Ideally, adult siblings get along well. They are able to gather for family celebrations. They call and visit each other regularly.
But too often, their relationships are stressful and contentious. Especially when they’re dealing with the care of an elderly parent or settling an estate, conflicts are likely to arise.
It’s easy to see why this happens. Adult children sometimes function at vastly different levels. For instance, one sibling might be successful in his business and personal life. His brother may be struggling, dealing with substance abuse or unable to hold a job.
Siblings contribute disproportionate amounts of time and money to their families. A grown daughter who is orchestrating all the medical care for her father resents the fact that her brother doesn’t help at all.
Siblings may harbor past hurts that date to their childhood. A woman may feel that her sister was her father’s favorite child and rekindle her anger whenever they get together.
Adult children engage in power struggles. One sibling may repeatedly try to take charge and tell her siblings what to do.
Brothers and sisters have disparate opinions about their parents’ care. For example, one sibling may want Dad to go into a memory care facility, while the others insist he’s doing fine at home.
Finally, spouses may foment suspicion and create hard feelings. If a sister-in-law feels that her husband is being treated unfairly by his brothers and sisters, she may urge him to question his siblings’ actions, ask for verification or request an independent audit.
Such behaviors have serious consequences. Siblings may be unpleasant and argumentative. They may have trouble making important decisions. The subsequent delays and disagreements can cost thousands of dollars, ultimately interfering with their parents’ care.
Families suffer, too. Ailing parents are troubled by their offspring’s hostility, particularly at a time when they need their adult kids’ support. Plus, the adults are being poor role models for the next generation to follow. This doesn’t have to happen. It’s possible for siblings to move past their disagreements and pull together as a team.
They owe it to their folks.
HOW TO WORK WITH YOUR ADULT SIBLINGS
Behave like an adult. Remember that you are no longer children. Avoid immature and unproductive behaviors such as pouting, bullying and name-calling.
Don’t bring up the past. Forget about what happened when you were kids. Keep your relationship in the present.
Focus on the task at hand. Decide what needs to be done. Lay out a plan to accomplish your goals.
Be respectful at all times. There’s no situation in which yelling, swearing or demeaning behavior is appropriate. Back away and cool down before opening your mouth.
Play to each person’s strengths. If you have a medical background, take charge of health care issues. If you are mechanically minded, offer to repair small projects at your parents’ home.
Get professional help. Enlist the help of a neutral party to keep the peace and assist in making decisions.
Be realistic. Remember that all families are messy. Let go of perfection, and do the best that you can.