Rabbi Azriel Hauptman
The topic of sibling estrangement is complex and difficult. No two families are alike and no two relationships are alike. It is very hard to point fingers at any specific person and say that it is his or her fault. Nevertheless, there are ways that parents can foster a healthy relationship amongst their children that will help them weather the storm when a conflict arises. It is commonly said that hurt people hurt people. Therefore, if you raise children who are at peace with themselves and with each other, you are planting the seeds for a wholesome lifelong relationship amongst your children that will persist even after you depart from this earth.
One of the fundamentals of emotional development is that in order to achieve mental wellness you must have a sense of self-worth. This is not the same as self-esteem, which is the confidence that you have about your abilities. Self-worth is the sense that you have inherent value from the mere fact that you exist. This feeling usually comes from your parents. If you are fortunate enough to have parents who value your existence regardless of your accomplishments, you are already well along the path of feeling self-worth.
Sibling rivalries often have subconscious underpinnings in your stature in the family system. If there is a hierarchy in your family, competition and resentment can develop which can explode into full-blown estrangement years down the line. If you are imbued with a healthy sense of self-worth and that every member of the family is just as precious as the other, you can avoid a hierarchy and all of the drama that comes along with it.
There are many ways that parents can develop this sense of self-worth in their children. This includes finding one-on-one time with each of your children, giving each of your children personal space to discover who they are, celebrating their differences, and especially not showing any favoritism. However, more than any specific strategy, you have to feel this in your heart. You truly believe and feel in your heart that each of your children has inherent worth regardless of their capabilities or accomplishments.
If you find yourself showing favoritism to one of your children, attaching their worth to their accomplishments, and not simply loving them for being who they are, then you are possibly planting the seeds for toxic relationships amongst your own children.
What is the solution to this problem? There is no short answer and no quick fixes. You probably experienced this from your own parents and this mindset is likely seared into your psyche. An experienced therapist can be a vital resource in the journey of self-exploration so that you will feel that sense of self-worth in yourself that you can then convey to your children.
You can only be there for your children as long as you are alive. Once you pass away, your child’s sense of family of origin comes from his or her siblings. The power to create a healthy family structure is in your hands. The seeds that you plant can have generational ripples as your children will learn from you and raise their own families in the same way. The stakes are very high and failure is not an option.