Before I bought my first car, I went to something like 6 different dealerships, read dozens of consumer magazines comparing reliability and cost, and conferred with close friends and family. Similar research preceeded buying a camera, a computer, and eventually a house. Yet before I had kids, did I do any research or planning on age separation and sibling rivalry? No. I had a Child Psychology course in college which preceded the Abnormal Psych class(and aptly so I might add), but I wouldn't call that real world research. I babysat. I worked as a counselor in a girls school. But did any of it prepare me for the psychological warfare that is sibling rivalry? No. The good news is that I could have read 185 different books on the subject and I wouldn't know any more than I do now. If there was a cure for sibling rivalry, someone would have found it by now.
It's part of who we are and it's part of how we learn. Singleton children vs. siblings have very different advantages in the world. Singletons get more attention from parents, but miss out on some of the built in playmate companionship. We have our daily re enactments of The Lord of the Flies. My husband often will look to the back yard and ask "Have they killed the pig yet?" Meanwhile, I find myself yelling at the top of my lungs after 3 rounds of Hi Ho cherry O and a rousing reconstruction of our house with popsicle sticks, "If I wanted to play with you nonstop, you wouldn't have any siblings." To which the little cretin responds, "What's a sibling?".
Siblings are brothers, sisters. They are housemates and sometimes roommates. They are your best friend and your worst enemy. They hold all of your secrets and will hold them for ransom. Today, after a race gone ugly, I hear Lily screaming at the top of her lungs towards Kiera "You are NOT my favorite sister anymore either!" Much preferable to the "hate" word, but still packs sting. I fortunately only had one brother and was often told how I was my mother's favorite daughter. I have since passed on that complement to my son who took it at face value. When his sister accidentally overheard it- she started hollering that he had to be because he was my only son and then she promptly demanded to know who my favorite daughter was. To which I reply, Phillip. Fortunately Phillip can take a joke and it gets me off the hook with Kiera because I just insinuated that her brother was a girl. I have tried explaining the whole "I like you all for different reasons" thing and it doesn't work. It results in too many questions and eventually the release of information that will probably be used for blackmail down the road. I have found the quickest resolution is to merely make stuff up. For example, "why does Phillip get to have a cookie?" answer: "Because Phillip is my favorite and I reward my favorites with cookies." The response to that is: "No, really, why?"
Kids get that they each bring different things to the table. They can't quantify it or express it, but they get it. When we sit down for dinner- Kiera is the entertainment. She talks a mile a minute and there is no hope of stopping her unless it is a McDonald's or pizza night. Even then it only buys you a minute between chews. One of the biggest problems is that if anything is out of sight, it is out of mind. I could spend the whole day chatting with Lily about something, but she will still try to one up Kiera. For example- Kiera had been studying up on knock knock jokes to tell us at dinner. After 2, Lily has a turn. Knock Knock- who's there?- Lily-Lily who? Lily Mallory, haaaa haaaa haaa. It doesn't get any funnier after the 5th time. But Kiera has the floor and in that minute, Lily wants to share in that.
They will always battle for 1st place. You can tell them until you are blue in the face that there is no 1st place, but they keep track. As humans we are competitive- we are programmed to survive. Back in the cave days- the best monkey child would get the best pieces of meat which may have meant the difference between living and dying. Today it may just mean the difference between who gets to ride in the front seat of the car. Siblings teach us how to deal with crisis by creating crisis. Parents are there to remind the little cretins that the family pet(or in our case youngest child) would in fact, not taste very good barbecued. If left to their own devices, I think they would eventually figure it out. It would be ugly and there would be much carnage, but they would find their niche. We all have our place in this crazy world. Experience helps us define that. Ironically though, the more we experience, the less we know for sure. But here's the thing- we get to mold these little humans. They have this boundless supply if energy and were put in our lives for no other reason than so we can finally understand how our parents could predict with 99.9% accuracy the amount of time before wrestling becomes a trip to the medicine cabinet for band-aids.