Father and teenage kids hiking in the Alps - Vorarlberg, Austria. They are walking on the footpath in the high mountains of Austria.
Canon R5

By: Elisa Shevlin Rizzo, Managing Director, Head of Family Office Advisory, and Jeff Kreisler, Head of Behavioral Science for J.P. Morgan Private Bank

The dinner table is the heart of the home for a great number of families, especially when children are young: It’s the place where parents and siblings come together, talk about their lives, and make plans for the days and weeks ahead.

The benefits of this nightly pattern can be far-reaching, researchers have found.1 For example:

  • Parents listening in a meaningful way helps boost children’s self-esteem2
  • Adolescents who frequently dine with their families were more likely to report positive relationships with their parents, and less likely to use drugs, alcohol or engage in other risky behaviors3
  • Regular family dinners can help reduce overall stress within the family4

However, as children grow up, leave home and eventually start their own families, those nightly dinners end, and it can become more difficult to maintain the intimacy of early family connections, especially as once-daily contact is replaced by infrequent holiday celebrations and special events in good times, and managing family crises in bad times.

How siblings relate with one another can have a meaningful impact on the family and individual family members themselves. Until recently, most research on family relationships centered on intergenerational issues (i.e., the dynamics between parents and children).

Now, some researchers are taking a closer look at the developmental importance of relationships between siblings.

Complex, lifelong relationships

Research confirms what we may know instinctively: Siblings have a long-lasting and profound impact on each other’s lives – for better or worse:

  • The quality of sibling relationships has been linked to adult patterns of health and well-being5
  • Poor relationships with siblings during childhood is a risk factor for depression in adulthood, according to a Harvard University study6
  • Other research suggests that people who reported experiencing ongoing sibling conflict and parental favoritism in adulthood were more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression, anxiety, hostility and loneliness7

Moreover, behavioral patterns established in young families often last a lifetime.

When children are young, parents typically make all decisions. As children mature and become separated by distance and the competing demands of their own lives, decision making – especially as it relates to managing generational wealth – may remain with now-aging parents.

As a result, adult siblings may not be called on to collaborate and make decisions together until there is some kind of a family crisis, such as when mom is in the hospital and dad needs long-term care. Suddenly, siblings need to come together and work with one another in ways they have not had to do before.

High stakes, new ways to reconnect

As family structures become more complex – and the number of people at the dinner table expands to include spouses and partners, children and grandchildren – establishing a culture of open family communication becomes both more critical and more difficult to achieve.

Family meetings can be a way to create new opportunities for members across generations to (re)connect and learn to work together. Moreover, research confirms the benefits of developing such skills.

Families who sustain their wealth over time share certain attributes, including:8

  • Focusing on the personal development of each family member
  • Making ongoing efforts to improve intra-family communications
  • Sharing a common vision and mission for the future

When carefully planned – sometimes with the aid of an outside specialist or facilitator – family meetings (or family retreats) can help adult siblings:

Explore family history, shared values

  • Ask parents and adult children to share family stories, traditions and history with younger family members
  • Identify shared family values and individual members’ interests
  • Create a foundation for jointly making optimal decisions and policies
  • Design a future based on shared long-term success

Promote transparency

  • Share information among all participants
  • Provide timely updates to family members not actively involved as managers so they feel included and informed

Collaborate across generations

  • Build alignment among family members around shared goals through open discussions
  • Recognize growth and individual strengths of each sibling to avoid falling back into old patterns
  • Provide opportunities to resolve differences

Coach and learn

  • Practice making joint decisions and involve young adult children as they come up within the family
  • Create “muscle memory” by learning to make easy decisions together in advance of having to make more difficult decisions later on when the stakes are higher
  • Provide learning opportunities to boost family members’ financial competency and other skills

Allow room for disagreement

  • Encourage all participants to approach difficult topics from a place of curiosity and a willingness to listen and learn
  • Agree to disagree when consensus is not possible so that the conversation can advance to other topics
  • Consider inviting an outside specialist or facilitator to moderate the conversation if there is a compelling reason to discuss a sensitive issue

Practice, practice, practice

One way to promote adult sibling collaboration is to encourage them to organize various aspects of the meeting, such as to identify the location, set the agenda or plan family activities.

If a less formal gathering is desired, the family meeting can simply be a family retreat that gives members a chance to spend time together in a relaxed setting. Whatever the format, family meetings can be a way to engage younger children and encourage collaboration across family branches. For example, you might ask members of the extended family to:

  • Identify philanthropic causes/areas of interest and present their findings
  • Spearhead a family history project by interviewing older family members and capturing their stories for others to hear and share
  • Collaborate on a family genealogy project by developing an expanded family tree

Strengthening family relationships over time and, in particular, deepening connections among siblings can contribute greatly to the ongoing success of the family.

We can help

Much like family dinners during childhood, well-planned family meetings can help participants develop communication skills, build trust and work together to effectively meet challenges down the road. Learning about the family’s wide-ranging activities can also help individual members find new ways to become involved.

The start of a new year can be a very good time to schedule a family meeting or retreat. Just be sure to give yourself enough time to carefully plan – and to invite input from family members. A J.P. Morgan advisor can provide you with potential topics for collaborative family meetings and conversation starters that other client families have found to be effective.



The Family Dinner Project, https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/about-us/benefits-of-family-dinners/.


Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, 2023, “Why the Family Meal is Important.”


CASA Columbia, “The Importance of Family Dinners,” September, 2012; Eisenberg ME, Olson RE, Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M, Bearinger LH. “Correlations Between Family Meals and Psychosocial Well-being Among Adolescents”. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2004; 158(8):792–796; doi:10.1001/archpedi.158.8.792


American Heart Association, https://newsroom.heart.org/news/new-survey-91-of-parents-say-their-family-is-less-stressed-when-they-eat-together.


Megan Gilligan, Clare M. Stocker, Katherine Jewsbury Conger, “Sibling Relationships in Adulthood: Research Findings and New Frontiers,” Journal of Family Theory & Review, 12 (September 2020): 305–320.


Using data from the Harvard Study of Adult Development, researchers found that subjects who reported poorer sibling relationships at 18–19 years of age were more likely to suffer from major depression and to be using mood altering drugs by age 50. Robert J. Waldinger, M.D., George E. Vaillant, M.D., E. John Orav, Ph.D., “Childhood Sibling Relationships as a Predictor of Major Depression in Adulthood: A 30-Year Prospective Study,” American Journal of Psychiatry, 2007; 164: 949–954.


Kirsten Weir, “Improving Sibling Relationships,” American Psychological Association, Vol. 53, No. 2, 60.


Charles M. Collier, Wealth in Families (Third Edition) (Harvard University, 2012); James E. Hughes, Jr., Family Wealth: Keeping it in the Family (Wiley 2004); and Dennis T. Jaffe, Borrowed from Your Grandchildren: The Evolution of 100-Year Family Enterprises (Wiley 2020).

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