I'm a sucker for good political dynasty stories, so a recent piece in the New York Times about the relationship between Andrew and Mario Cuomo thrilled me. Describing the dynamic between the father and son as "loving, tangled and laced with competitiveness," the Times went on to speculate that things are intensifying between the two as the younger Cuomo sets his sights on the governorship of New York--a role his father performed legendarily. Apparently, Andrew no longer asks for Mario's political advice. He waits to tell him of major moves until after he has made them. He is trying, at 52 years old, to step out of his father's shadow.
Clearly, this is the stuff of legend (everything from Oedipus to NBC's "Kings" comes to mind), but on another level, I have a sneaking suspicion that parents and kids competing with each other is actually quite common. Our parents are our first guides through the world; emulating them is natural. It's not surprising that we are sometimes good at the same things, or that being good at the same things can make for complicated relationships as we grow older.
For some, the complications can be especially hard to deal with. I'm thinking of my friend S., whose skinnier-than-skinny mother made a point of comparing herself to S. on a regular basis, resulting in her daughter's less-than-healthy relationship with food. Or another male friend of mine who, at age 37, finds himself wondering why he never went to medical school-not because he has any interest in medicine whatsoever, but because his idea of being a success is wholly built around his father's renown as a surgeon.
For my part, I've always been exceedingly glad that my dauntingly pretty mother never once mentioned either of our looks. Not only would I have lost any competition between us based on physical beauty, but I would have grown up thinking that looks were something worth competing over. Instead (and again, thanks to Mom), I judge myself based on how much I've gotten done on any given day, how much of the world's affairs I've managed to retain, and--embarrassingly, but hey--how well I did in my daily Scrabble game, which I'm now wildly better at than Mom, thanks very much.
What about you? Did you compete with either of your parents growing up? Do you still? Has it helped or hurt your relationship?