So, what can we do to bring healing to sibling conflict? First, accountability is a must. As Michelle and I talked more, I learned that her sister was not giving Michelle a regular summary of her mother’s income and expenses. Secrecy creates mistrust and fuels misunderstanding which ultimately leads to conflict. Most conflict can be managed or avoided when siblings choose to be open with each other. No secrets!
Second, successful sibling relationships check in with each other on a regular, even scheduled basis. Few siblings live near each other in today’s mobile society. Often, no adult children live near mom and dad. But when one child does live near the parent(s) and the other(s) at some distance, creating a regular time to touch base with everyone is vital. My suggestion to Michelle was a bit radical. I urged her to get in the car and drive up the coast to meet with her sister face-to-face. This meeting would not involve Bob or the man with whom her sister lived. Once that meeting took place, Michelle and her sister would schedule a phone appointment with each other at least once a month to review mom’s finances and talk about other issues.
Next, keep the in-laws out. As with my conversation with Michelle and Bob, in-laws mean well; however, meddling in family matters that involve parents and their children is rarely a good idea. Some families make this work, but others run aground on very rocky reefs. In the privacy of marriage, in-laws can counsel their mate, listen and give feedback, and support in healthy ways. That said, adult children are wise to avoid beginning a conversation with a sibling by naming someone other than him or herself as the person giving the advice.
Finally, understand that families get to where they are over long periods of time. Sibling conflict often goes back to childhood and may never disappear even in the best of situations. Help clients to learn they can give their siblings the gift of honesty, openness, and support while always remembering that at the center of the family’s concern is the aging parent(s). And, after the mom and dad have passed away, siblings may want and need to maintain family ties. Doing the right thing can lay a better foundation for those future years and improve the relationship now.