Teach your children good values at an early age (Photo: iStock)

Sibling rivalry is common and, in most cases, is very healthy up to when malice creeps in. Things appear well in most homes until the unifying parent passes on and everyone goes on a tangent. It gets murky if there are properties to be inherited.

However, there are exceptions as some families remain tightly knit and united through all seasons.

As of 2018, there were over 13,000 cases in Nairobi courts alone involving disputes in the administration of estates of departed parents and relatives. Some of the would-be beneficiaries live and die in abject poverty before the cases are concluded.

In 2016, the High Court finally ruled on a Sh17 billion succession case involving the family of former Cabinet Minister Mbiyu Koinange. The former minister died in 1981 and the succession case was handled by up to 25 judges for 35 years before the ruling. The wealth he accumulated to aid his descendants live dignified lives turned out to be a bane.

I visited a 50-acre farm in Tigoni where siblings have remained united after their parents passed on decades ago. The siblings have agreed to adhere to their father’s wish not to subdivide or sell the land. The patriarch told them that one day Nairobi would expand to the area and such a property would be rare, hence fetch good returns. They have maintained the farm so well and are coming up with investments that suit the location, times and their desires.

How do such families do it when others drag each other to court? It begins with upbringing – the culture the children are raised in. First is the emotional maturity of the parents. This maturity will be transferred to the children in how they relate to each other and close friends. Children learn how to relate to each other and resolve conflicts with their parents.

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Nothing good just happens, it is always a product of deliberate efforts from the onset. The first step is to avoid favouring one child or some children for whatever reason. The children will not voice their discontent but like the brothers of Biblical Joseph, will grow up hating their favoured sibling. The heart is never neutral, but a parent must deliberately and wisely conceal his or her preference or liking of any of their children.  

The second is education. All children must be encouraged and supported to pursue education to at least secondary school level. If they have to go to college, then efforts must be put to facilitate all the children to at least acquire post-secondary level education. This will enable them to understand the perspective of issues when they come up even if they do not agree with them. If some children drop out of school, they will always feel inadequate to contribute to any matter involving the family. This goes into breeding discontent.

Then there is conflict resolution. Conflict is inevitable where there are people. Opinions and approaches will always differ but if children are trained from an early age to be there for each other, then resolving conflict becomes their second nature. Differences will still exist, but trust would have been built from an early age, which prevents the conflict from degenerating into grudges or escalating into the public sphere.

A culture of deliberation should be cultivated. The family can hold regular meetings where any outstanding issue is handled even if it will not be resolved conclusively. In these meetings, parents encourage children to share freely and every point is considered even if parents already have a decision in mind. It will also help to bring out the gifts and strengths of each member of the family, which can be harnessed for the benefit of the whole family.

This can be controversial but crucial. The unity of a family rests on the matriarch. She brings love and empathy into the family, which fosters the household’s well-being. The matriarch’s beliefs seep through the relationships between family members through her nurture. This does not absolve the father of responsibility as he looks at the family’s strategic interest and big picture.

Capacity Building is a buzzword in non-governmental organisations about communities but applies also to families. The parents must build the capacity of the children individually and collectively for their family’s specific needs and reality. The parents should endeavour to bequeath to the children that which they know they can handle.

We always talk of culture as a community but culture is built in the family. All the above are tenets of culture about a family. Do not expect adult siblings to live in a way they did not experience and live through as children. Nothing good just happens.