Sandra A Doron LCSW
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?
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
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.