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"All My Heart": When Siblings Move from Conflict to Connection

I recently became an "empty nester." It's bittersweet. I miss the voices and noise and the messes (yes, even those) the girls filled my home with over the last 24 years. At the same time it's very freeing and I am enjoying that freedom and having some fun!

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, all three of my daughters came home in shifts, one from her new location in Los Angeles (moved from Seattle in October), one from a central coast college, and another from her freshman year in Seattle. It's always an exciting time when the house is full!

Listening to their shared banter, teasing and laughing, I remembered a time when their interactions were more fighting, teasing, and screaming. I thought I'd pull all the hair out of my head in one full swoop. Anything from, "she's looking out my window in the car" to "she took my black dress and won't give it back" and "it's not my turn to do the dishes," I thought the rivalry would NEVER end. The best was, "sissy tore Barbie's head off MOOOOOOOOM!!!!!"

Seriously. I thought that I had done something wrong as a parent to foster competition rather than compassion. I tried everything from orchestrating family meetings (BOMB. Instead it became a complaining session--me being the biggest complainer), to affirmation hour (THAT never got off the ground because they shared a stream of "I am NOT showing up for that and this is a dumb idea" "this is SUCH a therapist thing to do" and my favorite, "NO" (while watching them walk away)). I even yelled sometimes. I tried. But then something shifted a few years ago--I can't pin point what changed, but the fighting decreased and the bonding increased. They now share a "sister group text" and call each other often. Their biggest fights now are about why it's been so long since they've heard from each other. They've become a solid, connected unit. My heart is full. I should've known that as they grew, the close connection my husband and I tried to foster would sink in. The many family trips, game nights, movie nights, family outings, and going to church as a family (even though we sometimes had to drag them as their, this really happened) helped foster a foundation for them to connect on. They have a shared history. Speaking of shared history, these three beautiful and accomplished women for a while now, have wanted to get matching tattoos together and decided on their Bami's (grandma) handwriting and took the plunge Thanksgiving weekend. "Bami and Papa" began a tradition decades ago, when saying goodbye, to put their hands in the shape of a heart and say, "All my heart!" sending their hearts along with whoever was leaving. The entire family now signs cards and says goodbye as others drive away with the same farewell. They've now bound themselves to each other (permanently in ink) and to a shared family sentiment with their matching tattoos. Reflective of the deep emotional connection they share, it's nice to look back and remember that while it didn't always seem that they shared a close connection, they were creating one in their own way. Time for me to get out of the way and let them go with "All My Heart."

Kimberly (formerly Sandstrom) McNary is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in San Diego, CA and works with Couples & Families to deepen connections and can be reached at

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