Is There A Perfect Age Gap Between Siblings?
Every sibling age gap has its own particular challenges and joys. Throw different personalities into the mix and nothing can really be predicted! Not many of us have control over it anyway.
Here's what I have direct experience of: just under a 5 year age gap with my sister, who is my best friend in the whole world, and 16 months between my children, whose relationship is pretty much still a blank canvas. And of course indirect experience of the age gaps in-between through family and close friends.
Almost all of my friends expecting their second child have expressed concern over how they can possibly love the new baby as much, when their love for the first is so all consuming and overwhelming. This is not something I ever worried about, thanks to a very wise friend of mine who told me after her second, "your heart just grows even bigger". I have repeated these comforting words to other friends numerous times, and have no doubt as to it's application to 3, 4 or even more children.
Here are some of my observations of the pros and cons of different age gaps:
A small age gap, under 2 years:
A small gap, like the 16 months between my children, (whilst I don't profess to know exactly) is a bit like having twins. Both in nappies, both napping (but different routines), and neither could talk at first! The boy didn't even start walking until a month before the girl was born. But I genuinely think he had forgotten life without his sister within days, and there weren't any real jealousy issues in the early weeks. They will both be finished with the nappy stage quickly, and we haven't had high chairs for many months (as my daughter wants to be like her big brother at their little table and feeding herself). There has been extra expense with needing 2 of certain things, like cots, high chairs, double buggy. And the double cost of nursery will hit us I'm sure. But that was inevitable and once it's done, it's finished, and then will be easier.
Personally I found the newborn and new toddler stage extremely daunting in prospect, but in hindsight it was easier than the crazy madness that is two toddlers at present (it is fun, but exhausting)! I was lucky that my sleep deprivation wasn't too bad, but this is probably a quite usual added difficulty. I do feel though that there were 2-3 months of my sons development that are a bit fuzzy in my memory, being inevitably engrossed in a newborn. I have some sadness about this. The girl is now going through the phase I "missed" with the boy and so I'm drinking it all in. It works both ways too, as I'm sure I have stronger memories of his early months than hers, as there was no other demand on my attention.
In recent weeks, when I take a step back and observe my two toddlers, I am staggered at how they now look so similar (at 19 months and newly 3) despite their age gap. I have no doubt that it won't be long before the girl actually catches him up, verbally then physically, and they will be mistaken for twins (in fact someone asked me if they were the other day!). They have started to bicker, and I can see this getting worse before it gets better. It can be very hard work, going anywhere requires military planning and organisation, and I need to exercise what feels to be saint like patience. When we are all ill, I begin to think I am starting to unravel (illness is the worst). But when they hold hands, or cuddle, or the boy teaches the girl something, or makes her giggle, or wakes her in the morning with "wakey wakey gorgeous" - it is all totally worth it.
I did find my two pregnancies and breast feeding (I had a one month gap in almost 3 years) to be a big strain on my body/figure, and one that I think it will take me longer to recover from than if I'd had a bigger gap. I will be honest this did and does bother me, and I find it hard with two little ones to find the time and motivation for myself to make the changes that I know will make me feel more confident. This point will of course be of varying importance to different people.
My pair will be a school year apart, fortunately, and so have their own friendship groups and less academic comparison, but for the foreseeable future they will be each other's playmate. And I hope they will forever be their own little team, within our family team.
In the future, when I imagine family holidays, we will all be able to do the same sports and activities as a four, which I feel excited by. There was a period of my childhood when I did things like abseiling and rock climbing etc with my dad, which was special, but I look back and I'm sure my mum would have loved to do them too, but my sister was just too young. They did it later.
A 2-5 year age gap:
Looking around my friends, a 2-3ish year gap is probably the most common. Jealously is likely to be more of a problem here, because the first born understands more and can react to the change/intrusion into their life. They will need extra reassurance and attention at a time when reserves are stretched.
You may have recently come out of the "baby stage" and started enjoying new freedoms...only to have to start the restrictions of that "baby stage" again. But you're unlikely to have such a sleep deprived hazy stage and feel like you missed a big chunk of your older child, especially the bigger the gap there is. Your older child will be more independent, making the physical burdens upon you that bit easier. And "stuff" wise, there can be a lot of handing down...if you have kept it, or you may get from friends!
And I do feel a pang of jealously sometimes towards friends of mine with a toddler or slightly older child, but no baby yet (or planned), who they can fully enjoy and give their undivided time to this blossoming little person in their early years. From the outside the relationship between single child and parent seems particularly close and special. I get snap shots of this, but I don't think it's the same.
If you have one at school when the new baby comes along you have a lovely opportunity to give the second the almost full attention and focus that you were able to give your first. My mum describes this with my sister, and that I (nearly 5 years older) was able to be really hands on and helpful with her as a baby. During school hours you and your new baby can have each other's undivided attention, whereas a smaller gap means (I found with my two) that the younger one is often "plonked" whilst the toddler is entertained or saved from befalling some mini misfortune or another.
Over 5 year age gap:
My last point above is also very relevant here, probably more so, as the older child will certainly be at some stage of their school education. Of course the lifestyle change of going back to the baby stage is even more stark and potentially difficult a change for parents the bigger the gap is. Probably more so with a second or subsequent child because you really have your eyes open this time around!
A baby, and then toddler, can take up a lot of time and energy as they are physically dependant on mum, and dad, in a way that the older sibling(s) is no longer, being now independent and growing in maturity (although of course still needing their parents). They could be at risk of a lack of attention at a time when a close eye and moral and emotional guidance and support is needed. The demands are very different, but just as important. As long as parents keep this sensitivity and balance in mind, it can be overcome.
With a bigger age gap comes an extra pair of hands from the older sibling, being careful not to place too much responsibility on young shoulders of course. If the age gap is suitable, you could have an able and willing babysitter for some extra pocket money as well - a perk for everyone. And don't underestimate the contraceptive value a baby/toddler can have on a teenage sibling - nothing teaches how much work little bundles of joy are better than living it!
Interests of siblings with a big age gap will be entirely different - this can be difficult and make family days out and holidays a bit more tricky to plan, but they are still important as the older child will enjoy time with his family whatever. Within this family time, shorter activities can be planned allowing 1:1 parent child time which will be cherished. The older child will mostly want to be with his friends though. I remember, as a tween and teen, when we went on family holidays I almost always had a friend of mine come along too, or I made friends when away fairly easily. That worked really well as at that time I didn't really want to socialise with my little sister! But there will be some touching times when the age gap is immaterial and their bond brings them together in an activity anyway ....
A big age gap always makes me think about the relationship a dear friend's two sons have, with 11 years between them. Watching her teenage boy with her toddler is truely heart warming. It is touching to see the love and tenderness shown by him, when teenage boys are usually monosyllabic. And not just to his little brother, as his experience (and personality, I'm sure) has taught him a lovely way with all young ones which always leaves me thinking what a great dad he will make one day. And the other way around too, a toddler with his own live in hero!
... What about no age gap at all? Having one child, through choice or destiny? You really would be a little team, and from my observations there is something truely special about the parent/child relationship in this family dynamic. You may find a lovely close relationship forms between cousins and children of good family friends arises, akin to a sibling relationship.
However your little family turns out, I firmly and honestly believe there is no "perfect", "ideal" or "right" age gap, or number of children. Most of the time; with lots of love, some hard work, and a little bit of luck; you can create a strong family unit. Good luck!
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