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How to Deal With Strained Relationships With Siblings When a Parent Dies

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

After your parents die, you could find that relationships with your siblings become more strained or even break, according to a September 2009 study published in the “Journal of Aging Research.” The rivalries and arguments that you had as kids can erupt without the parental glue that held you together over the years. Those in such a strained relationship must work together to repair it or contact among siblings may become distant and better dropped, according to a “Chicago Tribune” article “Missing Mom and Dad."

Assess your relationship with your siblings and determine if you are dealing with them based on your childhood relationship or an adulthood relationship, advises the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension pamphlet “Brothers, Sisters and Aging Parents.” Examine your connection and work to deal with your siblings as they are today. Communicate about the ups and downs in your life, how often you can get together, and what you expect from siblings now.

Work through how you feel about your siblings and decide to drop the ancient history in favor of how things are today, suggests psychotherapist Jeanne Safer, author of "Cain's Legacy: Liberating Siblings from a Lifetime of Rage, Shame, Secrecy and Regret," in “Missing Mom and Dad.” Understand that your sibling could also have unresolved issues that affect the relationship and that your sibling might refuse to reconnect and rehabilitate the relationship, advises Safer. Be clear about your motivation to connect, such as maintaining a sense of family or reconnecting for your kids.

Contact your siblings and request an opportunity to reconnect and establish a relationship. Realize that your sibling could say “no” and be okay with that, advises Safer. Choose a convenient location and a time when you won’t be rushed. Be prepared to hear whatever your sibling needs to say in order to lay the past to rest.

Meet together and decide what kind of a relationship and traditions you want to maintain. If you and your siblings have children and grandchildren, you could find that large family gatherings aren’t practical, but chats on the phone, social media contact and email are ideal for touching base. You could connect on a family project such as putting together a family genealogy and a recording of family stories to pass on to the next generation.

Keep an open door if your siblings aren’t open to healing strained relationships by sending Christmas cards, family newsletters or family pictures periodically. Continue to extend an invitation for a family visit, but don’t get twisted if you don’t hear back. It could take some time for your overtures to bear fruit. Take care of yourself and your family and be grateful if the day comes when your siblings meet you for a harmonious reconnection.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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