Parent Envy

When parents can't celebrate the accomplishments of a child other than their own, they weaken their children's spiritual home.

"Envy eats nothing but its own heart."

--German proverb

I love the notion that it takes a village to raise a child, but lately I've been asking myself what kinds of adults inhabit this village.

As children grow older, the intense pressure to accomplish increases. It's hard not to absorb this cultural craving for achievement--even though our heads tell us there's more to successful parenting then producing a wunderkind.

Many adults have a hard time celebrating the success of a child other than their own. It's as if John's lead in the school play is an affront to their child's acting skill. There is a rampant sense of comparison: "How did your daughter do on the math test?" "Was your son selected for the travel soccer team?" Janet, mother of two children, wrote to me recently, describing her daughter's sixth grade science fair as a testament to parental skill rather then evidence of any scientific learning on the child's part.

Ten years ago, I wearily pushed my 3-year-old in a swing at the local park, my 1-week infant finally asleep in the Snugli. Next to me was a mother in the same situation. Her son strapped to her chest, her older child in the swing pumping to save her life. We made small talk about the safety of the old metal slide and our sleepless nights. I was shocked when this woman asked me, in a conspiratorial whisper, "What was your baby's APGAR score?" If this mother was already competitive about a newborn assessment test, I feel certain she is prepping her now-10-year-old for the SATs--just to get a head start.


I've heard of parents who stop speaking to friends because of an altercation between their children. I wasn't surprised when the story came out a few years ago about the Texas cheerleader whose mother plotted to murder her teenage nemesis.

Kids can't help buying into their parent's envy of other children's positive qualities and successes. Teachers are swamped with complaints from parents angry over their child's lack of airtime in class. Coaches tell me they are fed up with the parental pressure inflicted upon them. Stories of fourth and fifth graders sabotaging classmates' homework have crept into my inbox.

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Related Topics: Parenting, Love Family