How to Handle Siblings After the Death of Your Parents

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Two adult women siblings walking together. (Image: luna4/iStock/Getty Images)

While some adult siblings bond more closely after the death of their parents, others find that the loss brings unresolved tensions and old rivalries to the surface. Moving past the pain and anger requires a conscious effort on the part of everyone involved; the goodwill of one sibling may not be enough if others persist in clinging to old resentments. However, there are some things you can do to make it possible for a new, more positive dynamic to evolve.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

In dysfunctional families, parents often have triangulated relationships with their children. All news goes through the parents before it is communicated to the other children. Then, once the parents die, the siblings lose contact with each other, reports Judy Hevrdejs for the "Chicago Tribune." Picking up the phone and calling your siblings directly or setting up a Facebook page for family news indicates that you want to stay in touch. Don't lose heart if your efforts are initially met with little response. It can take time for new routines to be accepted.

Step Outside Your Role in the Family System

Children learn their roles in the family from a very early age, according to an article on adult sibling rivalry published in "Psychology Today." Resentment can build toward the favorite -- the "golden child" -- and siblings asked to assume a caretaker role may be overburdened. Knowing your role in the family and being willing to step outside that role to offer assistance, appreciation, or a sincere apology for any part you played in making childhood stressful for your siblings may help to improve your relationship with them.

Consider Getting Professional Help

If your relationship with other siblings continues to deteriorate despite your best efforts, it may be time to seek mediation or counseling. Talking over the issues of the past will help you to gain empathy and perspective, and an objective point of view can help to diffuse tension and encourage good listening. If you can't persuade siblings to go to counseling with you, there is still a lot of value to be gained from discussing family issues with a professional on your own.

Practice Detachment and Move On

Sometimes there is nothing you can do to reconcile with siblings once your parents are no longer there to hold things together. In such cases, it is important to seek closure by detaching emotionally and setting up boundaries to protect yourself from rejection and loss. New York City-based psychotherapist Jeanne Safer, in an interview about toxic siblings, says that you need to be able to mourn the loss of what might have been a good relationship so that you don't get stuck reliving the pain for the rest of your life.

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