Guilty Mother


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Sandra A Doron LCSW

Dear Sandra:

I read your last letter with great interest because I have two grown sons, and they too are very different from each other. As I was reading your response, I was wondering if I am to blame for their distant relationship. I love them both dearly, and devoted my life to raising them, but now that they are grown, they don’t see each other very much, and have completely different lifestyles. What could I have done to create a closer relationship between them? GUILTY MOTHER

Dear Guilty Mother:

I am very pleased that you wrote to me so that I have the opportunity respond to your concerns. First of all, there is probably no reason to feel guilty. My guess is that you are very proud of your two sons, and that they are both fine young men who love you dearly. As I mentioned in my last letter, it is very common for siblings to be distant from each other, and it may not have anything to do with you. Because their lifestyles are so different, they probably have different values and attitudes about life, and their lifestyles are a reflection of their unique personalities. If your sons were not close while they were young, it would be understandable that their differences would remain now that they are adults. If they were close as children, and something happened to change that relationship, then it may be easier to work out their differences—but only if they are both motivated to do so. The magic word is “motivated”, and in some cases, parents can help to motivate their adult children to re-connect or make amends.

Significant life events, such as death, divorce, birth of children, retirement or illness can cause siblings to renew their contact or rediscover their relationship. However, it is important to remember that siblings must want to become closer, and if they do, then the last column I wrote would provide them with the steps they could take. In the meantime, mothers of adult siblings can encourage their children to talk, but parents need to recognize that it is up to their children to establish or re-establish their own relationship. So Guilty Mother, do not agonize about this any more. Because you have given each of your children your love and affection, and they are loving toward you, you can comfort yourself in knowing that you did the best you could.

If parents of younger children are reading this letter, and would like some ideas to create as good a sibling relationship as possible when their children are older, consider the following : 1) Be very careful to not “favor” the baby when your second child is born. Clearly, babies need more care, but all children need love and attention. Parents who are aware of the consequences involved in displacing their older children when a younger child is born will minimize the level of sibling rivalry. Parents who concentrate on the positive qualities of each of their children, and encourage each child to grow in their own unique way, will be less likely to show favoritism. Acknowledge and Appreciate all children.

2) Plan family celebrations, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Observe important holidays with family. If there is an age difference of 5 years or more, there may NOT be a lot of mutual interaction when the children are young, but you can provide opportunities for your children to be together. Older children will always be ready to go to restaurants, sporting events or amusement parks with their younger siblings. The older sibling will derive much pleasure and gratification from the positive feedback he gets from you when he takes responsibility for caring for his younger brother or sister.

3) Plan to spend special time alone with each child on a weekly basis. You cannot treat each child equally because every child is different, but you can make each child feel special.

4) Support your children’s attempts to work through their own disagreements, thereby fostering a relationship with each other that is separate from the parents. Avoid getting into a triangle with your two rivaling children. When there is sibling rivalry, whatever the age, parents will feel guilty, and will usually get pulled into a triangle with their children. Children’s rivalry almost always has a goal of getting their parents involved. Their rivalry makes the parents feel that they are failing as parents. Whenever possible, let your children work out their differences themselves. Say: “I don’t know who is right, and I don’t know what happened, so you’ll have to work it out yourselves.” Then leave the room, reminding them that they cannot have any physical contact to settle the disagreement.

Parents who maintain strong ties with their own sisters and brothers set an example for their children. Children will learn from what we do, not from what we tell them to do. As parents attempt to become closer to their own adult siblings, the benefits of doing so can be shared with their adult children.


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This site was last updated 02/06/06