Siblings Born To Feud? 6 Reasons Why Not

Grrr . . .

Grrr . . .

Once upon a time in a barren land with not a single computer or smart phone, iPad, Kindle, iPod to be found, people got their news from words printed on paper.  Sometimes the paper was glossy with colored photos; sometimes the paper was more like a paper bag only thinner and more susceptible to wrinkling, even tearing.

In this quiet time with many fewer distractions, readers actually sat down and read.  Yes, there were a few lone wolves who walked while reading, but they risked running into a pedestrian or, worse yet, into a car or bus.

During what has now been dubbed the “Pre-Plugged In Times,” I wrote a book about brothers and sisters.  You had to go to a book store and buy the actual book.  Or you could go to a local library and check out the book for a limited time.  (Slow readers often ended up returning the book after the due date and incurring a fine.)

A magazine—you might think of it as a short book—contracted me to write an article about sibling rivalry.  I had spent a good deal of effort debunking the inevitability of fighting with our siblings.  Now I had to turn the tables and look at sibling relationships as destined to cause rivalry.

The old glass empty versus half full view:

While few adult siblings have severed their ties completely, approximately one-third of them describe their relationship as rivalrous or distant. They don’t get along with their sibling or have little in common, spend limited time together, and use words like “competitive,” “humiliating,” and “hurtful” to depict their childhoods.

I didn’t like turning the tables.  But, hey, I needed the money after spending a good two years of my life writing Brothers&Sisters.  Besides, “Psychology Today” was, at the time, the popular go-to magazine for all subjects about health, happiness (sadness), relationships.

The article generated a good deal of conversation.  But, now, in these “Plugged-In Times,” I have published an ebook (Yep, I’ve jumped right in) that takes the original “glass is half full” stance.

6 points to support the general view that siblings are NOT born to feud and, even if they do battle in childhood, they often “get over it.”

Happy! Happy!

Happy! Happy!

  1. Freud was his mother’s firstborn. His father had two children from a previous marriage. About a year and a half after Freud was born, his mother gave birth to a second son, Julius. Freud remembers being extremely jealous of Julius, which probably contributed to his theories about sibling rivalry.  Freud’s obsession with sibling rivalry has colored our perception of siblings ever since.  Only recently have therapists and lay people alike begun to agree that siblings are not born to feud.
  2. One study revealed that two-thirds of siblings said a brother or sister was one of their best friends. Jill Suitor, a sociologist at Purdue University, and her colleagues polled 274 families with 708 adult children (ages twenty-three to sixty-eight) in 2009 and found that the majority had good feelings toward their siblings.
  3. Warmth between siblings grows over time, while the conflicts often fade.  Even siblings who drift apart in their middle years tend to drift back together as they age.  In fact, siblings who fought a lot as kids may become closer as adults.
  4. Research has shown that the more parents try to settle quarrels between their children, the more siblings fight. When parents send their kids to separate rooms, they don’t learn how to make deals, to compromise. Usually, one child is labeled the “good” kid and another “bad.” The “bad” child always gets blamed for trouble, while the “good” child “gets away with murder.  Conversely, when parents butt out and let their kids learn how to resolve their own conflicts, they learn important skills like compromise that serve them well throughout their lives.
  5. In a study of adult sibling relationships, Joel I. Milgram and Helgola G. Ross showed that the on-time deaths of parents—deaths that occurred in the parents’ later years—brought siblings closer together. Shared grief and good memories were strong enough for brothers and sisters to weather any underlying issues.
  6. “If you ask siblings in young adulthood to name their closest relatives, they’ll list their spouse, their children, and possibly a parent. Siblings often end up fourth on the list.
    When you ask the same question of older adults, they say they feel closer to siblings than to any other relatives except their children.,9171,1209949-7,00.html





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For Grandparents: Books About Brothers and Sisters


For Grandparents: Books About Brothers and Sisters


The relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren is a special one that can enhance the lives of both generations.  Grandparents are the connection to family heritage; conversely, grandchildren represent the future.

Much has been written about this important, often deep connection.  But little has focused on how grandparents can help their grandchildren get along well and how their children to be more effective parents.

Granted, younger parents can resent being told how to raise their children. Grandparents often have to walk a thin line between being too intrusive and not involved enough.

So, what can grandparents do to help their grandchildren enjoy close, supportive relationships?

  • Model healthy relationships with their brothers and sisters – Grandchildren learn by example.  They are keen observers.  If they see a close bond between their grandparents, their great aunts and uncles, they are more likely to want that same closeness with their own siblings. Weekly Sunday morning/evening dinners.  Celebration of holidays and other events.  Vacations.  All of these occasions serve as important family events where current and future generations can share time and learn from one another.
  • Reasons why grandchildren are close or distant – Just like parents, grandparents can help their grandchildren develop positive connections with their siblings.  Books about brothers and sisters often fail to detail how.  For example, it’s important for grandparents not to have favorites, to treat their grandchildren equally, to honor each of their individual personalities.  One grandchild may excel in school; another may be musically or athletically talented.  Each has his/her own talent.  None is better than the other.
  • Things you can do to help curb sibling rivalry – The most effective way to limit sibling rivalry is to allow grandchildren to work out their own problems.  Unless there is physical abuse, grandparents should stay on the sidelines.  Enforcing time outs, for example, is counter productive. Grandchildren can learn the importance of sharing, of compromise, of fighting fair.
  • Encourage children to be the best parents they can be –  Grandparents have the advantage of objectivity; they can see things that parents can not. With some distance, grandparents can serve as touchstones for behavior that foster healthy, close connections between siblings.  They can connect the past to the present and ensure that potential past shortcomings can be avoided and that positive attitudes and relationships continue to grow.



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Books About Brothers and Sisters: For Parents

There are a host of books about brothers and sisters for parents.  When the topic of brothers and sisters is raised, the operative response is “sibling rivalry.”  Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s, authors of the bestseller Siblings Without Rivalry, discuss the focus groups they ran and the questionnaires they compiled.  They discovered (not much of a surprise!) that sibling rivalry was the number-one leading concern of parents.


Parents, they wrote, were often overwhelmed and at a loss at how to “help their children live together so they could live too.”

And in my book about brothers and sisters, The Sibling Connection: How Brothers and Sisters Shape Our Lives, I offer help for parents who want to curb the fighting/rivalry between their children.

However, I argue, that the sibling relationship is deep and layered.  It is potentially life’s longest-lasting family relationship and rarely static.  It changes over time.  Siblings outlive their parents on average by twenty to thirty years. What may be a contentious, competitive relationship with our brothers and sisters can become a close, important one as we age.


Our siblings can be the only intimate connections that seems to last.  Friends and neighbors may move away, former coworkers are often forgotten, marriages end in divorce, but our brothers and sisters remain our brothers and sisters. We can’t shake them, no matter how hard we try.









Childhood is the time when siblings spend the most time together under the same roof.  Parents are an important factor in how their children get along. Parents can help their children foster close, supportive relationships by:

  • Allow children to settle their quarrels.  Research has shown that the more parents intervene. the more siblings fight.  When parents send their children to separate rooms, for example, they don’t learn how to make deals, to compromise.  Quarreling can be quite healthy.
  • Avoid the tendency to label one child as the “good” kid and another “bad.”  The “bad” child always gets blamed for trouble, while the “good” child gets away with murder.  This sets up a lot of anger for the “bad” child toward both his/her sibling(s) and parents.
  • Honor the different temperaments of children.  Temperamental differences can fuel fighting, particularly if at least one child is highly active or impulsive.  It’s not unusual for parents to have trouble differentiating between who children are and how they behave.  Often it is the difference in temperament that is especially annoying or particularly appealing.  Yet few parents can admit that they may like one child more than another at any given time.
  • Recognize that what affects one child usually affects the others.  And what affects parents is usually passed on to their children, though, most likely in different ways.

Childhood is a practice ground for future relationships with one another and with others.  Brothers and sisters learn to love, share, negotiate, start and end fights, hurt others, save face.  Parents have tools at their disposal to encourage healthy connections that last.



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