One of the most humbling experiences in parenting is the moment you realize your kids are right and you’re wrong. Like this one.
“Mom, Cyrus and Anna are really good readers. They go to their own special reading class because they are so, so good at reading. And Mom, they’re reading Charlotte’s Web! Isn’t that really good?” My kindergartener’s eyes got wide as she told me this news.
“That’s wonderful, sweetheart.” My nerves bristled even as I smiled at my daughter. “I’m glad you’re happy that your friends are good at reading.”
“You know, different kids are good at different things. Cyrus and Anna are good at reading. But you are good at math and playing piano, and lots of other things.”
“I know, Mom.” She shrugged as if those facts were irrelevant. I mean, we were talking about Cyrus and Anna here. What did her skills have to do with this conversation?
And that’s when I realized—my daughter’s intentions were pure. She was genuinely happy for her friends. There was not a shred of envy present anywhere in her mind.
But there was in mine.
I mean, come on, Charlotte’s Web? In kindergarten?
I’ll confess my first thought was this: Your big sister read Charlotte’s Web in kindergarten. So there you have it. We’re smart, too.
And my second thought was this: Is my five-year-old falling behind???
Of course not.
Do you see how quickly envy and comparison can sneak in and twist a reasonable mother’s senses? My daughter is right on track, I know this. Just like all kids, she is learning at her own pace, which okay-lets-be-honest is actually still somewhat advanced for her age. Just not as advanced as those other kids.
All my life I thought I was not a competitive person. And then I had children.
Funny how that pang of envy I felt toward the other kids quickly turned to envy of my own child. Because I saw in her a quality that I was missing.
Think about it. When was the last time you were genuinely happy for someone who got something you wanted? I’m talking joy unblemished by jealousy or self-concern. My daughter possesses this inherently. It never even occurred to her to be jealous that her friends are better readers. She is perfectly happy with her own accomplishments and feels free to celebrate theirs.
Did I ever possess that virtue? Did you?
If so, when exactly did we lose it?
Which leads me to wonder. Is envy learned as we grow? And if it can be learned, that must mean it can be taught—by us. The parents.
Heaven help us.
What are we showing our kids?
When we covet, resent, and compare.
When we encourage them to “sit still like Johnny” or “kick the ball like Jenny.”
When we complain about not having what we want—a bigger house, newer clothes, straighter hair, skinnier thighs. What do our children hear us saying about ourselves or other people?
Or when we pep talk them into feeling okay about their slower reading, their clumsier running, their sloppier drawing—without first opening our eyes to discover perhaps our children aren’t the ones who had a problem with their “lesser” abilities in the first place.
We’re the ones who need the pep talk, for crying out loud.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).
The trouble with envy is that it makes life so much more complicated. We start questioning ourselves, our abilities and gifts. We doubt God’s goodness toward us. And that leads to nowhere good. So maybe it really is as simple as this: Rejoice when your friends rejoice. Mourn when they mourn.
Not “rejoice when your friends get something you weren’t longing for yourself” or “mourn when it’s convenient for you to care about others.” Just be happy for other people—period. Share their sorrow. Walk through this life caring about somebody besides yourself (or your children, whom you really consider to be a reflection of yourself, let’s face it). Realize that another person’s gain is not your loss. God ordains joy and sadness in every life. So let’s support one another through it.
Then maybe we’ll find that envy has no place in our hearts to settle.
And no chance to pour into our kids.
That’s my goal for this kindergarten year and beyond. My daughter will cheer for her friends, and they will cheer for her. And her mom will be watching, learning, and leading the way.