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Ohio mom Paulita Kincer learned that her adult children were arguing with each other in a text from her daughter. Grace, 24, reported that her brother, Spencer, 22, had commandeered the TV. A battle over the channels escalated with an exchange of harsh words, and Grace recorded part of the argument before storming off to her room.
For the first time in six years, Kincer's three adult children are all home for the summer. Raising 20-something children comes with challenges, says Kincer, a former journalist who has written four novels, and dealing with sibling rivalry is one.
Kincer, 53, says she was surprised that her children — at their ages — would hurt each other with words. She later spoke to both Grace and Spencer individually. "I felt it was important to let them know that their words had hurt and to mend the relationship instead of letting the hurt percolate," she explains. Later in the evening, they apologized to each other.
Summer can heat up sibling friction, whether you have college kids home on break or are together for a family vacation. Should parents play peacemaker?
Therapist Peter Goldenthal, author of Why Can't We Get Along? Healing Adult Sibling Relationships, suggests that parents acknowledge their anxiety about potential flare-ups. "Don't think talking about it makes it worse. Just the opposite. This is where you need teamwork as parents." His other suggestions:
- Talk to the kids in advance. Speak to them individually about your desire for all to get along, and let everyone know what you are doing. "It's never a good idea to tell one of your adult kids to lighten up without telling the other."
- Note hot-button topics. Economic, educational and lifestyle differences can be touchy areas. Acknowledge that. Use a bit of hyperbole, Goldenthal suggests, saying something like, "Could you do me a favor and not talk about your yacht and Bentley? We are very proud of you, but there are sensitivities with your siblings."
As a middle child of six, Sarah Hamaker has plenty of experience with sibling issues. Now a parenting coach and author in Farifax, Va., Hamaker agrees that advance planning can head off problems, whether you have siblings together at home or on vacation. Her advice:
- Communicate expectations. Parents should explain their game plan for a family vacation or outing, especially if they are footing the bill. Share that plan via email. "When people know what to expect, things go better," she says. Be realistic: Everyone can't be together 24/7.
- Try to stay out of fights. When siblings solve the problem themselves, it generally works out better. If they don't, a parent can step in. "They might not be best friends on the outside; sometimes sibling personalities don't mesh," Hamaker says. "But remind them that you want them to be civil and to care about each other. Family is important."
- Spend time together reminiscing. Talking about shared childhood adventures — and misadventures — can rekindle affection and bonding.
That's exactly what Kincer says she plans to do with her family as they head to the beach and a local water park for some old-fashioned summer fun: "I hope the trip will be a bonding experience and capture some of that closeness they used to have as small children."
Mary W. Quigley, a journalist and author, has written two books about motherhood and work. A New York University journalism professor, she is the mother of three adult children and blogs at http://Mothering21.com.