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Sibling Rivalry: Buckle Up, It’s Going To Be a Bumpy Ride!


inter-generational family sitting around an outdoor table for lunch

Siblings can be each other’s best friends or worst enemies!

I have just wrapped up a week away with my partner Lindsey and his family.

Lindsay turns 60 in a few days, and I talked him into inviting his two brothers, two sisters and two adult children on holidays together to help him celebrate.

All nine of us bunked into two cabins in a quaint seaside town in Northern New South Wales.

Coming from a large family myself, I believe it’s never too late to learn how, as grown-ups, we can do better.

So, I got in Lindsey’s ear and suggested that maybe this time, things would be different if he were to bring lighter energy to the mix. Leave behind that version of himself that feels injured by past events.

Might there be a chance he could shake up his family dynamic if he were to challenge his perceptions of his siblings in these mature years of his life?

Lindsey describes his relationship with his brothers and sisters as rivalrous and distant. He doubted his siblings would make an effort to fly interstate.

And yet they did come when invited.

Letting it be as good as it can be

I’ve been with Lindsey for twelve months. The half a dozen times I’ve interacted with his family, I’ve observed the passive-aggressive family dynamic play out.

Lindsey lost his mother when he was eight years old. The family dynamic appears to be rooted in childhood loss, dislocation, the absence of a mother’s love and a home life that was ever-changing and, at times, far from nurturing.

The youngest child — now 51 — never got to meet his mother. She passed hours after giving birth to him. Relatives took the new baby into their care until he was old enough to start primary school.

The story, according to siblings, is that dad was physically present but never recovered from his wife’s death. Grandparents on both sides stepped in to help raise five kids and keep them from ending up in an orphanage.

The bond siblings share is complicated. It can include many factors, not just a missing or deceased parent. For example, how a parent treats us, whether we are male or female, life events, ethnic and generational patterns, and people and experiences outside the family.

Pushing buttons surprised me!

There was most definitely a pecking order amongst Lindsey’s siblings.

It blew me away how each sibling assumed their assigned ‘role’ in the family within minutes of coming together. And it went on for the entire week!

What I wasn’t expecting was how I allowed their behaviour to push MY buttons.

Like my partner, I’d intend to have a great week where I’d blend in, be gracious, and let his siblings plan the activities. I would make myself available to join in with everyone and do whatever I can to help Lindsey enjoy time with his family.

I kept reminding myself the week wasn’t about me. Nor would I let it be. My background is community engagement-social work, so I imagined I was professionally and emotionally competent to interact with Lindsey’s family without getting sucked into the drama.

And yet, despite my best intentions, I was not prepared to be so deliberately excluded.

What hurt deeply was that I was tolerated — but marginalised.

While I genuinely listened to the stories shared around the table, no one showed an interest in me. I was not invited to share a few tidbits about myself during the week together.

No one opened up space for me to contribute, so I stayed silent.

The women went off together for a swim, grabbed a coffee at the shops, and a few took in a pamper session at a local resort, but they did not invite me to join them.

I was not invited to write on the birthday card they gave Lindsey. Or add a few dollars to the money they tucked inside.

Understandably, Lindsey was fully immersed in his family dynamic such that he wasn’t aware of my isolation.

On a few occasions, I withdrew from the family circle to take a solitary walk or bike ride. For someone who’s been out here on the road for months away from my family and friends, I felt pretty lonely. But Lindsey’s siblings weren’t interested enough to pick up on that.

I knew my ego was spoiling it for me. That my struggle was between my ‘self’ that felt slighted, and the emotionally and spiritually evolved me I so wished I could step into!

Being around these folks sapped my energy and dampened my joy of being amongst them.

I was smack in the middle of the push and pull of this family dynamic while also observing my inner struggle to respond appropriately.

For my partner’s sake, I kept smiling and played the game of being included.

Can there be a happy ending?

Reviewing the past week, I acknowledge my partner’s siblings were my ‘teachers’. They lit up aspects of me I need to examine more closely. One could say I was gifted an opportunity to know myself more deeply.

Lindsey shared that he enjoyed the time hanging out with his brothers, sisters, son and daughter, as did they. It has morphed into an annual gathering by the sea. Next year Lindsey will have a grandchild to fuss over!

Being the outsider looking in, I could see how in each of them their wounded inner child appeared stuck in time by the life-altering trauma of their mother’s death. When viewed from that perspective, I’m disappointed I could not see past the adults’ behaviour — including my own — to bring more love to the mix.

Lindsey and I have had plenty of time since to unpack the week that was.

Will I join Lindsey next year to be amongst his family, assuming we’re still a couple? Yes, of course, I will.

Life teaches us that, for some, family aren’t necessarily our ‘tribe’.

It’s not about expecting siblings or parents to change for us. If we’re committed to figuring out what pushes our buttons and healing those wounds that keep us stuck, there’s a good chance interaction with our family can evolve.

If this information was helpful to you, perhaps you’d consider buying me a cup of coffee.

Love, light & laughter

Catherine (Cat) Farrar




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