This post is not at all flattering to my mother.
She has no idea that I have this blog (she would be HORRIFIED) – so that statement isn’t for her so much as it is an attempt to alleviate my own guilt. I feel terribly guilty when speaking poorly of my mom. I can’t decide if this guilt is a societal thing, or if it was encouraged by my mom, or if it’s simply because I can be convinced to feel guilty about pretty much anything.
Regardless, apologies to my mom.
Now back to diamonds…
Growing up, my mom would always point out other women’s diamond rings. We’d be in church, for example, and she’d notice someone’s engagement ring a few pews ahead. “Girls, take a look at that woman’s engagement ring. You can tell that it’s excellent quality. And probably at least a carat and a half.” Any time she met someone new, she would notice her diamond and comment on it later. “I’m surprised that Susie has such a small diamond. Her husband is a partner in Such-and-Such company, and probably makes very good money, so I wonder why she doesn’t have a nicer ring.” When someone we knew got engaged, Mom would ask right away what kind of ring she got. And on and on.
I don’t know quite where this obsession originated from. Was it simple materialism? Maybe. But I think it was something else too. For whatever reason, Mom equated a woman’s value with her diamond size. And she would compare herself – either favorably or unfavorably. If Mom’s diamond was bigger, she could feel superior. If Mom’s diamond was smaller, she would feel inferior and find other reasons to dislike the person.
And guess what message my sisters and I got from all of this? Diamonds are a measure of our self-worth too.
You can imagine how there was some uneasiness when my then-boyfriend and I were getting close to the marriage proposal step. At the time I didn’t understand the reason for my unease, and I felt terribly guilty about feeling anything except pure elation and joy. (I also didn’t understand then my issues with joy.) How could I feel weird and anxious about what kind of ring my boyfriend was going to get me? We had talked about general styles so I knew he would pick out something I would like. But inside, subconsciously, the size and quality of the ring were gnawing at me. And as shameful as it is to admit, I was worried that it wouldn’t measure up to my mom’s standards. Again, these words weren’t even remotely in my conscious mind, but what if my diamond showed that I wasn’t worth much? What would my mom think of me then? What would other people think of me? What would my mom think of my future husband?
My husband picked a lovely ring – just the right size, and a very nice quality. Success, yes? Not surprisingly, when I called my mom with the news of our engagement, she immediately jumped to the specific questions about the diamond. What was the weight? The color? What about the clarity? Did he get it from a reputable jeweler? Was it certified by the super special diamond certifiers? Mom was more or less satisfied with the answers, and she could still feel superior because…
She had just so happened to upgrade her diamond a few months before.
Earlier, Mom had apparently realized that her original diamond (we’ll call it diamond #1) was a bit too similar to what I thought my boyfriend would get for me. So she upgraded. To something bigger, of better quality. Diamond #2. And undoubtedly to her relief, her gamble paid off and my diamond was smaller. She could still feel superior – to her own daughter.
Ten years later, my younger sister got engaged. With a diamond that was awfully similar to Diamond #2. So guess what happened? Mom upgraded again – to Diamond #3. But this time she wasn’t taking any chances. Diamond #3 is a fairly obscene size. Not by Hollywood standards, but by the standards of regular everyday people walking around in the world. So she is secure. Safe. Locked in to her superiority. At very low risk of meeting someone who has a bigger diamond, at very low risk of feeling inferior in that department.
I’ve only untangled all of this in my head in the recent past. For decades I instantly honed in on diamonds when meeting new women or even just noticing them out in the world. I’d compare my diamond to theirs without even realizing it. And it would stir up feelings of insecurity when my diamond fell short. As if I didn’t have enough other dynamics hampering my feelings of self-worth.
As I said before, maybe this is just simple materialism. But lately I’ve been doing some reading on narcissism. Specifically, narcissistic mothers and how they affect their daughters. There are plenty of narcissistic traits that my mom doesn’t have, but there are definitely some that ring true. And I wonder if this whole diamond craziness is part of that.
Anyone else have any experience with this kind of dynamic? Materialism and competition between parents and children, mothers and daughters? Narcissistic mothers?
I’d love to understand more of what is happening here, with the hope that such understanding will help me to better navigate my relationship with my mom. And, as always, to make sure that I’m not subconsciously passing this on to my kids, especially my girls. I still sometimes notice others’ diamonds because, well, undoing 4 decades of behavior doesn’t happen overnight. But I’m not sharing that with my kids, and I don’t think that I’m giving my kids an explicit message about material possessions and their self-worth. But I live in almost constant fear of the messages I don’t even realize I’m sending – the kinds of insidious messages that get passed down from generation to generation. Lord knows that I don’t want my kids, especially my girls, to grow up thinking that their worth is determined by a diamond on their finger. Because they are so much more than that. I’m a bit late to the game but I’m learning that I’m so much more than that, too.