This is the mum or dad who competes with their child for their spouse's affections. Quite simply, they see the kid as the third side of a Love Triangle
(though not in that way
... we hope).
This can be understandable, to some extent: becoming a parent is a major life change for a couple. Even the Sickeningly Sweethearts
will get a rude wake-up call when their child is screaming to be fed just as they settled down for a snuggle. Babies require time, money, affection and attention...and that means, no matter how hard mum and dad try to carry on as normal, someone or something else is going to have less of those things. Usually, in fiction at least, it's the spouse/partner.
Suddenly, they are no longer the centre of their partner's universe. They may feel that their wife/husband/partner no longer regards them as a "lover," but rather as "the other parent of my child." It's not that their husband/wife doesn't love them any more — it's just that children need more care than adults, and that means more time. Some partners have real trouble with this, especially when they're left kissing thin air because their partner ran off to tend to their child.
Dad is more likely to be the resentful party, although resentful mums aren't unheard of. In the case of mum, she'll often have felt resentful throughout the pregnancy, and angry that her partner keeps talking to the "bump" instead of her. She may accuse her husband of treating her as a walking incubator, not the woman he fell in love with. Usually, the "social demotion" aspect of motherhood (for example, a woman feeling that she loses her identity as a person because other people see her only as a mother) will be a major theme in the plot, and her jealous parent characterisation will be tangential to that theme. In the case of dad..? He's more prone to getting the Man Child
treatment. His wife is almost certain to complain that she now has "one extra baby" rather than a partner. A male jealous parent is less likely to receive Character Development
than a female: his jealousy will be either a permanent flaw or, on the other end of the scale, Played for Laughs
Resentful parents fall on a sliding scale of understandable to Jerkass:
- Concerned: Yes, this parent is a little resentful at being left out in the cold, but overall their motivation is altruistic. The attention their partner gives the child is truly over-the-top, and they run a real risk of turning into asmothering parent or an overly-restrictive one. The "resentful" parent is actually more concerned that the child will be adversely affected, or that their partner is burning themself out — the fact that their spouse hasn't spoken to them since the kid was born is a lesser concern.
- Justified: The parent really is resentful, but their partner's behaviour is obviously out of order. Usually the resentful mother falls into this category.
- Culture Shock: Slightly less sympathetic than the Concerned and Justified type, but understandable. This parent just hasn't got into the swing of parenthood yet. They still miss their status as lover/spouse rather than mum/dad, and the constant "not tonight, dear"s are getting them down. Usually they adjust, particularly after their partner has stopped freaking out and insisting on going to the emergency room every time the kid coughs, and they both become Good Parents after An Aesop or two. Tends to happen if the couple had children when the were quite young, or the baby was born before they felt they had "quality time" with their partner.
- Temporary: This parent acts like a brat during the neediest stages of their child's development, but mellows out when the child is less dependent on its parents. Living with them is still pretty hard on their partner and child, but not as unbearable as the...
- Selfish: To be blunt, this character should probably not have had children, at least until they'd grown up a bit. Every action their partner takes on the child's behalf is a personal insult to them. And not just playing with them or cooing over them - they resent the time taken to feed and bathe the child. If the child gets sick, this parent will probably fake being sick too. They always seen one step away from throwing a tantrum themself. May cross the Moral Event Horizon and become an Abusive Parent. Nearly Always Male, to the despair of good dads everywhere.
There is, of course, a step-parent variant, where the new partner is jealous of their love interest's children from a previous relationship. The symptoms of being a jealous parent remain the same, but the motivation is usually different: a jealous biological parent is resentful because they were there first and feel that the child has "stolen" their lover's attention; a jealous step-parent is resentful because they know that the children were there first, and therefore they will never
have their partner's undivided attention.
This is often the flip side of the Oedipus Complex
. Sub-trope of Parents as People
. Audience sympathy tends to vary according to how well they knew the parents before they became parents: The Hero
who marries his Love Interest
and has Babies Ever After
tends to be more sympathetic than the guy we meet mid-tantrum, as his wife is changing their son's nappy.
Real life examples are probably a bad idea.
Anime and Manga
- Ren Sohma, in Fruits Basket, is a Selfish type who can't stand the attention that her husband, Akira, gives to their child. In fact, she's so jealous that she does her best to ruin said child's life. Looking closely, there may be a small element of Justified as well - it had to be unnerving for the woman when the Zodiac children started pawing at her stomach.
- In ''Happy Yarou Wedding, widower Akira proposes to his son's nanny, sparking a Relationship Upgrade. One side effect of this is that Yuuhi starts lavishing even more affection on his son Shouta, and Akira starts getting comically jealous of the attention, feeling like the relationship between him and Yuuhi should have gotten better, not worse.
- Deconstructed in Neon Genesis Evangelion. The manga explains that Gendo Ikari ignored Shinji after his wife's death because he envied how much she cared for Shinji and how much attention she placed on him.
Live Action Television
- In Dragonriders of Pern, Petiron (Selfish) becomes a Spoiled Brat when his son, Robinton, is born in Masterharper of Pern. He and his wife, Merelan, were Sickeningly Sweethearts, but after Robinton was born he became jealous and resentful, taking it out on his sweet-natured son who only ever wanted his father's approval. Merelan's desperate attempts to keep Petiron happy exhausted her — possibly leading to her death (according to her best friend).
- Any father in a Jodi Picoult novel involving an Ill Girl or Boy is a Concerned / Justified type.
- In We Need to Talk About Kevin, Eva is a Concerned / Justified type in her own eyes, and a Selfish type in the eyes of her husband. Due to Unreliable Narrator, it's hard for the reader to pin down which one is truth...but given that Franklin dismissed Eva's concerns, doted on Kevin and demanded that Eva give up her job and move to the suburbs for Kevin's good, there's probably an element of Justified at least.
- In C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, one damned soul accuses her husband of being a jealous parent, complaining that he (and their daughter) begrudged her her grief for her dead son; her brother, a Bright One, contradicts her: they rightly revolted against her obsession, despite their love for the son/brother, because it was about her, not her son.
- In an episode of Eastenders, Tiffaney screamed at her husband, Grant, that she wasn't "a baby machine" after he became obsessed with having a second child. A justified type, even though said child didn't exist.
- Angel: The ghost haunting Cordelia's new apartment is revealed to be a smothering mother who, when her son decided get married, trapped him within the walls of the apartment so he wouldn't leave her and leaves him there to die.
- Alluded to in Sabrina Online, where Thomas notes that he never thought he'd feel jealous of his own son, after said son (Timmy) disturbs some "special time" between him and wife, Amy. The fact that Timmy is nursing at the time doesn't help. Strictly Played For Laughs - Thomas is an attentive and loving dad.
- Anthony Carver in Gunnerkrigg Court adored his wife and resented their daughter. Justification varies: on one hand he had some heartbreaking knowledge to deal with — that Antimony was literally killing her mother just by existing, which would suggest the Concerned type... but his classmates all state that he was fundamentally selfish to begin with (Selfish type)
- Cleveland acts as mix of all of the above in an episode of The Cleveland Show, when Donna's constant affection for Rallo gets in the way of their sex life. While he does act somewhat self centered and childish about it, he is at least somewhat justified since his step son is deliberately trying pry the two away from each other out of his own jealousy. Eventually, the two negotiate.