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Jealousy and Guilt

These are two emotions I have rarely felt. I remember as a teenager my older, very beautiful, always-had-a-boyfriend sister would yell at me in a fight, "You're just jealous!" and I'd be completely baffled. Granted, she was older, very beautiful, and always had a boyfriend, it just never occurred to me to be jealous. After such accusations I would try to muster jealousy and I could never come up with anything. That's not to say my life was perfect and I didn't wish for things to be differently, I just didn't feel jealousy. I think it's a good thing. I'm not sure if it's in my hardwiring or if it's something my parents did. I'm not sure if other people commonly feel jealousy either.

I read an article when my son was about 18 months old, that children have to learn emotions, they aren't inborn. I don't know if I'm just uneducated on these matters, but that really surprised me. I guess I just thought that the rage that surges up in me when a fetcher in a silver BMW heading west on Legacy at 7:49 pm speeds up from behind me and then swerves in front of me only to slam on his brakes and make a sudden left turn, forcing me to slam my brakes and lose my breath and heart rate because the precious cargo behind me and next to me, strapped into carseats and seatbelts was just compromised because someone didn't want to wait 3 more seconds to make his right turn---was instinctual.

I was fascinated by the idea that emotions are learned and I focused on it a lot with Benja. He's like the perfect child to experiment on because he's so responsive and when you do something stupid you can laugh it off with a "isn't mommy silly for accidentally clipping the top 1/3 of your ear off while trying to cut your hair?" It's all in the presentation, he will laugh with you and agree and later, that experience will be a happy memory and a joke he tells his friends.

So, when he was younger and would get mad or frustrated or sad or whatever, I would say things like, "Oh, you feel so sad right now don't you?" And when it was being tired that caused all his misery, I would point out that a nap hadn't occured and that it was feeling tired that caused this. He never really responded, he was young, but I thought I'd give it a try. I don't really know how other 3-year-old children are with expressing themselves with words, but Benja will say in the middle of a fit, "I'm so sad that you are saying no!" or "I'm so mad that Avery took my toy!" I LOVE it. Not sure if that's normal, but I do.

One time I heard my SIL say to her son, same age as mine, "are you feeling jealous of your brother right now?" I cringed because I guess I really bought into the teaching-emotions school of thought. At the time I thought it was a stupid thing to "teach" a child. I'm sure children feel jealousy, or something like it, but it could be changed to "would you like me to hold you too?" instead of "are you jealous I'm holding your brother?" I could be wrong, I'm willing to accept that.

On guilt, well---before you start praying for my hardened soul or anything ridiculous like that, I mean human-induced guilt. Not guilt that comes after you've done something bad and should feel guilt until you reconcile it. Like, cheating or stealing or lying or getting addicted to Dawson's Creek.

In high school my friends would try to guilt me into doing things I didn't want to do. Like overnights, or parties, or lame dances. It just never worked. And the more guilt trips that were involved, the less likely I was to ever respond. I could be bribed. Cheaply too. But never guilted.

That was until I became a mother. Guilt has become the mode in which I operate. I have felt guilty for not changing a diaper soon enough. I felt guilty when I couldn't get my newborn to latch on perfectly and he felt hunger 30 seconds longer than he needed to. I feel guilt about losing my cool with an innocent child. I feel guilt when I have a bad day and am bratty to my husband. I feel guilt when I tell people to stick it, even when they should. I feel guilt when my child gets a rash. I feel guilty when I let my children get too tired. I feel guilty when I don't stimulate their minds enough. I feel guilty when their mornings are spent watching PBS. I feel guilty when I give them too much sugar. I feel guilty when I forget to "lay with him in two minutes" and he still remembers the next morning.

I can still remember the first time I felt this new guilt. Benja wasn't even born yet and after 5 months of deliberately abstaining, I sipped my first cherry coke. (oh the sweet burn of carbonation, cherry and caffeine, swirled into perfection---still so vivid in my mind!) The feelings of guilt shocked me. It was so foreign to me. This is the kind of guilt that really isn't all that productive, in my opinion. I mean, do I deliberately keep my children awake so that they are so dead tired they're miserable? No. Usually there are extenuating circumstances. Usually. So, get over it. Life happens---feeling guilt about that kind of stuff doesn't do anyone a lick of good. That's how I feel, truly. But that doesn't mean I can just flip the switch and not feel it.

These are just my random ruminations. They were sparked by a tiny little incident that occurred today. My husband has been gone for 9 days (a drop in the bucket, eh Code Yellow?) and I miss him desperately. So do his children. I just want to be in the same room with him. I want him to walk through our door at night. I want to fall asleep with him next to me. I want him to wake me up with a kiss before he leaves in the morning. I want to hear him on the baby monitor at night, laying with Ben for 2 minutes as they talk about numbers and the 3 pigs and cold water. I want to walk past him on the computer. I want to see Avee try to entice him to chase her through the house. I want to get annoyed by his incessant pacing when he's on the phone. Is that so much to ask?

So, I miss J. Tonight, the neighbor kids came over. I remembered that I needed to talk to their mom and I say, "Is your mom busy?" and they say, "No, she's just at home hanging out with my dad." And there you have it. Pangs of jealousy coursed through my body at lightening speed. I wanted to kick my friend who's husband comes home every night. It wasn't pretty. It's probably good I'm not prone to feeling it because I don't hold my jealousy well.

I felt better after I threw a couple of eggs at her kitchen window though.

Interesting thoughts on "teaching" a child to feel emotions. Very interesting. It reminds me of the movie "Life Is Beautiful," which I haven't seen, but a friend told me about it. It puts forward this same idea, that you can turn anything into something positive or at least easier to bear (like Mom cutting off the top of your ear).

I hear you about missing J... hope he'll be home soon.

Jealousy has always come really easily to me, so I'm glad to know it's something else I can blame on my parents.

naddin j, can I guilt you into seeing Life Is Beautiful? You need to.

s, why do you not have a comment yet? I feel guilty beating you to the punch.

and rhythm-less, I'm jealous of you, but I've learned to curb it so that we can be friends. But if we ever live in the same town, don't wonder where the eggs on your window come from. ;)

About guilt - YoYo and I had an interesting discussion about it - she distinguishes guilt from shame, which I had never really thought of before, but totally makes sense - guilt is the "light of Christ"/conscience that lets you know when you have crossed the line of keeping the commandments. Shame is what you feel because of man-made influences. One of them, you feel in your heart and it tells you that you need to make a change to be happy, the other fills you with fear, anger, neverending regret, and tells you that you will never be good for anything again or that you don't fit with certain people, and it just lets you wallow in it with no answer as to how to change. One's productive and enlarging, one is destructive and shrinks a person's heart. Sometimes they get a little mixed with each other, but if you take a good look at the action that prompted the feeling, you can usually sort it our pretty well. What do you think about that?

Great, thought-provoking post.

oh, yeah - I think it's ridiculous to introduce jealousy, especially between siblings. There will undoubtedly be some along the way, but naming it at such an early age is just inviting a lot of trouble - for the mom trying to balance two kids, especially.

Naddin---really haven't seen LIB? You gotta. I know, after all the hype it's probably not appealing, but I think it's worth it.

CYM--I like how you use my comment section to conduct business with your posse. Or mine. I LOVE LOVE LOVE those thoughts on guilt. I mean, I follow them, I believe them, and I've thought similarly to them---but you write the ideas so well. Thanks.

Just discovered your blog, it is great! I enjoy your writing...look forward to reading more posts. The one about your cousin was very moving--thanks for sharing!

I just hope I am the older, very beautiful always-had-a-boyfriend!(LOL) I was very impressed with Benja ability to say the same sentence in every emotion I request of him, so I think your teachings are working. And let me just tell the neighbor right now, thank heavens DWR is no longer using tear gas.

not to look stupid, but, what is "life is beautiful"? we don't get out much, obviously...

We've talked before about the use of the phrase "you're just jealous!" in your house, and I think it's hilarious. I still say that when I don't have a comeback:

"Hey, you forgot to pick up milk on the way home!"

"Yeah? Well... uh, you're just jealous!"

It's always been really important for me, too, to instill in my kids the ability to distinguish feelings from actions. They occasionally remind me of my own rules. I'll tell them I'm so angry with them, and they'll say something like "Okay, well what are some of the things you can do about that?" I loooove that Benja says "I'm so sad you took that from me" etc. He is such a great kid. You do such an amazing job with both of them.

Also, Life is Beautiful is a truly beautiful, life-altering movie. Anyone who hasn't seen it should go out and rent a copy. (Try the library!)

SURPRISE! Happy Birthday! Have a good one! ;)

Happy surprise birthday comment party!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY just love that hair... I mean curtains:) Jay is coming home today yippee shave those legs like you are fourteen going to your first dance!!! LOL

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