About 15 years ago, give or take, one of my sisters and I had an argument that led to a year-long estrangement. Eventually we got over it. (While we were not speaking, I don’t think my parents knew we were not.) Sometime between then and now, my two sisters had an estrangement that went on a considerable length of time. The igniting factor in the first instance was a disagreement over children’s behavior; in the second instance, there was dog behavior involved.
How we raise our children, how we raise our dogs, how much attention we expect brothers and sisters to pay to our kids and pets and what kind of behavior we expect them to accept from those kids and pets – these are some of the knottiest issues between adult siblings, probably more problematic than money issues.
But money is sometimes involved with kids, too.
My father had two brothers, an older and a younger. The oldest of the three boys (their sister died shortly after World War II) had no children. When the youngest child of the youngest boy, a son, married and was looking for a house to buy, his uncle, recently remarried after the death of his first wife, offered to sell him the house he had lived in for years. My uncle’s price for the house was less than what he would have asked on the open market, but his sister-in-law, my cousin’s mother, thought our uncle was asking too much and thereby taking advantage of his nephew. What began as a family gesture of goodwill gave rise to bad blood that went on year after year of my two uncles not speaking to each other.
My father tried several times to play peacemaker, but it must have taken a miracle to get those two brothers back on speaking terms before one of them died. All those years wasted!
Two men we know, brothers, were estranged for several years, and it seemed as if they would never acknowledge one another again. Their father died before their rapprochement took place. Happily for their mother, she lived to see it. They are now business partners, all the bitterness and rancor buried with the hatchet.
Then there is the question of how much emotional support siblings expect of one another. When expectations don't match up, it can make for resentment.
But really, what is “unforgivable” between siblings? Is there anything? The long silences are hard on everyone, and it is never only the two feuding parties in the family who are affected. Whether or not other family members take sides or make every effort to remain neutral, there is a lot of collateral heartache.
Is it any wonder people from different backgrounds have trouble getting along?