Parents Who Envy Their Children: How taboo emotions can reveal the skeletons in the closet, including unresolved trauma.

By Kristine Johnson, LMFT  & Shira Myrow, LMFT

We have all spoiled or indulged our children at one time or another. Perhaps we have given them bribes or too many sweets to get them to cooperate and behave.  At the time we justify the bribe because we don’t have the patience or energy to enforce a disciplinary action--- which may mean tears and resistance. Sometimes the indulgences just become a habit.  But eventually it backfires when we realize our children expect to be placated and catered to inappropriately and then feel resentful and ambivalent about our role in creating “spoiled brats.”  

One of the factors at play could be an unconscious compensation for the the childhood or adolescence we didn’t have. Perhaps we are making up for memories of lack or deprivation, or trying to make up for an absent or emotionally unavailable parent.  Subsequently, we may also be overly focused and emotionally enmeshed with our children as an extension of ourselves.

It’s important to become curious about what unresolved or un-named issues are compelling us to spoil and indulge our children. Every time we get angry and resentful towards our children, we can think of it as an invitation to dive into what’s happening for us internally.

For parents who came from a difficult childhood, creating a s safe and happy childhood seems like a reparative ideal worth striving for. It provides a corrective emotional experience from their own childhood where dysfunction, codependency, deprivation may have been the norm. But they are trying to create a corrective emotional experience as parents.  Instead it’s important to realize this intention is misplaced. Our children are the recipients of an experience that may not be corrective or understandable to them.  It’s some aspect or deficiency within our own psyche that needs tending to and differentiating.

If you are noticing a pattern, this is a good time to step back, and re-evaluate your behavior with your children.We can always center ourselves if we return to the question: will it serve the development of our children or something unresolved within ourselves? The key is recognizing that  resentment is  not only an invitation to deepen your parenting skills, but to deepen your relationship with yourself.  And that feeling ambivalent about the mistakes and choices we make-- is absolutely part of the process.  

These taboo feelings may suggest a hidden trauma...

The idea of feeling envious of your children may be very disconcerting. Instead of repressing this taboo feeling,  it may be a signal that something is deeply unresolved in your past, even if it’s not readily apparent to you.

If you’re discovering that there are unresolved issues especially trauma-- from your own childhood, therapy is a powerful tool to uncover and repair the damage.  You can change both your behavior towards your kids and be free of the pain from the past.        

Intergenerational patterns of behavior-- from enmeshment and communication, to addiction and abuse--get passed down to children and can damage your relationship to them. These patterns may be unconscious and cause confusion when you find yourself angrily  overreacting to your child’s behavior or perhaps repeating the damaging behavior you have experienced.  

For some, wounds from childhood run deep as a result of trauma.  A traumatic event or situation overwhelms the person’s ability to cope and leaves them full of fear and helplessness.  These events include everything from a bad car accident to physical or sexual abuse and even to historical situations that have shaped the grandparents’ view of the world.  Children internalize the feelings, attitudes, and actions of their family throughout their development, even from the earliest months and years.  As they do, the consequences of transmitted family trauma can include depression, anxiety, low self esteem, withdrawal into self, dissociation, and addiction.

The way out of this vicious cycle, is for parents to face their own childhood pain and trauma and mourn the loss of their wishes and fantasies and their unlived life.

As psychologist Peter Shabad wrote:“Mourning is viewed as a process of reintegrating repressed wishes for what might have been.  This reintegration, in turn, enables one to relinquish the necessity that those wishes be fulfilled, makes it possible to give a better life to one’s children.”

If you find yourself being highly critical, demanding or jealous of your children consider that you might be mourning the life you did  not have--whether it was safety, stability, or close connection.  When you see what your kids receive from your partner or other family members it may trigger your own resentment and envy of your children.

It is worth examining these taboo feelings of envy towards your child and doing the work it takes to recognize the underlying reasons for them.   Then, and only then, can you transform your relationship with your children and give them the freedom to experience life in ways that you never had.  It is what can break the cycle and allow you to enjoy your life with them.