When Sibling Rivalry Turns Into Adult Envy

Sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy are difficult issues to deal with for parents. To some degree these situations are normal and, with sensitivity, can be managed with siblings growing out of these unhelpful emotions. It becomes far more of a problem if this continues and manifests later on into serious adult envy.

If you are reading this then maybe you feel you are in this unhappy situation. Sibling envy between adults has the potential to disrupt the entire family, can spill over into extended family (if the extended family are close) and can adversely affect the adult siblings’ own nuclear families.

This scenario is one that is often played out in movies, TV series and novels. Often the final outcomes, in the story, can be devastating. One even sees this played out in real life in the media.

Example of Sibling Rivalry Turned to Adult Envy

The best way to chart the journey from sibling rivalry to sibling jealousy to adult envy is by way of a case example. This is an entirely fictitious story but I am sure that certain elements of the story might resonate with my readers.

Bill and Pat got married in their twenties. They had been together since their last year of high school. They wanted to marry young and have children young. They believed they could manage this as they had supportive parents on both sides who lived close by and could assist with the babies.

Bill had trained as a carpenter and was working for a company that made beautiful bedroom furniture out of pine wood. It had a ‘cottagey feel’ to it and was selling really well in the retail stores. Bill loved his work and took great pride in his craftsmanship. His ultimate dream was to open up his own business producing a similar kind of furniture, but to expand to include more than just pieces for the bedroom. He dearly wished for a son who could hopefully join him in this future business one day.

Pat had an admin background but had decided that once she had children she wanted to be a stay at home mum and take care of her family. Bill wanted only two children but Pat was open to the idea of a third.

They were both delighted when Pat gave birth to a healthy baby boy, John, two years after they got married. Bill was ‘over the moon’. He now had his son who would one day be his business partner!

Less than two years later Pat gave birth to another baby boy, Peter. She was delighted, but Bill was secretly disappointed. He really wanted a girl this time. What is starting to emerge thus far is that Bill had very fixed ideas about the way their lives were to be lived. He was in fact quite controlling and Pat preferred to keep the peace and agree with him in order to avoid conflict.

Bill showed a lot less interest in Peter. By now John was a toddler and very active. Bill spent a lot of his free time playing with him and showing him things in his workshop at home. Pat was left to look after Peter on her own and often felt lonely. 

As the boys grew up this pattern continued. The family did not spend a lot of time together, all four of them. Rather the pattern of Bill and John vs Pat and Peter continued as the boys went through school. John never missed out on love from his mother and consequently was a confident and social child and adolescent. He achieved good grades at school and by the time he finished high school he was looking forward to training as a carpenter, just like Dad.

Peter, on the other hand, had a difficult time at school. He was shy, did not play sport and did not do as well as his brother academically. He was very much a loner and Pat was continually worrying about him. He spent hours alone in his room reading or playing computer games. Also and, most significant, more and more he started to resent his brother. He was jealous and envious of John and very resentful of all the attention John received from Dad.

During Peter’s high school years he spent a lot of time with the school counsellor and by the time he finished school he was on anti-depressant medication. Pat was consumed with worry and by this stage the marital relationship had deteriorated badly.

Where was Bill at this point? Very busy setting up his new business and ready to realise his dream. He was already receiving orders for his fine furniture and was eagerly waiting for the time when his eldest and favourite son would join him in the exciting venture. By now his relationship with Peter was very strained. He was always criticising him about being lazy and not showing any drive to succeed at anything.

So, the years went by and the business made a great success. John got married and too had two sons, so more boys for the business according to Bill. Meantime Peter was not thriving. He was still living at home, barely spoke to his father and felt a strong hatred for his eldest brother. He felt there was something wrong with him and the same feelings of sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy were still there from childhood. Pat was miserable too and the marriage was virtually non-existent in spite of them living in the same house. John lived with his wife and family close by.

One night something in Peter snapped. He had had enough. He was tired of suffering, he was tired of being consumed by hatred and envy. In the early hours of the morning when everyone was asleep, he doused the workshop, which housed his father’s entire business, with petrol and set it alight. Being a wood business it burned very quickly and was destroyed. Before he could even see the extent of the damage, he took all his medication from all the years of being at doctors, ran to remote area and took his own life.

This story illustrates the fact that issues that may seem unimportant with siblings can escalate and develop into serious problems in later life. Sometimes problems that do not have simple or, in fact, any solutions. The only option is to sever all contact with the adult siblings and their families. This is more common than many would imagine. Both in my professional and personal experience I have met many many people who do not speak to any members of their immediate family. The different parties involved are scattered all over the country. There is resentment and often hatred in these troubled families and cousins never get to know each other or share special occasions.

Then when the parents die, the fangs often come out in how the estate is distributed. The only winners here are the lawyers.

Equally Love Your Children

The message again is very simple. Love each and every one of your children equally, find value in each where ever you can. Before deciding to have children be sure that yours is a relationship that is able to make the necessary adjustments and sacrifices that are part and parcel of child rearing.

And, lastly, your child’s life does not belong to you. Let them decide the course they want to take and give encouragement and affirmation as often as possible. Anything else is not good enough parenting.