It is well-known to my family and closest friends that I am a terribly jealous person. I don’t desire others’ possessions, and I don’t feel envy towards others’ achievements, but it hurts when I see my loved ones show affection towards others.
I still remember how I felt when my big sister started dating, I was crushed that she wanted to hang out with her boyfriend and not me. When I moved away from home, it pained me to come back and see that my friends were now closer to each other than to me. As a mom, I have had a hard time the first times my baby showed affection towards his grandparents, the babysitter and even my husband.
These feelings have never gotten the best out of me, and I know all these relationships are very important to him, but I always thought it was something I dealt with on my own. I was surprised when a friend who is a newer mom than I am, asked me about feelings of jealousy when her son showed affection towards his babysitter.
Turns out jealousy is perfectly normal and part of the set of emotions we all have, says Laura Álvarez-Cienfuegos, a psychologist currently living in Belgium who has worked with children and families at the Roberto Clemente Center and at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, both in New York City.
For moms, she said, the bond with their children is formed even before the baby is born and during those first months of their lives when she is everything to the baby. The emotional attachment is very intense and we as moms hold a very exclusive place in the life of our child, similar to a feeling of being in love. As the child grows, however, other people and relationships enter their lives, including grandparents and babysitters. This can make the mother feel threatened that their special bond is ending, and even make her question if her baby is happier with someone else or showing more affection towards other people.
I can relate to this. When my son was a month old, my sister came to visit. She is an amazing mom to her children, and I was still a bit shaky in my baby holding technique. As soon as she picked up my son, he was calm and content. I was not just jealous, I felt inadequate. Thankfully the feelings went away quickly.
Most of us can rationalize these feelings simply by acknowledging they are there, says Laura, and talking to others about them; including talking to our partners or other mothers. Also, she says, not judging ourselves for having them; These feelings do not make us bad people, but rather show the intensity of our emotions.
However, extreme jealousy can be troublesome. Symptoms of simple jealousy turning problematic include feelings strong and constant, creating a strong sense of insecurity in the mother.
Our children notice our behavior and if they see that we hurt when they spend time with others, they will stop doing it because the child doesn’t want to disturb the bond with you either. In some cases, mothers can put roadblocks for the child to develop relationships with others, which is not good for the child either, Laura explains.
The relationship we have with our children affects their future relationships, and as Laura points out, there are always going to be babysitters in a child’s life, whether it is a grandparent or a teacher; relationships that are important in a child’s life. We cannot be everything to them.
I told my friend to remember that although a little hurtful, it is much better to come home to your son showing affection to the sitter, than leaving him with someone they dislike. Despite all of the other important relationships in our children’s lives we know that as moms we hold a special place in their heart.