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As the holidays approach, siblings who were once close are mourning their estranged relationships. And it’s usually because of our parents, an expert said.

Two children looking sad sitting on a green sofa, as their parents look on from behind with their arms crossed.“It’s the parents’ responsibility to set a up a proper family dynamic,” one TikToker argued.

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  • In the throes of the holidays, TikTokers are mourning their estranged relationships with siblings.
  • Many suspected their parents had fostered an unhealthy dynamic.
  • A longstanding expert in the field concurred but said closeness typically resumes in later years. 

With the holiday season in full swing — and family reunions an inevitability for many — TikTokers are increasingly taking to the app to mourn growing apart from siblings they were once close to.

In early November, a TikToker named Mads, who said she hadn’t seen or spoken to her sibling in months, wrote that she “miss[ed] when we all lived under the same roof” in a clip that has nabbed nearly one million views, and sparked a litany of commiserating comments.

It’s a welltrod sentiment that was also recently explored by another creator named Armani Chardonnay last month. In her viral TikTok, she told viewers she never had a close or protective relationship with her brother like the ones she’d seen in movies.

@maddyo

miss when we all lived under the same roof #fyp

♬ original sound – kc – ac

“We weren’t even friends, we were just forced to live with each other,” she said in a TikTok with 966,000 views. “I don’t want to feel like I’m the only one who’s gone through that.”

Several creators responded in highly-viewed stitches with theories as to why siblings tend to become estranged: A resounding conclusion? Our parents.

“It’s the parents’ responsibility to set a up a proper family dynamic,” said the creator Valia Andry, adding that some parents pin their children against one another. The TikToker @fayeboogie concurred, saying she doesn’t have a close relationship with her siblings — nor did her own mother with her siblings. But she’s working overtime to break the cycle with her children.

@_armani_chardonnay_

lets count how many times ive said siblings 💀 no but seriously…anyone else? #siblings #fyp #letstalkaboutit

♬ original sound – Armani Chardonnay

“As a parent, I had to teach my children how to be a sibling to each other,” Andry said.

“I think favoritism is the ultimate relationship destroyer between siblings,” added Makaela Heard, who said her mother was bullied by her siblings but subsequently sought to ensure that her own four children were close. “Just know that you can find sisterhood, brotherhood outside of your family,” she said. “Family isn’t always blood.”

Favoritism and parental fighting can pull siblings apart, a psychologist warned

Dr. Karen Gail Lewis, a therapist who’s been practicing for 51 years and has written books on sibling estrangement, concurs that parents are most often the root cause. But because dynamics are passed down through generations, she uses this conceit in her practice to explain rather than blame.

“I believe most parents, for the most part, do the very best they know how to do given their history,” she said.

While favoritism is the “most obvious” precipitating factor, Dr. Lewis said, some parents are consumed by in-fighting, which can cause kids to withdraw, take sides, or recreate the conflict within other relationships. When there is severe trauma at home, such as alcoholism or abuse, children “either pull apart so they have no connection to each other or they pull together for support,” she said.

The first question Dr. Lewis asks patients is whether they were close to their siblings as young kids — namely from birth to the age of eight or nine.

These ages are critical in setting the stage for “what gets recreated many years later,” she said. It’s also easier to fix a conflict when there’s some semblance of foundation. If not, “we have to create something new that was never there.”

Siblings often reconnect later in life after a period of distance

From feeling like a relationship has become superficial to total cutoff, estrangement exists on a spectrum, Dr. Lewis explained. But there’s often hope if the relationship isn’t completely severed.

In her study, she said she’s observed an “hourglass pattern,” whereby kids are close growing up, then become distant into adulthood as they establish their own professional lives and families. But later in life, they often come back together as they leave the workplace, their children grow up, and their parents pass away.

Much of her work, she said, occurs with patients who have experienced a crisis, like the death of a parent, which precipitates reconciliation.

For those looking for some advice ahead of the holidays, Dr. Lewis advises not speaking about your sibling to or through a parent. Instead, she suggests meeting one-on-one, on neutral ground (like a coffee shop) for a catch-up before any family gatherings. Going directly to the family home can cause people to revert to “old childhood patterns.”

“As a general piece of advice, if you want a relationship with your sibling, you have to keep the parents out,” she said.

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