Sibling Wars: What to Do When Your Adult Children Fight

What to Do When Your Adult Children Fight

Siblings Aren’t Always the Best of Friends

When you and your sibling fought as children, your parents probably intervened. They sent you to your rooms, asked you to think about what you did to each other, and expected a mutual apology. Most of the time, this method worked and eventually whatever you fought about was forgotten. But what happens when siblings fight as adults? Should parents get involved or let their adult children hash things out? Do siblings have to get along with each other? Here’s what you shouldn’t do if your adult children are fighting with each other.

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Don’t Take Sides

Unless one sibling is physically or mentally abusing another sibling, don’t take sides. As a parent, you’re supposed to remain impartial. The issues you children have with each other run deep, and they may even be the result of their upbringing. If you get involved, you also risk becoming the common enemy, as your children can turn on you. Just let them work it out.

Don’t Ignore Their Feelings

Dismissing or ignoring your adult child’s feelings is detrimental to your relationship with them. Using words or phrases like “dramatic,” “overly emotional,” and “insignificant” in an attempt to quash an argument between siblings only fuels the fire. Whether you agree with them or not, your adult children are experiencing real feelings that they need to work through. If you don’t acknowledge their feelings, you’re basically saying their hurt doesn’t matter to you.

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Don’t Lie to Them

In an effort to speed up apologies, a parent might go to each sibling and say the other one is sorry, when they aren’t. In fact, they haven’t regretted their actions at all! But if each sibling thinks the other is sorry, it’s easier to come together and make up, right? It is, until your children find out that you lied to both of them. The bottom line is, an apology is useless unless it’s sincere and comes from the offending party, so don’t invent apologies.

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Don’t Make Excuses

Many sibling fights are often about feeling disrespected. You know what respect is and you most likely taught your children to respect themselves and others. So don’t make excuses for why one sibling treats another poorly. Don’t blame it on stress at work or at home. Don’t make them seem more important to the world than they actually are. Even if one of your children is this close to discovering a cure for cancer, it doesn’t give them the right to be a jerk to their sibling.

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Don’t Lay a Guilt Trip

If your adult children are fighting, don’t use guilt to make them reconcile. Don’t talk about how hurt you are because they don’t get along. Don’t make references to your advanced age or physical health. Don’t talk about unborn nieces and nephews who will never meet their aunt or uncle. You know you can spend time with your children individually. Your physical health is your own responsibility and no child ever suffered greatly because they never met their aunt or uncle.

Don’t Threaten or Bribe Them

If your adult children aren’t behaving the way you want, don’t threaten them. If you’re disappointed that they can’t get along (even for your sake), don’t dangle inheritance or gifts over their heads. Don’t promise them material things as an incentive for pretending to like each other, just so you can feel better about how you raised them. What do you think will happen once you’re no longer around?

Making Things Worse

Sibling relationships are complicated and form in early childhood. Sometimes they can be warm and loving; other times they can be downright combative. Just because two people played well together as children, it doesn’t mean they’ll make excellent friends as adults. As a parent, you’ve raised two individuals with distinct personalities, likes and dislikes. There’s bound to be some conflict at some point. Your job is to not make things worse.

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20 thoughts on “Sibling Wars: What to Do When Your Adult Children Fight

  1. HurtDaughter

    I am a daughter that is searching for answers on what a parent’s role is when her adult children are fighting. My parents have been separated for almost 20 years now and they have not spoken since and continue to fight over properties. I have gotten into a disagreement with my brother and I took the initiative of apologizing to him and having a relationship with him. I was blindsided because It seems like he did not have closure on his end and continue to talk behind my back with my mom included and even brought up issues that I was unaware was an issue. For all these issues, my mom was involved but not once has she defended me. She basically took his side and continue to talk about my life to him. Even up to this time, my mom continues to take his side and has never asked my side of the story or acknowledged my feelings. How is it that parents should not intervene? I think a parent’s job should never end as long as she/he is alive. If his/her adult children fight and do not have a relationship, I really believe it is a parent’s responsibility to hear both sides out, remind them of love in the family without taking a side. As long as it is done in a respectful way, i think a parent should always play a role in fixing her children’s relationship.

  2. Belinda

    Why are most big brothers outlaws, in the family, as compared to last-born brothers, or other like brothers, in the last row,

  3. J. Marie

    I have read this article several times, and the comments. I am sorry for all of us going through this in one form or another. I too have two children who have not spoken in over two years. My son, 28 and daughter, 32 are very different personalities, but both loving and successful in their own ways. My son seems OK with not having his sister in his life. My daughter would be OK to have him back with some change. He is the one who blew up and called it quits. They both have valid feelings, but he is the only one who seems happy with this “new normal”. We have done everything separately. My daughter refuses to come home on the holidays to avoid an unexpected run in with her brother. We are considering not hosting any more and seeing other family during that time. We love them both for who they are, but I DO want a way for my family to come back together. I understand staying out of it, but what can be done to encourage them to at least have a conversation? Peace only starts when they can talk to each other….it’s complicated, but it hurts more than the two of them.

  4. susan

    I thought I was all alone on this topic. Thank everyone for telling there story. I dont want my holidays ruined anymore either. My daughter 29 my son 27. Call each other horrible names and they fight. Treat each other horribly. I dont want to be around them anymore. We never did this in my parents home on holidays. Why do they think its ok to be so horrible to each other in my home? I told my husband I m done and want to move. Let them visit me when and if they can or want to. So hard with grandchildren in the picture. My daughter does drugs and my son is Airforce military. Hard waters to tread at my house. I am so unhappy.

    1. dmarantz moderator

      Thanks for reading my article. Your children obviously have unresolved issues going way back and it’s best for you not to try and mediate. But you also can’t expect them to behave in your home since they seem to despise each other so much. My suggestion is to spend time with them individually. Have you daughter come over so you can spend time with her and then have your son come over another time. You don’t want to fuel the drama by having them over together again. That way, you get to enjoy your grandchildren like you should be able to.

      As far as your daughter’s drug problem, I am not qualified to speak about that, but I hope you are considering reaching out for help for her and your family.

      Best wishes to you.


  5. Bebi

    Yes; I know what I shouldn’t do when the siblings are fighting. However; can anyone tell me how to cope with Christmas and important family events? I am always getting caught up in “who I am supposed to be spending the day with”? I cannot spend half the day with one and the other half with the others, as I am ill, and wear out too quickly.
    I feel that my children are being very selfish in this, and “apparently there is something I am Not doing right”, as far as they are concerned. This year I did not even try to attend Xmas dinner etc with one half and did not have dinner with the other half,’ now I am so Isolated that I can’t even bring myself to face any of them. Does anyone understand where I am coming from?

    1. dmarantz moderator

      Can they come to you? Maybe schedule time with one child and then after they leave, have the other one come over. Just a thought.

  6. Linda

    My son’s are in a knock ’em down battle. The older one owns a condo and his younger brother has lived there off and on for many years. An argument ensued with older son’s sister in law who also lives there with her husband. My younger son yelled at her and she complained to her sister (my son’s wife). All he wanted his brother to do is apologize and he wouldn’t. Now he’s evicting his brother who is fighting the eviction. I’m trying not to take sides because I think they both have valid points. Help!

  7. Prescott Sharyl Lee

    The title here is “What to do when your children fight” but all I read was what NOT to do… I need help with what I can do, if anything, to help bring my children together. Or at least have them be civil when around one another.

  8. Cayce Chalk

    Thanks for this article if only to make me feel like I am not alone. My son flipped out on my daughter and her new husband on Christmas Eve and took his girlfriend and walked out. He mispercieved (in my perception ) some things she was saying and just blew when he’d had enough. They have not been able or even tried to work it out. She feels like she always tries with him and just gets nothing back. I understand both of their positions because I truly believe my son felt slighted and I don’t want to invalidate his feelings. The hard part for me in all of this is that he was diagnosed in 2015 with leukemia and has since been through a bone marrow transplant and is now doing well. I have since spoken to him because I think he is probably experiencing PTSD that he is not dealing with. It just makes me so sad that our family went through all of that and now everything just feels broken. We can’t do anything about any of it and getting in the middle is the last thing I want to do. We have followed your suggestions except my husband did tell our son that we are too old to deal with this stuff. Hahaha! I didn’t want to give up on family traditions like Christmas eve but I just don’t think we have any other choice unless they decided they can work it out.

  9. Beth

    I have a son and daughter who are currently not speaking. He has blocked her number and unfriended her on Facebook. The incident that started all of this seems so minor…I truely don’t understand. So my son did not want a joint Mother’s Day…so I canceled Mother’s Day because I am not interested in have two. Why should a parent have to coddle these adult children and host two event because they can’t manage it.

    1. Cayce Chalk

      I am so totally with you and confused as well. My two adult kids had a falling out at Christmas and haven’t spoken to each other since. I was confused about what to do at holidays when typically their dad and I would host a holiday dinner. I was all for just calling it off until our niece decided on a visit. We’ll neither showed up making different excuses why they couldn’t come. I’m not hosting anymore. Guess I will just see them individually from now on. Makes me so sad.

    2. dmarantz moderator

      Why do you have to host Mother’s Day? They should be taking you out, and in that case, two Mother’s Days sound great!

  10. Trudy Singh

    My daughter’s are fighting because my 1 daughter who has a small daughter is living with a man with 2 of his 2 small children..
    The boyfriend keeps calling it quits …than says im sorry and they get back together.
    So my youngest daughter is telling her older sister she a bad mother for living in this home thats unstable. Ect ect.

    I being the mother cancelled Christmas dinner.. I wont allow a family fued in my house full of small children..6 in total.

    I feel devistated. Im torn…i dont know what to say or do.

    I cant cook dinner cause i just had knee surgery. So without my oldest daughter here to cook i have no choice but to cancel dinner.

    What do i do?

    Sad Mom..Christmas is ruiend

    1. dmarantz moderator

      You are right to want to keep the fighting away from the small children. And with you just having knee surgery, you should get a free pass on hosting Christmas dinner this year. You can ask your daughters to put aside their differences for Christmas–the fight can go full-steam ahead at another time! Give them the opportunity to not ruin everyone’s Christmas. They can be adults and think of the bigger picture. If they agree, you have your family together. I am sure you will be on edge during dinner anyway, but you can let your daughters know that your house is neutral territory, and whoever starts up will be asked to leave. You definitely don’t want to take sides!

      I understand how your younger daughter feels about her older sister’s relationship, but she isn’t helping her by calling her a bad mom. Your older daughter may be the type who needs to learn from her mistakes, and any advice she receives, no matter how blunt or compassionate, isn’t going to make her change her ways. Frankly, how your older daughter conducts her relationship is none of your younger daughter’s business. If the guy can’t commit, that’s her problem and no one else’s. But if he is being abusive to her and her child, that’s another issue that should be intervened on.

      I hope this advice helps you. I’m wishing you a Happy Christmas and hoping for the best!

  11. Dianne

    I read this article and agree completely ! I have done all this and haven’t done the blame and guilt thing ! I empathize with my daughter completely ! Her brother can and has always been difficult to get along with ! ADHD is the main reason ! But now they are adults . She is 27 he is 29 both happy and successful ! He has apologized for any wrong doing he has done in the past, wants to move on and at least be civil to each other! She won’t have it , and refuses to spend any time with him even at Christmas ! So as their mother I now have to have two Christmases , two separate visits etc! She refuses to be in the same room with him! They are very different people and I can live with that but all I’m asking is for her to come for Christmas and spend a few hours together as a family of four ! Is that asking to much? If you can reply to me my email I would appreciate!

    1. dmarantz moderator

      I totally understand your feelings as a mom–you love both your children and it is difficult to see them not getting along. But as the one who did the apologizing, your son got the closure he needed and is ready to move on. Your daughter, on the other hand, seems to still be hurt. Sometimes an apology is not enough. Sometimes an apology and time apart are not enough. Sometimes an apology and time are enough. The truth is, you won’t know what else your daughter needs to heal, unless your son asks her. I still advise that you stay out of it, because if you don’t, it will look like you’ve taken sides. Your son has not done the work he needs to do to make things right, it seems–at least in your daughter’s eyes. And by asking your daughter to suck it up and share Christmas together, you are doing two things: 1. You are not acknowledging that she is still suffering. 2. You are creating the facade of a happy, united family, when that isn’t the case. Your daughter will be uncomfortable the whole time, and is that what you really want?

      Your children have a long history of issues that won’t be resolved overnight and they won’t be resolved with a simple apology. It might take multiple apologies. It might take detailed apologies. It might take counseling. But if their relationship is valuable to them, they will find a way to work it out. After all, they are adults, and it’s their choice.

      Thank you for reading and commenting on my article. I hope my reply was helpful in some way.


  12. Jaba Banik

    The question put up in the blog are important but you explain what a parent should not do to settle the differences between the siblings.But the real question remains unanswered as to What a parent must do to settle the differences between siblings and lead to harmony.

  13. dmarantz moderator

    Lynda, I am sorry to hear about your son’s illness. It must be so difficult for you to watch your son struggle and it must be so difficult for him to experience the challenges of living with MS. I understand the anger. I have personal experience with an ill relative who is so incredibly angry at her illness and where her life is, that she has become verbally and physically abusive to those around her. In fact, she is most abusive towards her caretaker, who is also her biggest defender! This person’s anger is so great that it has either ruined or immensely strained friendships and family bonds.

    Being the peacemaker must be so stressful. I wonder, is it working for you or your children? Do you feel like you can fix things? Instead of pushing your children to be friends, why not step back and let them work it out? Or, suggest counseling to your angry son. He needs to learn to deal with his feelings in a healthy way. I am sure the anger he feels is taking a negative toll on his health and he doesn’t need that on top of having MS.

    I hope this helps!

  14. Lynda

    Hi Dania,Thank you so much…. that was very useful advice. There is a lot of advice around for bringing up children but not so much for when they have left home and the family relationships afterwards. I hope we can hear more from you. One of my adult warring sons is ill with MS and has anger issues resulting from it. I try to be the the peacekeeping diplomat, not easy though. Some guidelines would be useful. Thanks again and best wishes


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