"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.
We are all connected. Let's begin to see the good in all kids and accept their strengths and talents as gifts that will make the world a better place instead of a threat to our child's success.
The following are some ideas to strengthen the spiritual village in which our children are growing up:
Praise your children's friends--in front of your children. Mention their good qualities, rather than scanning them for weaknesses.
Applaud kids for kind actions, not just achievements. "Gee, I really liked the way you opened the door for all the kids coming in from recess."
Cut out the gossip--especially in front of your kids. Remember that gossip's purpose is to drag someone else down to make us feel better.
Pass along praise to children's parents. "I read about your daughter's art award. She's always had a gift for design. Congratulations!" Doesn't it lift your heart to hear positive words about your child? Pass it along with notes, e-mails, phone calls, and through conversation.
Mentor a child other than your own. This doesn't have to be a formal arrangement. You might barter your skills with a neighbor--she teaches your son chess and you spend time writing with her daughter.
When envy surfaces, recognize and acknowledge it for what it is--a wave of discontent and insecurity that causes us pain. Envy's power is diffused when parent and child have a vocabulary for their emotions. "When Sue gets all the attention from the teacher it makes me feel bad." "When Maria's daughter was accepted at Harvard I couldn't feel joy for her--only disappointment that my kid will never have the grades for an Ivy League college."
Remind yourself, and your kids, that there is enough good to go around. We live in a bountiful universe. We never miss out when we are in line with spirit. Envy, jealousy, and gossip knock us off that spiritual center. With God we are always enough.
Gratitude seems to be an overused word these days, but go ahead and overuse being thankful. When we are grateful for all the blessings in our lives, we shower ourselves in grace. A grateful heart minimizes envy and multiplies our gifts.