For parents, envious green is the new black
Gretel Killeen is the mum I want to be. Not just because she’s smart, wickedly funny and rocks a necklace, but because she doesn’t shout. Ever.
“Shouting at kids doesn’t work,” she said, as we discussed discipline on Mornings. To which, naturally, I argued, “How do you know it doesn’t?” (They like us to row.)
As a reforming shouter, I’m in awe of Gretel. Every tidbit I learn about her reaffirms my view she’s the mother I could be if… well, if I were Gretel. I love that she and her kids shop at St Vinnies; that they forego Christmas presents and give the cash to charities. Mostly, I like the softness that steals into her voice whenever she talks about her children.
Envy has to be up there with guilt as one of the Seven Deadly Sins of Motherhood – the others, of course, being shouting, smacking, hypocrisy, wine o’clock and (lack of) lust. Eleven years in, I’m managing the guilt (usually with self-talk or vodka). But envy? Hey, I’m just getting started.
Don’t worry, I’m not in the same league as Snow White’s stepmother. I’m not plotting to bump off anyone because they’re better at maths homework or jauntily whipping up an owl sculpture from muesli boxes. (Although, frankly, any mum who can convince her kids to eat muesli deserves a poisoned apple.)
No, mine plays out like this:
Friend: “We’re training for a triathlon as a family.”
Me: “That’s so cool.”
Thought bubble: “They’ll probably score themselves a Special K ad as well.”
Friend: “Bring the kids over and they can make playdough.”
Me: “Great – they love craft.”
Thought bubble: “She makes her own playdough… and has nice nails… and doesn’t worry about the mess.”
Friend: “The kids got on well on holiday.”
Me: “Really? Mine fought like cannibals.”
Thought bubble: “Three kids and she’s still a size 8. Should have had three kids.”
My envy isn’t so advanced that I’m guilty of schadenfreude (don’t envy me for my spelling – I looked it up); I don’t wish ill on anyone for their talents (although, if the triathlon family did happen to, say, trip, that might be funny). Apparently I suffer from what’s called benign, rather than malicious, envy. Malicious is a Shrek-sized, green-eyed monster who wants to hurt the ‘superior other’ – you burn her playdough or wish her a case of mastitis.
Benign, on the other hand, is a motivating force; through our admiration for our friends, we’re inspired to improve ourselves. This is so me. I have a Swedish friend who’s raising her kids to be independent. They run their own birthday parties and manage their own homework. Watching her has stopped me always ‘rescuing’ my children.
Another mum takes her kids to theatres, galleries, Vietnamese suburbs to eat pho. So far, we’ve managed yum cha, and I reckon swearing in Japanese counts.
The bizarre thing is, I’m not the only one peering through an emerald lens. It’s the epidemic du jour. Last week, a mate stopped me mid-sentence: “You know, I really envy the conversations you have with your kids.”
Really? She doesn’t know it’s a MasterChef avoidance tactic and I’m actually interviewing them – usually for content for this column.
Nevertheless, I’m chuffed. Gretel, I suspect, is good at conversations.
Catch Angela Mollard every Monday at 9.30am on Mornings, on the Nine Network. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/angelamollard.
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