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What parents should do when adult siblings fight

angry brother yelling at her older sister

Luis Santos | Shutterstock

Josephine McCaul - published on 10/22/23

Watching our children of any age quarrel is upsetting for parents, but as they age you can help them heal in a different way.

As parents we try to ensure family harmony. When we welcome a new child into the family we have to manage the oft-different personalities and hope that everybody will get on. But those little sibling squabbles and tantrums are inevitable. And they can lead parents wanting to pull their hair out.

However, these family feuds are generally easy to manage when kids are young. This changes as brothers and sisters age. As that familiar saying goes: little children, little problems. Big children, big problems.

Recently I had this put to the test. Without going into the finer — actually, ridiculous — details, my eldest son and daughter fell out. I can’t remember exactly why, but I know my 24-year-old son was unhappy with my 23-year-old daughter’s behavior towards me. (Both my children are still students and live at home — something that is common practice in France.)

He decided to “teach her a lesson” by refusing to talk to her. Now he’s the most stubborn person I know, therefore if he set out to do something he would be unswayed. I held my breath and hoped this would be a temporary situation. It wasn’t.

My daughter would walk into a room and my son would remain steely silent. I said nothing. In the past I would have. In fact, as their characters are so very different I’ve often had to intervene in their arguments.

I’ve had them both at the table while I try to play mediator. I’ve had my mother involved in calming situations. I’ve spoken to them independently to try and get them both to understand each other’s point of view. It’s actually been very exhausting.

Therefore on this occasion I decided to keep out of things. This does go against my nature. Like any parent I hate to see my children not getting along. But I firmly believe sometimes children need to figure things out for themselves, without their parents trying to manage a situation.

The turnabout

After three very long months where they both sort of walked on eggshells and ignored each other, I decided the time was right to point out a few things to both of them.

I took them aside separately and shared that I understood they both had issues with each other, and that it was their business. However, a long time had elapsed without any attempt to make any amends, and although I wasn’t expecting them to become friends, they needed to display basic manners under my roof. Part of these manners involved greeting each other with a simple “hello.”

Overnight things changed. My son reached out with a “good morning” to his sister. I think she was in such shock that she was actually very pleasant to him. I sat back and said nothing. Nothing at all.

Over a week we went from cold silence to my son buying takeout to share with his sister. As their relationship improved I’ve remained quiet. I want them to think that they are mature enough to manage their relationship. I want them to think I trust them to do so.

Lessons learned

It hasn’t been easy. I’ve actually been in tears over their falling out. However, one thing I’ve noticed when dealing with adult kids is that you have to let them be adults, and not just see them as your kids. They need to be allowed to have their opinions and deal with their emotions.

As it happens their relationship has never been stronger. I can’t help but be delighted. I think the three-month break from each other did them both some good, and gave them the space to miss each other. Had I forced things we’d be back into the cycle of fighting, me trying to fix things, then back to more fighting.

I appreciate this tactic might not work for everybody; however, if you try to remain neutral and not push your agenda, it’s a good start to allowing fighting siblings to find their own path to harmony. And in fact to have faith in them as our Heavenly Father has faith in us.

Catholic LifestyleFamilyMental Health
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