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Sometimes I feel jealous of my child.

Sometimes I Feel Jealous Of My Child | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

Father’s day is next Sunday. 

To be honest with you, I used to dread this day for many years because my biological father was the primary abuser in my childhood.

For many years this day has felt triggering and watching my friends celebrate the “World’s Best Dad!” in their lives on social media was sad and hard. 

For me, I had nothing to celebrate. Quite the opposite, in fact.

But, my feelings about Father’s Day changed the year I became pregnant and I got to celebrate my husband being a father (despite our daughter still being in utero) for the first time.

The day was finally reclaimed and given to a man who I can proudly and honestly say I DO think is the “World’s Best Dad.”

Sometimes I Feel Jealous Of My Child | Annie Wright, LMFT | www.anniewright.com

Sometimes I feel jealous of my child.

And every year since the day has gotten sweeter as my daughter and I get to thank him and celebrate for being such a great dad and wonderful human.

But still, even with so much sweetness on this day now, there’s still some sorrow present, some trigger still lingers. 

Because even though I’m overjoyed to give my daughter a dad like the one she has, I still sometimes feel jealous of her because she has something so different, something so much more infinitely better than I had or will ever have. 

Again, I’ve worked my butt off in therapy over the past few decades to give precisely this to her – a functional healthy childhood with stable, loving, devoted parents – and while I’m thrilled and so proud of what I’m able to give her, I still find myself jealous sometimes. 

Having worked with hundreds of therapy clients over the last decade, I know that many others (especially those who come from relational trauma backgrounds) feel this way, too, but nearly all of them – all of us – feel like they can’t admit it. 

So today’s essay is dedicated to unpacking this “taboo” topic – feeling jealous of your child even while you love them and as you work so hard to give them everything you didn’t have. 

Why do I feel jealous of my child?

Well, first, let’s talk about and define what jealousy is.

Jealousy, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary is: an unhappy or angry feeling of wanting to have what someone else has.

That’s what Merriam-Webster has to say and I’ll add that, in my personal and professional opinion, jealousy is a complex emotion containing shades of anger, fear, and longing that, while it can be quite uncomfortable to experience, is, nonetheless, a nearly universal human emotion.

But despite its universality, jealousy – like so many other feelings labeled as “negative” – has long had a bad reputation. 

From being listed as one of the seven deadly sins to pop culture references such as “Green-Eyed Monster,” jealousy’s long been viewed as “bad” and mythology and history have overflowed with examples of evil queens and murderous rivals who did awful things thanks to the seeds of jealousy.

No wonder so many of us experience shame and humiliation when we admit to ourselves we’re jealous of what we see others having!

And then, couple this shame of being jealous with the dominant cultural introjects we’ve swallowed about “good parenting” (introjects such as we should never feel anything other than unending, constant, perfect love, devotion, self-sacrifice, and goodwill for our children), it’s no wonder this – being jealous of your child – is a somewhat “taboo” topic and a very under-discussed one at that.

But what might cause us to feel jealousy with our children? The little people we likely love the most in the world.

In short, because of contrast. 

Parenting is the ultimate contrast experience and can make more obvious and highlight what you yourself did or didn’t receive as a child.

For example…

In parenting, we may watch our child be tenderly held, loved, and compassionately attuned to by their father and vividly remember our own father disowning us, or beating us, or abandoning us in an airport with no ticket home when we were 10 years old. 

In parenting, we may look around our cozy, clean, toxin-free, and well-appointed home stocked with Montessori toys, organic food in the fridge, and tons of children’s books on the shelves and remember the cold, unheated homes of childhood, the empty fridges, and the food scarcity.

In parenting, we may be able to send our children to the best preschools and private schools in the city thanks to the education we earned and the financially abundant career we busted our butts to build, and we might recall how, growing up, our mother couldn’t afford health insurance for us, and had to put items away at the grocery store checkout line.

In parenting, we may find ourselves watching our toddler successfully express her nuanced emotions and needs to her other parent (“I a little sad and a little frustrated. I need a hug.”) and recall how literally no one asked you about your feelings (and wouldn’t have hugged you if you had asked for one) and how you turned to food for comfort because you couldn’t find it in relationship.

And these are just a few of the thousands of contrast experiences we may have in parenting. 

And when these contrasts are stark, it’s normal and natural to feel jealous of your child for all that they have because you didn’t have that.

Nearly anyone presented with stark contrasts that evoke deep-seated longings inside of them will feel jealousy. 

And if you come from a relational trauma background, the very things you long for are likely the very things you’re trying so valiantly to give your own child. It’s a very complex experience.

Is it wrong to feel jealous of my child?

I want to share a little story with you. 

My process when I sit down to write each essay on this blog is to outline the essay, the main points, the headings, the quotes, and clinical information I hope to include, and then I go to my favorite stock photo library to find a photo that could pair well with the essay before I begin fleshing the essay out.

This morning, when I went to the stock photo library to search for one to accompany this essay, I first typed “mother-daughter jealousy” into the search bar. No results found.

Okay. So I tried “mother-daughter envy” as a different word combo. Again, no results were found.

Father-son jealousy, father-son envy, envious of child, jealous of child, family jealousy… 

None of these terms and word combos yielded any results on what is arguably one of the biggest and best photo libraries out there, a site which I can always otherwise find results that match my search terms.

This – the lack of results for what I was searching for – felt so ironically illustrative of how “taboo” and under-discussed this topic of feeling jealous of your child is.

But while it may be taboo (not to mention not easily represented in stock photos), it does not mean that it is a bad thing. 

It is a normal and natural emotion to feel jealous.

And if you come from a relational trauma background and, in parenting your child, are presented with stark contrasts to what you experienced, it makes perfect sense you would feel jealous of your child. 

Please hear me out:

There’s nothing wrong with you for sometimes feeling jealous of your child. 

You are not a bad person for sometimes feeling jealous. 

You are a feeling person who is paying attention to how you feel. And how you feel makes sense and is completely okay. 

You can want, with all your heart, for your child to have something better than you had yourself and you can still feel jealousy. 

The two things are not mutually exclusive.

Jealousy can coexist with love.

You can deeply want your child to have all those wonderful things you didn’t have, and you can still feel jealousy that you yourself didn’t have them.

You are not a bad mother or father if you feel jealousy towards all that your child has. 

But then, the million-dollar question for many of us becomes: what do I do with my jealousy toward my child?

What do I do with my jealousy toward my child?

What do I do with my jealousy toward my child?

Well, first I want to name and acknowledge that it’s human nature to want to do something when hard or uncomfortable things happen.

You get a splinter, you want to take it out. You feel angry at your spouse, you start googling couples counselors near you. A scary crime happens in your urban neighborhood, you hop onto ZIllow to see what real estate looks like in some bucolic, New England town.

Taking action on uncomfortable experiences is fine (and often, necessary). 

But I don’t necessarily think action is required when we feel jealous of our child.

We can, quite simply, notice this feeling, breathe into the discomfort of it, and practice a mindful curiosity about it. 

We don’t have to do anything with it, we can just be with it. 

But if this doesn’t feel sufficient, if it feels like your jealousy is calling for something else, begging you to attend to it more, I would invite you to consider doing one or both of these things:

  1. Use these feelings as a catalyst to go a layer deeper in your healing process, to grieve further what you yourself didn’t receive.
  2. Use these feelings to get curious and creative about how to cultivate creative moments of healing and repair for yourself as an adult – giving yourself more of what you hunger for that you didn’t receive growing up and that you see your own child having.

I’m going to talk about this – the deliberate act of cultivating creative moments of healing for yourself – more in two weeks but for now, the primary message I want to leave you with as we wrap up today’s essay is this:

There’s nothing wrong with you for sometimes feeling jealous of your child. 

I think most parents do, at times, feel jealousy about what their kids have, but this is even more common when you come from a relational trauma history and are doing everything in your power to give your child a more functional, healthy, and sane childhood – the very things you lacked.

So if you live in California and you’d like professional, therapy support with what’s being evoked for you as you parent your child, please reach out to me here.

And if you live outside of California, please consider enrolling in Relational Trauma Recovery School – my signature group coaching program designed to help those who come from relational trauma backgrounds finally get the trauma-informed, comprehensive support they need and want to live a beautiful adulthood, despite adverse early beginnings.

And now, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below:  

Did you relate to today’s essay? Do you ever feel jealous of your child because they have it so much better than you ever did? How do you feel about the fact that you get jealous sometimes?

Please, if you feel so inclined, leave a message in the comments below so our monthly blog readership of 20,000 plus people can benefit from your wisdom and experience.

And until next time, please take such good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.

Warmly, Annie

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  1. Karen on  

    Thank you so much Annie for this essay, you can’t believe how comforting it was for me to read these words from you. I love that you are so real with your struggles and it makes me feel less alone to know that even you, a psychotherapist who has much more education in these things than I struggle with those uncomfortable emotions and triggers. I also have to thank you for your essay “When will I stop feeling sad about my childhood” because you wrote it so well that although our grief may lessen over time it will never go away completely and I felt so seen and heard in those words like someone really understands and tells it like it is and not just telling ” get over it”. I don’t have any children yet but I felt this jealousy, deep sadness and longing a few times as I watched other children with their families in situations and moments I wished I had with my family years ago. I’m now doing inner child work and it helps me a lot in my healing process. Please keep up the good work, your words truly bring healing!

    • Annie on  

      Hi Karen

      Thanks for taking the time to leave your incredibly kind comment! I’m so pleased that these two articles resonated with you and that my work feels helpful. I’m proud of you for doing the hard personal work of healing and if I can ever be of additional support through my online course – Hard Families, Good Boundaries – as you work toward a positive future for yourself, I’d love to work with you there. In the meantime, please know I’m sending you my very best.

      Warmly, Annie

  2. Mary on  

    I find it interesting that Arabic differentiates between malicious envy, or hasad, and decent envy, or ghibtah. Hasad is when you wish to have what somebody else has, while at the same time wishing that they lose it. Ghibtah is the feeling you have when you wish to have what someone else has without it being taken from them; you just wish to have the same.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Mary,

      I appreciate your sharing this important distinction with us! I love that Arabic has made room in the language for a wider scope of emotion around “envy” as it so often can be complicated. Sending you my best.

      Warmly, Annie

  3. Noemi Barabas on  

    What about when we don’t recognize the jealousy right away and we do or think about doing things to the child because of it? I noticed for example that sometimes I resent my teenage daughter’s trust and am tempted to limit her in some way, artificially limiting what she is asking for (because I never had the safety in asking). Sometimes I can stay aware and accept that it is my problem and act appropriately, sometimes though I don’t.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Noemi,

      That is such an excellent question and I’m sure many can relate so thank you for your vulnerability in sharing. Feeling resentful of your daughter’s trust sounds like a tough spot for both you and your daughter to be in. Even though you didn’t have the safety you deserved growing up, and I’m so sorry about that, you can give yourself that gift of safety now by seeking support to heal.

      In the meantime, take good care of yourself, you’re so worth it.

      Warmly, Annie

  4. Aree Hoffman on  

    Thank you. My daughter started medication for anxiety a couple days ago and I have been dealing with a lot of overwhelming feelings. I am jealous that she is receiving professional help and I didn’t. My family had very cheap and accessible healthcare growing up but I was specifically singled out and denied access. I am also somewhat jealous (and impressed) that my daughter has never experienced SI. My abusive mother told me for years that it was normal and everyone experienced it. My son actually has experienced it, but it’s caused by a food sensitivity.

    • Annie on  

      Hi Aree,

      Thanks for your comment and for your vulnerability in sharing. I’m sorry that you’re dealing with a lot of overwhelming feelings right now. I’d like to encourage you to seek support as you process all of the feelings and memories that are coming up for you. Take good care of yourself, you’re so worth it.

      Warmly, Annie

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