Discord is a word that explains adjustment difficulties between related persons at a severe or intense level. Parental discord can be a major and crucial area that can have significant effect on emotional relation between siblings. Constant fights and added physical or emotional or verbal abuse between parents can create confusion and anxiety at a younger age (even for month old babies) sowing seeds of tension, fear and pent up anger. Children may not be able to meaningfully verbalize and express these conflicting thoughts and emotions. At later ages, as they grow into adult individuals, it may be expressed as being fearful of or a fear of being emotionally attached to another person, a fear of authority, considering relationships as risky or as being vulnerable, fear of becoming a victim, fear of rejection etc.
Effects on the older sibling: The responsibility of older sibling taking a parental role where possible over involvement (without even possibly being aware of it) can result in loss of his or her own position as a sibling. This can kindle or trigger raised expectations and added responsibilities from younger siblings at a later stage. The younger siblings may transfer parental roles and expectations to the older sibling including the baggage and frustrations associated with the parental roles. This can lead to an increased stress in the relationship as the older sibling has to manage their own needs and expectations with those of the younger siblings. The expectations from the younger siblings may interfere with the expectations of the older siblings on how they would like to build their life. As the older sibling tries to achieve a balance, they may be looked at as being dominating, intrusive or interfering or even as uncaring and selfish. However, from the older siblings point of view, it can be a result of overbearing parental responsibilities that add stress and lead to hurt and emotional strain. Losing one’s own status as a brother or sister (and one’s own childhood and dreams) can sometimes be a shock that leads to emotional stress.
Effect on the younger sibling: Inability to differentiate the role played by a sibling and their parents can lead to over-expectations that are impractical and strain the emotional relationship between siblings. Emotional battles and manipulations between them can lead to a disengaged or “lack of love” relation and create a distance between siblings.
Effect on parents: Lack of focus can trigger or rekindle past stressors among parents leading to the resurfacing of old conflicts. It may result in intense struggles between the parents and may even involve their married children and spouses.
How do you work through this entangled web of emotional relations? The only way to work towards getting balance can be a direct discussion between parents and siblings. This depends on the motivation and availability of all members to work together and retain the sense of a family. Unless an effort is made, the marital and interpersonal relations of parents and their children can be affected. As the children become more involved with their life – their careers, their own children, their marital relations- the level of motivation needed to work towards maintaining the family increases. There is the risk that the family loses its identity and each individual charts their won separate courses without any common attachment. The same cycle may repeat with the individual families as it is not biological tendencies alone, but relational patterns also are repetitive with personalities remaining nearly the same. Like genetic characteristics, we also carry the relational patterns with our personalities and tend to repeat them. Unless corrected consciously, this may affect every relation entered into.
If the level of motivation and distance is low or absent, the best way can be creating a healthy distance between own families so that further strain is not built up (either as a temporary or permanent solution). The boundaries of what is healthy and unhealthy is more blurred than clear and hence needs a clear perception on all sides. The loss of the family structure may be seen as a real loss of an anchor or may bee pragmatically accepted as the dispersion of the family with the loss of its own identity.
There are limited options to work with if individual family members are not willing to reflect and re-visit their own roles and expectations with a better understanding. The longer the duration and distance in terms of accepting the need to work on relations, the lesser the chances of coming together as a family again. The binding forces that are intense and strongly bind family relations can be as strongly repulsive if family members do not work towards a healthy relation. You may not be able to choose the family you were born into but you could definitely choose to work towards maintaining the relational structure of the family you were born into.