Four Years or More
This split has significant benefits: a first child who can entertain herself and talk through feelings; an opportunity to focus on the younger child and avoid the financial hit of two kids in daycare or college at the same time. But it can also mean sibs who are less involved with each other, and a back-and-forth sensation as you adjust from "big kid" issues back to newborn living.
With your first child relatively independent, you may have the space to recapture that first-pregnancy feeling. "My twins were in kindergarten all day, so I really could enjoy my belly," says Amy Frishberg of Scarsdale, NY, who has 11-year-old twins, plus a 5- and a 4-year-old. Newborns aren't likely to faze older kids; if anything, they're psyched to have a new little sib, and too busy in their own lives to get in the way of your baby bonding. "I expected Ava to resent Adam or the changes to our schedule," says Allison Chapman of Columbus, OH, whose daughter was 4 when her little brother made his firs -- appearance. "But she's always been super sweet -- helping to feed him and even change him. I really don't understand her fascination with poopy diapers!"
The Marriage Factor
You might be getting used to the relative ease of caring for an older kid -- and sleep, glorious sleep, with all of its perks for married life -- when you find yourself back in Newborn Zone. That can be rough on a relationship, but at least you know what you're getting into. what moms love No question, the biggest "pro" moms listed was seeing just how loving older kids can be with younger ones. "Anaia could quiet Luca in the car and soothe him to sleep when she was only eight," says Annie Baum-Stein of Philadelphia, of her now 13- and 4-year-old kids. "I worry sometimes that we're not meeting her needs because we need to pay more attention to her little brother. But lately, as a young teen, she loves how distracted we are!"
What Moms Don't Love
No way around it, more years of your life will be devoted to the most hands-on period of parenthood. "I see other families who had two or three kids close together and they're moving into the phase where the kids are off with their friends," says Susan Eliot of Jamaica Plain, MA, mom to boys ages 10, 6, and 1. "Sometimes I wish that was me." And yes, moms do worry about whether their kids will be a big part of each other's lives.
Moms say that, with a little forethought, there are ways to encourage closeness between widely spaced kids. "We talk to our boys about what they were like at each others' ages," says Eliot. "We show them pictures of themselves when they were babies." Remembering those days can help older kids find more patience and empathy for their younger sibs' annoying habits. Frishberg, the mom of four kids, says function follows form with her brood -- and that, ultimately, learning how to relate to your sibs is all a part of growing up. "Sometimes three kids need to tag along for one child's activity, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that," she says. "Everyone has his or her turn. And I've seen my kids learn patience and cooperation from that experience."
Emily Bloch lives in western Massachusetts and writes for magazines, including Real Simple, Self, and More.