The other issue that John raised was the rationale behind their parents explanation related to the equal pay and equal sharing of inheritance, “at first I thought it was fair but as we got more involved in the business it was obvious that my siblings had different perspectives of what hard work was. My older brother Jaime was more interested in becoming a good husband to Beth and Jane was far more excited in being a mother. What made Jane less engaged in office work was when she was given the green light to produce more grandchildren to make my parents happy!” 

Fair is equal, equal is never fair

After another spirited discussion with John, I sense that he was hurting inside and appeared to have accepted the reality that there were differences related to their attitude and commitment.  He confided that every time he gets his pay, the more it makes him bitter. He added, “with all the hard work and sacrifices I made,  we all end up having the same pay and now papa announced that shares will be distributed equally, it’s just downright unfair! I am trying my best not to compare my efforts with that of my siblings but I can’t help but feel hostile towards them, especially to Jaime.”  For years, John has been thinking about striking out on his own and if not for his wife’s insistence that he stay for the sake of family harmony, he would have moved out. 

As we reflect on this simmering boil about to spill out into the open.  it may be in the best interest of our readers what the real causes are and why adult siblings gradually drift apart. This acrimonious phase may be a prelude to an open conflict especially when a triggering event like the sudden death of the founder happens. 

How does sibling rivalry start?

Tharawat Magazine’s interview of Dean R Fowler may offer clues to the mystery shrouding sibling conflict. Fowler, a family mediation expert and clinical therapist observed that “the core issue at the heart of sibling rivalry is individual self-esteem. Siblings who have developed a strong sense of self-esteem respect each other and aren’t perpetually hungry for attention from their parents because they’re comfortable with themselves. Lack of self-esteem is rooted in the actions of the parents, and entrepreneurial parents, in particular, can exacerbate the situation.” 

He further raised a good point, “entrepreneurial parents are busy. Often, they’re not around to praise their children. They’re not there applauding at their soccer game or taking an interest in their hobbies. Entrepreneurs, in the most extreme cases, have a narcissistic personality disorder, which can sometimes contribute to their success. However, it also means that, as parents, they wish to be imitated and agreed with categorically. This further undermines self-esteem in a child because if the child wishes to express themselves, they’ll be rejected until they conform to who their parent expects them to be. Sometimes, these issues have festered since childhood, and dealing with them requires family members to reach a new level of effective communication.”

Fowler’s observation is a valid concern and too often parents can sense it but simply ignores this elephant in the room. And to compensate the children (due to the lack of parental love) and to lessen the guilt, a business owner aka absentee parent will shower their children with material love further exacerbating the brewing rivalry among siblings.  

What causes these conflicts that lead to intense sibling rivalries? In my personal experience mediating family conflicts in Asia, I see a pattern that appears to be a universal event:

· The primary love language of a conflicted family is money

·  Parents and worse, absentee parents are not united, openly fighting in front of the children

·  There is a power struggle between the father and his children and or among the siblings themselves   

·  Tension over money 

To be continued...