We continue to feel the pain of “Mom loves you best,” and “It isn’t fair,” decades after our first fight over the new toy.
One day last year I had a conversation with a co-worker that got me thinking about our relationships with our siblings. My coworker (who is over 50-years old) said she was quarreling with her younger sister and feeling pulled by the need to give in and the need to stand up for herself and was very torn by this. Then she said, “I feel silly that it upsets me so much at my age.”
I think adult fights with our brothers and sisters can cause pain that runs very deep and is akin to no other we encounter in our adult lives. We continue to feel the pain of “Mom loves you best,” and “It isn’t fair,” decades after our first fight over the new toy. (The way parents handle this often makes it so much worse, but that’s a topic for a different blog).
To think we should be “over this,” diminishes the real hurt we can carry about our siblings. We all know families that have been torn apart because one sibling insists that he or she “deserves” to inherit the family home or an adult child moves back in to care for mom and the other siblings accuse her of stealing mom’s fortune before they can inherit. I have personally heard countless stories of adult siblings who are no longer speaking to each other because of inheritance fights.
We were lucky in my family – there wasn’t much to inherit when my dad passed. But that didn’t stop my sister and I from having moments of red-hot anger toward each other as we were cleaning out mom’s closets to help her move. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t interested in mom’s tablecloths. Just having my sister claim one of them was enough to bring tears of defensiveness to my eyes. “It’s not fair!” I screamed in my head.
When you think about the basic message, “Mom loves you best,” we’re talking about our very survival here. A toddler doesn’t really think, “If mom loves the new baby more than me, maybe I won’t have enough to eat or Mom will leave me out in the forest to fend for myself.” But historically speaking these were real threats to our survival. Too many kids meant too many mouths to feed and often someone got sacrificed. At our wee cores we know this as children.
Beyond that, we want our siblings to love us the way we are. These are our first relationships and we begin our struggle for both acknowledgement (see me!) and for self-identity (I am special!) as babies and toddlers. When these basic needs don’t get acknowledged by our siblings (and when do they ever?) or our parents, we carry the struggle into adulthood. It affects all our relationships, and it carries on with our adult siblings. We are still fighting over the last cookie.
What to do? First, step back from the fight and view yourself and your sibling with compassion. Recognize that this is one of your first relationships and know that it is important. Acknowledging both the pain and the love that exists here is the first step to acceptance and love for you both.
Second, ask yourself sincerely whether you are willing to sacrifice your first relationship in order to gain whatever it is you are fighting for. Is there a way to compromise? Try telling your brother or sister that you love them and want to work this out. It’s amazing how far a real, adult conversation will go when the other person does not feel attacked.
Still can’t let go of your anger or resentment? Sometimes we could all use a little help. A trained therapist can provide a neutral space to examine your feelings and consider what steps you would like to take as you move forward.