“The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works, is the family.”
– Lee Iacocca, businessman
“Our children are very jealous of each other…”
Alden and Audrey arrived anxious and confused. In booking their consult, Audrey had said something terrible had happened with their children which they just couldn’t understand. They had talked to their pastor, but this had apparently not been enough to satisfy them. They wanted another professional opinion?
Alden and Audrey were a traditional, Christian couple, in the sense that they tried to follow their church’s teachings, which they underscored with biblical readings and references. Alden was an elder in his church, while Audrey volunteered regularly with the youth groups.
In their day jobs, Alden was an IT technician while Audrey, an entrepreneur, ran a small bakery in their community. They had three children: Able, aged fourteen, Jacob, aged seven years and Myrtle, aged five years.
When I asked what terrible thing had happened, Alden spoke up, “Our children are very jealous of each other and we don’t understand why. We are a peace loving, Christian family and work hard at creating this atmosphere in our home. But, our children aren’t getting this at all…in fact just the opposite…they end up seriously hurting each other. Just the other day, Jacob pushed Myrtle so hard, she fell down the stairs and broke her arm. That was the last straw and why we contacted you.”
“An illusion can be a fantasy or a nightmare!”
“Alden and Audrey, tell me a little about your background. How did you two come to be married with three children?” I asked them.
Audrey, with a nod to Alden, spoke up this time. She said, “We actually come from very different backgrounds. I’ll tell you mine and Alden can speak for himself. We met in university where I was studying business, and Alden was in computer science.”
“So you met in school. Audrey, tell me about your own upbringing, your birth family.”
“Well, I am the only girl and have four brothers. My parents were farmers and we all worked hard on the farm just to get by. And, being the only girl didn’t get me preferential treatment…I worked just as hard as my brothers, often times, harder.” Audrey said with a hint of irritation.
“What about you Alden?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m a city boy!” he said smiling. “My family owned an appliance store and I was the baby with two older sisters. They still run the business for my parents who are retired now.”
“You said, your children are jealous of each other and even violent at times. And your efforts to create a peaceful family is not working…is that accurate?” I asked.
“That’s about it in a nutshell!” Alden said, while Audrey nodded in agreement.
“Well, let’s start by exploring the purpose of having children. You probably know our children help us to perpetuate our species. But, you may not know how they do it. One way is your children carry your genes. Another way is they help you learn things important for your future…they actually help you resolve dangerous illusions.” I said, and waited for them digest this.
Then I added, “An illusion can be a fantasy or a nightmare!”
“…perceiving you as jealous, according to their values…not according to your values!”
Audrey was the first to respond with a surprised look on her face, “Do you mean they help us learn stuff we need? And, we go around thinking, that’s what we’re doing for them?”
“That’s it exactly, Audrey…it is really a two-way street, with both children and parents, learning simultaneously.”
Alden just sat there listening and made no comment. So I went on with Audrey’s learning path.
“Audrey, everyone has every trait, according to someone at some time. You and Alden have been upset at your children’s jealousy of each other. So my question is, who, in your past, would perceive you as having this trait of jealousy?”
“Ken, I’m not a jealous person at all, it’s one of the seven deadly sins, I work hard at not being jealous every day.” she said.
“This is not about you perceiving you are acting jealous…it is about other people perceiving you as jealous, according to their values…not according to your values!” I said.
“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.”
– William James, philosopher
“…it does create a distance between me and them, even today.”
Audrey was taken aback a bit and stared past me for a moment. Then she said, “Well, being the only girl in my family, I know the boys, especially my twin, Alan, thought I was jealous of them because they got to do stuff around the farm like driving the tractor, and having more freedom, just because they were boys. They were always teasing me about it, and still do to this day.”
“Audrey, has that affected your relationship with your siblings?”
“Well, it’s still a touchy subject with me…I felt hurt at the time, growing up with only brothers who seemed to be able to do what ever they wanted, while I was so restricted, because I was a girl. And, I still feel some how less than them…and it does create a distance between me and them, even today.” she said thoughtfully.
“What about you Alden? Who would say you have that trait or behaviour called jealousy in your past?”
Alden looked at me with a glint of a tear as he said, “Ken, being the baby of the family, I recall many times growing up of my sisters being out late at night while I had a tantrum because I had to go to bed. Or, them being given special tasks to do in the store while I was frustrated because I was considered too young to do them, like talking to customers or cleaning up. So, I can see now where both my sisters perceived me as very jealous of them.”
“And, have those experiences impacted your relationships with them today?” I asked him.
“As I have been sitting here listening to you and Audrey talk, I realize I’m still trying to prove to them I’ve grown up…I’m still trying to demonstrate to them, I can do what they can do…and, it is still on my mind regularly, even after all these years.”
“They both said, almost simultaneously, ‘In the back seat!’”
“Let me ask both of you another question. Alden, you said you still carry jealousy toward your sisters. And Audrey, you said you still feel somewhat distant from your brothers because you are still jealous of how they were treated better as boys when you were young. I’m wondering if you two ever talk about these past events with each other?”
Audrey said, “I’m not conscious of doing it…but, I bet we do it quite often because we work hard at being close to our families, and these memories reoccur, for me at least, quite often. So, it is kind of a common filter we use when we debrief our family gatherings with each other.”
Then she added, turning to her spouse, “Would you agree with that?”
Alden replied, “Yes, I would. In fact, just two weeks ago, when we were driving home from a Sunday supper with my family, I recall this happening. We were talking about what my Mom said at supper about my oldest sister’s success, at operating the store last year.”
Then, Audrey continued, “I remember that day…you said she was always the favourite child because she was the oldest. And, I said, it was the same as my brother, Alan being the favourite twin because he was a boy.”
“And, during this conversation, where were your children?”
They both said, almost simultaneously, “In the back seat!”
I said to them, “This is perfect. This is how family members serve each other. Remember I said earlier every person has every trait. We have every trait because each one is a learning tool for us, and for those around us. From positive traits, we learn about costs, and from negative traits, we learn about benefits. This natural learning process motivates us forward in life.”
“You’re saying this jealousy behaviour, which we have been taught is bad, is also good…but we just don’t see it, yet?” Alden asked.
“Your kids are unconsciously demonstrating a behaviour you have, which you don’t value, jealousy. By doing so, it motivates you to own the behaviour in yourself and find out how it serves you now, and in your past.”
“Happiness is a byproduct of function, purpose, and conflict; those who seek happiness for itself seek victory without war.”
– William S. Burroughs, writer
“…I sure showed them I was just as smart and capable as they were…”
“Ken, why would we want to own a negative behaviour like jealousy?” Audrey asked, clearly confused.
“Audrey, you will only own it if you can see how it serves you in life, how it honours your purpose and values. When you have this level of awareness and connection, it raises your self esteem and self confidence.”
“You’re saying there are benefits to me being jealous of my brothers?” she asked incredulously.
“There sure are and when you know them, you will appreciate your brothers and this will be reflected to your children, unconsciously. Then they learn this, unconsciously as well, and your family grows by being better prepared for their future.”
“But, I don’t see any benefits to being discriminated against by my family because I’m a girl!” she replied challenging me.
“Audrey, go to the worst moment you can remember, when you were the most jealous of Alan or your other brothers…what happened?” I asked her.
“I remember it well. It is carved in my brain, even today, many years later. I was about ten years old and we were all working in the barn putting hay in the loft. Dad asked Alan, who, remember, is the same age as me, to move the tractor out of the barn after he unhitched the trailer. Alan was up in the loft and I was standing right beside my Dad.”
“How did you cope with that situation, Audrey? What did you do?” I asked her.
“I was mad! I said, I’ll do it…jumped onto the tractor seat before anyone could respond and started the tractor, waited for Dad to unhitch the trailer, and then moved the tractor outside.” she replied, her anger resurfacing.
“What was the benefits to you at that very second to your jealousy of Alan, and your other brothers…how did it serve you, Audrey?” I asked.
“Well, I sure showed them I was just as smart and capable as they were, didn’t I?” she said with pride bursting from her face.
“Let me say, what you just said, in other words…and, tell if this is not true, at that second in your life, Audrey. It sounds like at the second you climbed on that tractor you strengthened your spirit, you empowered yourself, you asserted yourself, you respected your values, your raised your self worth, you set a new boundary in your relationship to your family members and you managed the stress of being rejected for your age and gender. Is that true?”
“Wow! I never framed it that way before. But, it is true…I stood up for myself…and I see I’ve been doing that ever since, just in different ways!” she replied.
“Can you see, what you called your jealousy of your brothers, motivated you to grow and empower yourself as a child, and it continues today. So, you owe that empowerment to your jealousy trait, and to your family, who challenged you to believe in yourself.”
“Ken, I can see it now!” she said.
“… they have been, unconsciously, learning not to appreciate each other…”
I turned to Alden and said, “Can you see a similar learning process going on in your family with your jealousy of your sisters, Alden?”
“Yes, I can, Ken! It was my jealousy of my sisters which motivated me to seek out an independent and different career outside the family business. And that independence has always been very important to me…of very high value to me!
“Cool! Excellent insight!” I said,
Alden, went further, “And, I see what’s going on with our kids, too! As we talk about not appreciating our siblings, they have been, unconsciously, learning not to appreciate each other, which is being reflected in their behaviour toward each other. As we are challenged to deal with their behaviour, we are motivated to learn to appreciate our own siblings. So, we get to grow as much as our kids do. It reminds me of how powerful family life is as a learning environment for all our futures.”
“I think you are right on, Alden! Can you see now, their jealousy behaviours, while upsetting and painful to you, also provide you with the opportunity to grow yourselves, your family, and prepare you all, for your future…which is one of the main purposes of every family!” I added.
This was the start of their journey into understanding and dealing with their children’s jealousy and violent behaviours. They each were able to take the situation and find many other examples of how it had developed. Once they had cleared up their own jealousy they developed a new appreciation for their siblings and their families. This gratitude for their birth families and inner harmony created some new attitudes and discussion with each other, and their children. They were soon reporting transformations at home.
Near the end of our work together, I asked them what they were noticing in the children that was useful.
Audrey spoke first, “What I’ve noticed the most is they still have conflicts but they are more respectful in how they disagree…they still argue, but I don’t see the pushing and shoving like before.”
Alden said it a little differently, “Yes, there is a big difference, and it seems to be their conflicts are shorter and they don’t hold grudges like before…it’s like there’s an underlying bond of affection, I didn’t see before.”
“Perhaps a new form of conflict which respects our differences, as well as, our similarities.” I offered.
“Yes, that’s close…that it’s OK to be themselves, and still be siblings. It kind of makes conflict natural within a family?” Audrey suggested with a questioning tone.
“Peace and war are always in perfect balance, within every family, at all times, to ensure everyone learns to evolve…it’s a natural law!” I added.
“We understand now, eh Audrey?” Alden said.
“Audrey replied, “Yep! We got it now!”
“In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.”
– Alex Haley, author
Until Next time…
Now you know conflict is part of every healthy family. It provides valuable learning opportunities for both the children and their parents. Each person in the family is a learning tool for the others to ensure each person is supported and challenged ideally for their future survival. Apply this to every member of your family so you can learn to appreciate them in new ways.
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