geum-ju, a psychologist at Seoul National University, says, “Although there may be individual differences, there are more narcissistic people when a generation that has been under pressure to make sacrifices comes to an end and a generation who grew up with excessive attention grows up.” When these people in turn become grandparents, they are more likely to run away from their grandchildren saying they don’t want anything to do with them, she adds.

The generation of narcissistic mothers has had their share of hurt. They had the capabilities, but they were not given enough opportunities to fully realize their potential. Although they have been busy in their children’s lives by sending them from one tutorial school to the next, there is a vacuum in their own that cannot be filled by basking in someone else’s success.

So they try to fill that emptiness with a stress on their own femininity ? and that means makeup and clothes. Prof. Ahn Myeong-hee of Dongduk Women’s University Sociology Department explains the pressure to look young has had an enormous impact on mothers in their late 40s. “Mothers choose changing their appearance and dieting as an easy way to enhance their self-esteem.” At home, fathers are on the wane while mothers are only getting started, taking classes and going to social gatherings. “This causes problems because mothers have not just the emotional control but the real power,” Ahn adds.

But why is it often daughters who are made to suffer? “Daughters are close to their mothers physically and emotionally,” Ahn says. “A love-hate relationship is created since daughters are the subject of identification for mothers.” Kim Byeong-hoo stresses that daughters must free themselves from such a relationship if their mothers continue to be demanding or consider them only as accessories. If they give in to every demand from their mothers, they are likely to be pressured to sacrifice themselves as their mothers feel they did in the past, and that could perpetuate the cycle.

“Since it’s impossible to reduce a mother’s demands gradually, it’s better to squash them all at once,” Kim says. “At first, it might appear that the mother’s fury will shatter the peace of the house, but eventually conflicts will subside and mothers will face the reality.” Kim says some mothers today have huge egos because they have grown up without much interference from their parents. “But their children are likely to have fragile egos and feel oppressed by the power of their own mothers, since their lives are filled with constant meddling by their mothers.”