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Mean Mothers: Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt Hardcover – October 13, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 96 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

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.

About the Author

Peg Streep is both the daughter of a mean mother and the devoted mother of an adult daughter. She is the author or coauthor of eleven books, including Quitting--Why We Fear It and Why We Shouldn't-- in Life, love, and work, Girl in the Mirror: Mothers and Daughters in the Years of Adolescence and the bestselling Necessary Journeys: Letting Ourselves Learn from Life, both with Dr. Nancy L. Snyderman. Streep holds degrees in English from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. She is a blogger for  PsychologyToday.com and lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Ed 1st Printing edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061651362
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061651366
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,414 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Mack on December 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I have a mean mother and cut off relations five years ago. Others who have mean mothers, or those who know my mom well, are 100% supportive. As evidenced by at least one of the negative reviews of this book, some view those of us who have cut off relations as immature. IMHO unless you yourself have/had a mean mother, you are in no position to judge. Cutting off my mom was one of the healthiest things I have ever done.

What I loved about this book was that it validated my decision and a better understanding of how my mother has affected my life. The first part of the book, in which examples of mean mothers were described, was excellent - well organized, with a lot of very cogent insights. The second half of the book I felt rambled a bit, being rather more descriptive of various stories, and did not drive to any specific conclusions. Therefore, where the book fell a bit short for me was in delivering on the subtitle: "Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt" which is why I rated the book 4 stars and not 5 stars. I don't feel that this part of the story was told as well as the first part, perhaps because we never really do overcome the legacy of hurt - we just move past it. As such, I don't feel the subtitle was warranted.
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Format: Hardcover
This book acknowledges a very painful truth. I have been puzzling over this for over twenty years. Why did my mother insist on insulting me? I don't mean that she was "mean" in the sense that she made me eat nutritious food, or did not allow me to do what I wanted, but that she insisted on demeaning me in front of other people. This book was helpful in exploring how we believe that "all mothers are nuturing". It also pinpointed a truth. When women critize their mothers, the daughters are the ones on trial. My father actually saw my mother insulting me and still did not understand why I was so distant from her. It also discusses the issue of competitiveness with daughters. My mother was horribly competitive with me and it was revolting.

This book helps me understand myself better. Why I shrink from relationships with other women, why I do not like attention focused on me, why I don't trust employers, why I am lonely.
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Format: Hardcover
Streep tackles a topic that many people have trouble accepting: the notion that some mothers just are not loving, caring people. Some are emotionally distant. Some are just plain mean.

What does a daughter do when she realizes her mother doesn't like her? It seems to be the psychological equivalent of getting a dog you don't want and leaving the dog in the yard. Some women move past the experience while others seem to be stuck.

I suspect the phenomenon is more common than many people realize. When I was in college, several of my friends had mean mothers. It was hard to watch their interaction.

Streep handles this sensitive topic well. She describes her own experience just enough to show that she's been there, without forcing the reader to get caught up in the author's life. She tells stories of women who have been through this experience. Some were able to "divorce" their mothers but others took care of their moms as they aged.

What's missing is more about how women grow past this experience of having lived with a mom who didn't want them. She talks about the experience of becoming a mother, but I wonder how many women with "mean moms" opted not to have children. Since the topic is such a taboo, I wonder if psychotherapists tend to be judgmental as well.

Overall, though, the book is well written. The author deserves credit for handling this topic. I think many readers wll relate to her examples.
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By Lisa on December 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is written not by a psychologist who studies mother-daughter relationships, but by a woman who herself was a daughter of an unloving mother. She knows the subject firsthand. It was very helpful to realize that there are plenty of women who experienced a life with an unloving mother.
The author talks about many aspects of dealing with such a mother (she does not have to be abusive in any way to be classified as unloving. Providing food, clothing and a roof over child's head does not instantly make one a good mother). She also discusses the effects growing up with a mother who is incapable of loving her daughter has on a woman. All that is set in the context of other family relationships (father, siblings) and dynamics.

The book does concentrate on mother-daughter relationship simply because the author writes about her own experience as a daughter (and a mother herself) and other women's experiences she can relate to. As a woman myself I can relate to that also. The chapter about the myth of mother's love we have in our culture was very informative.
It is a very insightful book that put some things in perspective and allowed for a deeper understanding of the subject. Not everything applies to everyone, each mother-daughter relationship is unique, but the author's observations and detailed examples were very useful.

It is not an attack on motherhood and she does not say that if a mother disciplines her child she is a bad mother. A loving mother does discipline her children, an unloving mother, on the other hand, constantly criticizes, embarrasses, makes her daughter feel bad about herself, and treats her daughters as an extension of herself.
The book ended on a positive note that a woman can be free from the unhealthy relationship with her own mother and does not have to repeat her mother's mistakes.

I would recommend this book to any woman whose relationship with her mother is and always has been difficult and painful.
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