Dear Mrs. Riches:
My parents, both now retired, encouraged their boys to aim high. My brother and I were both expected to get good grades, go to college, and land a good job. My brother accomplished the first two but lost his momentum somewhere and has ended up never really finding himself. I managed to accomplish all three and now am very successful in the same career field in which my dad practiced -- too successful, I think. Since I surpassed his accomplishments, I have noticed a marked change in the way my parents relate to me. Gone is the encouragement of the past and in its place is something much less friendly. In fact, now my brother can do no wrong and they barely speak to me. I think they are jealous! Do you have any insight into this?
-- Bitter and Better
Dear Bitter and Better:
My insight collides with yours -- they're jealous. While I'm sure your parents didn't set out to undermine your success, I'm equally certain that they have. Why? Because sometimes, even when we're happy that someone we love has achieved greatness, we're not prepared for how that makes us feel about ourselves. The green-eyed monster, it turns out, is just a relative away.
Try to think about this sympathetically for a moment. Your parents are in retirement, a stage of life that requires a lot of getting used to, even though it's highly anticipated. While some folks think of retirement as the pinnacle of success for a life's work, it can seem downright empty if you're not prepared with new plans and goals. Your dad doesn't have another shot to go further in his career; his chances to do that are over. Yet there you are in the thick of things, with so much more living and achieving to do. Ouch. Parents, it turns out, aren't immune to conflicted feelings.
Why are they so chummy with your brother these days? Precisely because he's so much less threatening, I would guess. But don't worry; the catbird seat won't be his for long. Your parents, you see, are probably genuinely proud of your success, and while your brother's lack of success feels comforting to them now, it will eventually lose its luster. Your brother is simply enjoying his day in the sun.
So what should you do at this point? It sounds like the negativity is one-sided, but to be sure, take a close look at your own behavior. Have you adequately thanked your folks for all they did to aid your achievements? Have you made a special effort to make sure they feel like an important part of your success? Have you obviously and deliberately set out to topple your dad's career highlights? Try making your parents a part of your success rather than simply showing off your latest achievement. Your thanks may be just what they need to feel less threatened and more important.
Want to get your parents less focused on you and more focused on planning the retirement of their dreams? Try: