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Why Do I Feel Jealous of My Child?

When you've strived to give your child better than you had, jealousy can arise.

Key points

  • When you've worked hard to be the best parent possible, you can feel jealous of your child for their experience of a healthy childhood.
  • This cultural taboo is important to unpack because it places unnecessary shame onto parents for feeling jealousy.
  • This jealousy is important to explore because it can serve as a catalyst to continue finding ways to reparent yourself.

For years, I dreaded Father’s Day because of my abusive father. But, my feelings about Father’s Day changed the year I became pregnant and got to celebrate my husband being a father for the first time. The day was finally reclaimed and given to a man who I can proudly say is the “World’s Best Dad.”

The day gets sweeter every year as my daughter and I celebrate him together. But, still, there’s some sorrow present.

Even though I’m overjoyed to give her a wonderful dad, I still sometimes feel jealous of her because she has something so infinitely better than I had. I’ve worked hard in therapy for decades to give her a healthy childhood with stable, loving parents. While I’m so proud of this, 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.

Let’s unpack this “taboo” topic.

Why do I feel jealous of my child?

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

In my personal and professional opinion, jealousy also contains shades of anger, fear, and longing; while this is uncomfortable to experience, jealousy is, nonetheless, a nearly universal human emotion.

But, despite its universality, jealousy has a bad reputation. From mythology and history overflowing with examples of evil queens and murderous rivals who did awful things in the name of jealousy to being listed as a deadly sin, jealousy’s long been viewed as “bad.”

And then, couple this shame with the dominant cultural introjects we’ve swallowed about “good parenting” (introjects such as we should never feel anything other than unending, perfect love for our children) and it’s no wonder so many of us experience humiliation when we admit to ourselves we’re jealous of what others have!

But what might cause us to feel jealousy toward our children, the ones we likely love the most in the world? In short, it's because of contrast. Parenting is the ultimate contrast experience and can highlight what you yourself did or didn’t receive as a child. For example,

  • In parenting, we may watch our child be tenderly held and attuned to by their father and vividly remember our own father disowning us, beating us, or abandoning us in an airport with no ticket home when we were 10 years old.
  • In parenting, we may find ourselves watching our toddler successfully express her nuanced emotions and needs to her other parent (“I'm a little sad and 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 a 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?

This cultural taboo does not mean that feeling jealous of your child is a bad thing. Feeling jealous is normal and natural. 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.

There’s nothing wrong with you for sometimes feeling jealous of your child. How you feel makes sense and is completely OK.

You can want, with all your heart, for your child to have something better than you had yourself and still feel jealousy. Jealousy can coexist with love. You are not a bad mother or father if you feel jealousy toward all that your child has. But, then, the million-dollar question for many of us becomes this: What do I do with my jealousy toward my child?

What do I do with my jealousy toward my child?

Well, first let’s name that it’s human nature to want to do something when hard things happen. While taking action on uncomfortable experiences is fine (and often necessary), 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; we can just be with it.

But, if this feels insufficient, I would invite you to consider doing one or both of these things:

  1. Use these feelings as a catalyst to further grieve what you yourself didn’t receive.
  2. Use these feelings to get curious about how to cultivate moments of repair for yourself as an adult—giving yourself what you hungered for that you didn’t receive growing up, what your own child has.

The primary message I want to leave you with 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.

If you know or suspect that you come from a relational trauma background and would like support on your personal growth journey, you can find a therapist in the Psychology Today therapist directory.

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