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Some Unexpected Advice on Sibling Relationships from an Estate-Planning Attorney

December 22, 2009

This post was originally written for the website This site promotes mom-owned businesses and offers resources for moms in today’s economy. The moderator of the site, Abbey, is currently taking a maternity leave as she welcomes a second baby into her family. Being a wise woman, she lined up a great group of guest bloggers while she is out. My post below is one of them.

I am happy to write this guest post while Abbey is settling into life with two children.  Having a second child opens the door to lots of challenges and rewards of raising siblings.  Worries about sibling rivalry can start in parents before the second child even arrives.

As a psychologist, I’ve seen many families where conflict between siblings is a major source of stress within the family.  Happily, I’ve also seen many families where the siblings are truly friends who get along and support each other.  As I’ve watched my own three daughters grow and develop individually and in relationship with each other, I have learned firsthand how parents can influence the nature of sibling relationships.

Surprisingly, my perspective on sibling relationships was significantly influenced by the attorney who drafted the wills for me and my husband.  Not really knowing anything about the legal structure of wills when we first met with him, I had assumed that we would just set something up where whatever estate we had accumulated would be divided equally among the number of children we had if some tragedy occurred and my husband and I both died.  I honestly don’t remember what this attorney did legally (although I suppose I could drag the will out of the safe and look), but what he more or less said was that we wouldn’t be making decisions about spending money on our children throughout their lives based on whether things were “even” or not.  He said that we would be making those type of decisions based on what they needed.

That advice has really held true for me in my experience as a parent in considerations beyond just how to spend money.  The amount of parental resources – including time, attention, and energy – each of my three children has received over the years has varied  in response to their needs.  We try to keep an eye on fairness, but we never stress things being “equal” or “even.”  We try to help provide each of them with the support to develop their individual talents and interests.  There are times that one child needs more than another.

At the same time, my husband and I also try to emphasize that each member of our family is part of the family as a group.  Sometimes the group takes precedence over a particular individual.  My husband’s mantra has been, “Keep love at the center of our family.”  Admittedly, the kids can become annoyed with and irritated by this mantra, but on some level I think they all appreciate its value.

Sure, my kids still fight with each other sometimes, but they are also great friends.  We still have adolescence to get through, but I’m hopeful that they will be lifelong sources of support for each other.

Do you have any great sibling advice to share?  What works in your family?  How do you handle fairness?  What’s your biggest source of sibling stress?

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