Dear Ann Cannon • So, I grew up as an only child and always longed for brothers and sisters, and I was jealous of the families in our neighborhood who had plenty of kids. Like a lot of only children, I suppose, I always thought my siblings would be my friends as well, which would go a long way to mitigating the loneliness I sometimes felt.
Fast forward to the future. My husband and I had four children of our own, all of whom are adults now, and it causes me a lot of pain that some of them just plain don’t like each other. I have two questions, really. Does anybody out there have this experience? And what can I do as a mother to help these adult children of mine to have a better relationship?
— Surprised and Disappointed
Dear Surprised and Disappointed • I’m sure that most of us as parents want the same thing you describe here — children like the Von Trapps who, if they don’t exactly sing together and wear lederhosen made out of bedroom curtains, at least identify as a group and seem to enjoy each other’s company. And perhaps some families are like that.
But, in my experience, there are plenty of families comprised of individuals who may love each other without particularly liking each other. As we grow, we find our own friends, our own paths, our own way of doing things — and sometimes these things will stand in direct opposition to what our brothers and sisters have chosen on their journeys. When this happens, it can be difficult for siblings to withhold judgment and, thus, a certain dislike can be born. Also, family dynamics may be further complicated when an adult child chooses a partner that the others don’t care for. Does this make sense?
So, what can you as the parent do in a situation like this?
Frankly, you can’t wave a magic wand and make things all better — as nice as that would be. I think the best you can do is acknowledge that this is your reality for now, at least, although I will say that the surprising possibility for change always exists. A friend of mine relates the story about two uncles of hers who, after years of not speaking to each other over a business deal gone bad, reached out at a family reunion when they were old men and acknowledged that they had both wasted a lot of time by not staying in touch.
But that’s not the point. The point is that while you personally may not be able to make your children like one another, you can insist that people more or less behave themselves for the two hours that you share a Sunday dinner together. Meanwhile, do your best to maintain a good relationship with each of your children separately.
Finally, a few weeks ago I mentioned in a column that the Salt Lake City public libraries were closed until further notice. This is probably old news for you bibliophiles out there, but I did hear from readers, letting me know that you can now go online to reserve the material you want, then schedule a time for curbside pickup. For more information, click here.