Other peo­ple’s chil­dren

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - SOCIAL REPORT -

If you thought you were im­mune to ‘life­style envy’, or lenvy, the past sum­mer should have put paid to that delu­sion. There was that fam­ily hol­i­day with the What­sits and their charm­ing chil­dren, who all sail, in­clud­ing the six-year-old; and your neigh­bours’ closed-up house (they’re at their place in Mozam­bique) – and right now it doesn’t feel like the lenvy is un­der con­trol. Once your an­ten­nae are pricked, any­thing can trig­ger a full-blown at­tack of the lenvies: a small child an­swer­ing the door, freshly scrubbed and ready for bed (Other Peo­ple’s Chil­dren Envy); a home­grown tomato in a salad (Gar­den Envy); a brushed-steel work­top (Kitchen Envy).

You would hope that Life­style Envy was pe­cu­liar to a few sad in­di­vid­u­als, but it has a habit of start­ing with some­thing small and in­nocu­ous (let’s get a coffee-maker like the Gib­sons!), and then snow­balling to the point where you are look­ing up prop­er­ties on Gumtree in their vil­lage in the Klein Karoo. It all seems pos­si­ble.

Five years ago, lenvy was con­tain­able and pre­dictable. Ev­ery so of­ten you hung out with peo­ple who had more money and bet­ter taste than you, and af­ter­wards you would drive home in si­lence. But that ba­sic, man­age­able, They Have Bet­ter Stuff Than Us Envy has been swept away by the sheer va­ri­ety of life­style op­tions. Th­ese days it’s quite com­mon to covet other peo­ple’s life­styles, even if they are com­pletely un­re­al­is­tic and even if, given the op­tion, we prob­a­bly wouldn’t trade. It’s a sort of fan­tasy re­lease, with a base note of com­pet­i­tive self-tor­ture. Here are some of the thoughts you have when in the pres­ence of other peo­ple’s Len­vypro­vok­ing chil­dren: why won’t ours try the cala­mari/join in the game of vol­ley­ball/talk to the adults in a sunny, en­gag­ing man­ner? How come their eight-year-old can make a sand­wich and ours can’t iden­tify the bread knife? They’re so po­lite! Or are they a bit fake? At least ours aren’t fake. This is typ­i­cal Other Peo­ple’s Chil­dren Envy, with a strong un­der­cur­rent of Other Peo­ple’s Par­ent­ing Styles Envy and a bit of Other Peo­ple’s Part­ner Envy.

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