“Envy comes from people’s ignorance of, or lack of belief in, their own gifts.” Jean Vanier
“(Love) does not envy.” 1Corinthians 13:4
Dear Me: About Parental Envy,
It’s so easy when you are holding your beautiful newborn in your arms to say that you will accept them just the way they are. You and Troy certainly did, and at the time you meant it. Sort of. When you declaired that you would do this, you went into it sort of lightly, believing that what you were accepting was what you expected to get: perfected versions of you. This is not as unreasonable as it sounds. At the time it even seemed logical. Take your genes which carry the codes of you natural talents, abilities, and personality, add intentional, even superior parenting and presto! You 2.0.
Time for a science lesson – a subject only outdone by math on your list of total educational flops, I know, but stick with me. When a person procreates, they do not bring only their attributes to the womb. You have the chromosomes of countless generations packed in those little eggs. Mix that with Troy’s countless generations, factor in the battle for attribute dominance between you, and who knows what will pop out? Now that the kids are mostly grown I can tell you, there are definitely qualities about them that I totally recognize (most of them I have apologized for) but others that I look at and think, “Good golly, where did that come from?” Some of these are wonderful, but others are a total let down that can lead you to envy those parents who got the kids they ordered.
Between the two of us Troy gets hit the hardest in this area. The guy was born a brilliant athlete. (You called him a jock on your first date and were swiftly corrected: jocks are only good at one sport. Athletes are good at all of them…except for water polo apparently). You birth three sons and a daughter giving Troy every possible chance to pass on his talents. Alas, this man, who could knock out a curve ball by age three, breeds offspring who cannot hit, catch, kick, or throw anything with their eyes open. Even their basic running has serious mechanical flaws. They drew pictures in the dirt during t-ball games, never knew where the ball was in pee wee soccer (which Troy coached. Ouch!), and commentated the junior football plays instead of participating in them. While his teammate’s children either avidly watched their dad’s soccer games or practiced drills with the ball on the sidelines, Troy’s sons read history books or discussed the politics of the Academy Awards. This had to be hard, but Troy never showed his disappointment to either me or his children. Instead, he accepted them for who they were.
I remember back when the boys were in kindergarten, first, and second grade and decided to go out for the school talent show. Heads up: I have noticed that when parents depart from a grade school talent show they all appear spiritually lighter somehow. Kind of like I imagine pre-reformation Christians looked after undergoing particularly brutal penances like self-mutilation. But I digress.
So we’re at this talent show (an oxymoron if ever I heard one), and every parent has that glazed, but determined look about them as yet another small child gets up to perform a off key Disney ballad or to put the break in break dancing. Finally, Timothy, Tommy, and Johnathan take the stage to perform a trio they have put together from a Veggie Tale episode: The Dance of the Timothy (Cucumber). It was amazing. They were funny, had great choreography, and were even on key (far from expected in this venue). Instinctively they knew how to work the mic and their audience. When finished the whole gym exploded in a standing ovation. It was like a scene from a underdog sports movie…mixed with an episode from Glee.
I will never forget the picture of Troy standing with the crowd, clapping his hands raw, tears streaming down a face full of parental relief as he repeats over and over in stunned joy, “They’re good at something! They’re good at something!”
Does Troy envy the DelPiccolos whose son got a full ride college scholarship for soccer and has played for the youth National Team? Probably, but instead of focusing on what his children are not, he has put his energy into supporting what they are. This man has run the sound board for their choir concerts, sold tickets to coworkers for their theater productions, listened to countless audition monologues, weighed in on choreography moves, and just recently spent untold hours as the official photographer for Jenny’s production of Annie Get Your Gun. In short, he accepted the kids he got and encouraged their gifts and talents even though they were outside of his area of expertise.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of envying other people their children and, sadly, many parents do. We all initially want the child who excels where we didn’t, or is super well behaved, or stunningly beautiful, and the list goes on and on. This is such a waste of time. More tragically, it distracts us from getting to know our children and enjoying the wonderful people they are and engaging them in a deep love relationship. So remember: love does not envy. And let’s be honest here; when it comes to these amazing kids of ours, we totally got better than we deserved!
Love, Older Wiser You