This is a familiar conflict you’d read about in an advice column. An aging mother leaves all of her money in her will to one child and leaves her other adult children out of the will entirely. The left-out children are understandably bitter and the surviving family starts falling apart. It’s a powerful last statement made by the dying person. The damage can have enormous repercussions for siblings. It’s important to try to deal with the impact of the parent’s decision if siblings want to maintain their relationship going forward. They can air their differences, seek counseling, divide the inheritance, or walk away from each other. They will have to decide where their priorities lie.
A woman wrote to me about this type of scenario that she had recently experienced. In her case, she had been the primary caregiver for both of her aging parents for years. Her siblings were not involved. The father died first followed by the mother and the mother left everything to her caregiving daughter. The other children were unhappy and the sibling relationship was disintegrating rapidly. Because things were getting so ugly, it would have been understandable if the woman cut the other siblings out of her life entirely. Few could blame her for accepting a needed reward for her numerous sacrifices and abandoning the people who weren’t supportive of their parents. Because they could not even thank her for what she had done, because they could not admit their own role in the distribution of the inheritance, because they were being openly unkind now, she could walk away guilt-free from the relationship. With most friendships that might be wise. But with siblings, I think it’s advisable to try other solutions before severing ties.
The side effects of caregiving can be damaging to sibling relationships but these people are not easily replaced in our lives even by the best of friends.
It’s easy to see how caregiving drives a wedge that doesn’t occur in our other relationships. The responsibility for an aging parents’ care frequently falls onto one child’s shoulders. Other adult children cannot find the time to participate, or they live far away. Some are uncomfortable with the fact that their once strong parents are getting old or preparing to die. Some have cut parents out of their lives for emotional health reasons and cannot bring themselves to come back to the fold. No matter what the reason, the caregiving child can become resentful of the lack of support from siblings. Considering that the caregiver has known these siblings her entire life, it can leave her questioning, “Why don’t you care enough about mom or dad to adjust your life to fit them in? Why don’t you care enough about me to help me?”
The basically beautiful act of taking care of people who need help, often turns into family drama filled with anger and hurt feelings.
As a result, Dad might choose to have the final say about how much he appreciates the caregiver and how the other kids are undeserving of money. It is absolutely a parent’s right to do so with their funds. But I don’t know how many of them realize that they could be dooming their offspring to a lifetime of continuing dysfunction because of a legal document.
From a spiritual perspective, why are our siblings so important anyway? We have friends who come and go throughout our lives and we are usually okay with that. I know there are grade school friends that I liked and played with but I can’t remember all of their names. I don’t keep in touch with them and it doesn’t bother me. But siblings are different. I believe I’ve known my brothers and parents in lifetimes before. I believe I chose to be a part of the family I was born into. I feel strongly that I have known my children before and that they have known one another as well. It appears to me that some of my sons have issues they are working on with each other from past problems. I believe these ties are exceptionally deep.
Our families are like little colleges we choose to attend before we enter this life. Some of the best learning, greatest spiritual growth, and strongest ties are there. And we know these people our whole lives.
Siblings are often our oldest friends.
Sometimes, divorcing ourselves from family members for years or forever is the healthiest thing we can do. We are not meant to endure abuse at their hands. But because they are such significant figures in our lives, it is worthwhile to try to mend fences and rebuild ties if it can be done in a safe and healthy manner.
When a parent leaves all of their money to a “deserving” child and omits the others, sibling relationships can fall apart permanently or temporarily. On the one hand, the recipient can argue that the other kids weren’t worthy of money and were hurtful. Therefore, it would be healthiest to walk away. Maybe that’s the correct course. On the other hand, when siblings have been there for each other for a large part of five or six decades, or more, it’s worth assessing if the relationships are worth saving and maintaining until our time here is done.
The bond that siblings have from cradle to grave is unlike most of the others we have with other people in our entire lives.
It’s a shame to let money mess that up. Yes, the problem is about much more than money, but in the end, it does come down to money and there are ways to deal with that. Brothers and sisters have to choose if they can move past their parent’s decisions, their own actions or inactions, and save their oldest friendships. When they look back over their own lives, they might feel it was one of the best decisions they ever made.