5 Ways to Deal with Parent Envy

Other households have an edge over your family? So what. Here's how to stay focused on your own children instead of indulging in a bad case of parent envy.

Cheryl Butler
8-minute read
Episode #472

image of a dad envious of another dad

When I struggled with infertility for five years, not only was I simply heartbroken that I had not yet been blessed with the gift of motherhood, I also faced another demon—envy! Though deep in my heart I believed I would someday become a mother (be careful what you ask for!) it was extremely painful and difficult for me to sit back and watch my dearest friends and family members continually announce that they were expecting babies.

Baby blue and pastel pink soon became colors I loathed and the mere thought of someone close to me delighting in pickles and ice cream was enough to send me straight to a carton of Kleenex.

Jump ahead 25 years and anyone that knows my story realizes I had the last laugh. Not only did I adopt the most beautiful baby girl in the world, I soon went on to deliver seven babies which completed our family with eight healthy and amazing children born to us in less than a decade.

Yes, be careful what you ask for! And with that, we were off and running raising our small brood of five sons and three daughters. We covered it all in a very short timespan—colic, baby reflux (eek!), first steps, potty training (double eek!), speech delays, nursery school, pee wee soccer, food allergies—the list goes on and on. And suddenly they were all in school and we found ourselves navigating an entirely new world of child rearing and parenting among our neighbors, school friends, and community at large.

Once your child begins mingling with other kids his/her age, your role as a parent is catapulted into an entire new light—a public light—where going forward, you will now parent amongst dozens of others who will either be likeminded or do things very differently. In addition you may find yourself doing a bit of comparing here and there. Whether it be at sporting events, PTA functions, academic banquets or even the school play there are going to be plenty of opportunities to realize that some of your kid’s peers and their families seem to be doing a lot better than you and yours. (Or so you think.)

Before you spend time getting all worked up over how other households have an edge over your family, let's consider five ways to stay focused on your own children instead of indulging in a bad case of parent envy.

5 Ways to Deal with Parent Envy

  1. Focus on Your Own Family
  2. Don’t Believe Everything You See on Social Media
  3. Celebrate Other’s Successes
  4. Use Envy as a Tool for Self-Improvement
  5. Count Your Blessings

Let’s explore each in more detail.

1. Acknowledge Envy and Focus on Your Own Family

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle defined envy as the pain caused by the good fortune of others. When it comes to raising children, it’s easy to see how a parent can become swept away with feelings of envy if they see their child’s classmate hitting homeruns while their own son usually sits on the bench. Or perhaps your daughter struggles with a learning disability and works tirelessly just to get a C, whereas your neighbor’s twins get straight As all while playing varsity soccer and are super popular to boot.

It’s OK and very healthy to acknowledge your feelings of envy. As the mom of eight kids, I’m the first to admit that I’ve had my fair share of parent envy. But when I pretended I didn’t really have those feelings, I only made it worse. As I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, I struggled with infertility for many years and experienced feelings of envy when I couldn’t get pregnant while most of my friends and family seemed to have no problem at all. It hurt and it felt unfair. I remember making promises to the Universe and anyone else who would listen that if I could just have a child of my own, I would be content for the rest of my life.

My second and third children had significant speech delays. Suddenly I forgot all about those promises I made when I was desperate to get pregnant and now, instead, I was obsessed with envy as I watched other kids their ages learn to talk effortlessly. My husband saw the unhealthy path I was headed on and helped me realize that comparing our kids to others who didn’t have their developmental delays would only hinder our plans to get them talking.

In a Psychology Today article on the psychology and philosophy of envyDr. Neel Burton writes that “while we envy, we focus on what we lack rather than what we have and could otherwise be enjoying.” This was definitely the case for me. Once I accepted that we were headed down a different path with their speech, I was able to focus on their needs and, very soon, their tremendous progress. By shifting attention to what was possible in my own family (rather than what my kids weren’t doing at the moment) I was able to keep myself on track and in a less envious and much happier state of mind.

2. Don’t Believe Everything You See on Social Media

Thanks to all the social media venues available to us today—Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and of course, Facebook—we are privy to watching every move our friends and family are experiencing in their lives almost instantaneously. This allows us to watch other families thrive in dozens of ways.

We follow babies being born, witness pro-athletes in the making, learn which Ivy league colleges our second cousin's kids will attend, hear about corporate job promotions, view grand new estates that have been purchased, and experience all those European and Caribbean vacations that everyone else’s family seems to take except yours. Simply put, social media often provides a microscopic view of hundreds upon hundreds of fairytale lives that surround our own measly existence.

If you want to curb your envy appetite, one of the first places to start is by limiting your time spent on social media. Listen, I’m the first to admit that I consider Facebook my online playground, but only to the extent that I don’t get too carried away by everything the Joneses are doing.

Writing for The National, Melinda Healy poses the question of how can one control that little green monster called envy? “Experts say it’s best to monitor your feelings, put the social-media devices down and check yourself and the reality of life often. After all, it’s worth remembering that we don’t see the entirety of someone’s life on social media.”

So, as glamorous and fabulous as many of the lives you come in contact with on your favorite social media sites may seem, keep it all in context. We only see a snippet of what really goes on in front of the camera.


About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!