Adult Sibling Rivalry

Q: My vision of being a grandmother had included sitting and telling stories to my grandchildren — perhaps of my life, or of their parents’ lives. I guess any idyllic visions are not realistic (except those discussed in Navi, in the times of Moshiach), and I can see this now.I guess whatever personal limitations human beings have continue throughout our adulthood, unless we consciously work on changing them.

Grandchildren often don’t have patience (or interest, for that matter) to listen to long, drawn-out narratives of days gone by. And unfortunately, similar scenarios that I had witnessed when my children were young seem to repeat themselves. My idyllic vision is but a dream!

Children who criticize certain siblings continue to do so (though on a more sophisticated level, you can say). They may say that their negative comments about siblings are l’toeles, but the melody sounds but too familiar…

This time of year, when it comes to Pesach plans, who is invited to stay with us and who is not is often an issue.The out-of-town children feel that they should get the first option to come to us, while my daughter nearby is in her eighth month, and she feels that she needs our help even more.When it comes to daughters-in-law, we have to be even more careful, asit’s a special event when they come to us.My daughter-in-law often doesn’t tell us until the last minute — which aggravates our other children to no end, because they would like to come.However, were I to make an issue of it they would not come at all.

I know that in comparison to greater problems, this all sounds like narishkeit. However, one sibling may not speak to another for months due to these issues. One person will then not come to another’s “minor” simchah, and machlokes insidiously begins…It’s sibling rivalry all over again!

Any thoughts?

A: It is true that a tranquil existence is short-lived in our present reality . If we have been zocheh to help build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael, it doesn’t mean our spiritual work is complete. Simchah is built on expectations, and if we expect human beings (our children, in this case) to have sheleimus in their middos, we will continually be disappointed.

We would hope that adults mature, and that they have left behind issues of sibling rivalry. But, as you mention, adults are at different levels of emotional development. Being sensitive to these differences can help you navigate imperfect situations. Our expectation needs to include acceptance that not all our children will be satisfied with our Yom Tov arrangements. Some children can hear the limitations involved (e.g., a sibling who is expecting and needs to be close by), and accept this at face value. Those with more limited coping abilities (or those who are just more demanding by nature) may need to hear it in another way in order for it not to fan the flames of jealousy.

A wise mother can reframe Pesach decisions in such a way that other parties involved do not feel extremely slighted. Focusing on timing issues, visiting other grandparents who desire to see the grandchildren, or other alternative time spent specifically with this family can be discussed.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge for parents is to refrain from responding emotionally. We tend to get defensive about our position, and children know which buttons to push to get a specific negative charge from us! A parent needs to prepare her verbal response in advance and stay uninvolved emotionally, as difficult as that might be. One slightly negative comment can easily inflame the fire of sibling rivalry. No longer living together in the same house only makes it more difficult to work out misunderstandings among adult siblings.

Hatzlachah on refining your negotiating and diplomatic skills!