Child Spacing: What’s The Ideal Sibling Age Gap?
January 30, 2013
© Taylor Hengen Newman
As soon as my son Kaspar was born – seriously, the same day (flashback!) – friends and family started asking my husband and me if we planned to have more kids. At the time, I’m sure we looked at them like they were crazy. We’d just become parents for the first time. Which meant life as we knew it had changed forever, overnight. And while we were delighted with all things parenthood, it was difficult for us to think much beyond the next feeding, let alone do any potential family planning. I had a copper IUD put in six weeks postpartum, and that – for the time being – was that.
Now, I have some friends who’ve always known how many kids they wanted, back since they were kids themselves. So I suppose when their firstborns arrived, the answer to the question of “more?” was an easy one. I’ve always loved children and always wanted to be a mom, but I never had any specific numbers in mind. Aaron and I simply knew we weren’t ready to think seriously about more babies yet when we were so busy reveling, knee-deep in diapers, over our first.
Even when some of my friends started showing signs of baby fever, which seemed to happen around the time their first littles turned one, I still didn’t feel ready to procreate again myelf. This doesn’t reflect poorly on Kaspar at all; we’ve been head over heels for him since the moment he was born. (He is adorbs to the moon and back.) But between being preoccupied with normal parenting stuff like potty training, and addressing not-so-normal challenges – in our family’s case, severe kiddo food allergies and eczema issues that kept our sleep situation from normalizing for far longer than average (we basically lived through newborn-style sleep deprivation for over two years, which was intense) -- I developed some hesitations around potentially dividing my attention further by growing our family again. I’m sure many parents feel a few pangs of guilt about what adding baby #2 to the mix will mean for #1, but in our case, Kaspar really needed me to be attentive to his safety and well-being beyond the usual toddler safety and well-being 101. I wasn’t sure I could do that and keep up with an infant’s needs at the same time.
Gradually, however, things began to shift, until suddenly I woke up one morning with a serious case of baby fever. What was different that morning? Well, for one thing, I’d slept all night, which had been happening on the regular for several months straight. Potty training was well behind us, Kaspar’s skin no longer itched him, we had a good system down for keeping him safe around food, and his available food choices were simultaneously expanding. Life was feeling pretty awesome. And Kaspar, who’ll be three next month, was rapidly becoming a full-fledged little boy. Every bit the sweet, loving cuddler he was as a baby, he now also insisted on new levels of independence and self-direction. He was also developing into quite the ham. It had occurred to me more than once that he’d surely thrive in the company of a sibling. I brought it up with Aaron, who was open to the idea, as well. Then I brought it up about six thousand more times, at which point we figured we should probably get on it (and, you know, get it on.)
We’d talked about adopting a child ‘someday’ even before we had Kaspar, so this was definitely an option we revisited for baby #2. I pushed for it, actually, since Kaspar had suffered so much as a baby (he’s always been a tough and smiley little trooper, but his babyhood was rough for all of us), and I couldn’t imagine us surviving that again, especially with an older child who needs us to function normally, too. We got in touch, and got the paperwork-ball rolling, with a few adoption agencies recommended by friends, but the timeline for baby adoption – whether international or domestic – can be long, and the process is very expensive. (This is not to say it isn’t doable! If you want to adopt, you should totally go for it!)
Although he’s always been open to adopting a child, Aaron expressed that he’d prefer we have another baby biologically for our next child. We had to get really honest with each other around this stuff… These conversations weren’t easy, but they were real. I was staunchly opposed to another pregnancy at first – really, I was just so scared – but as I talked to other parents with food-allergy kids, I learned that it’s by no means guaranteed another biological baby of ours will have any allergies. And I came to a place, personally, where I accepted Kaspar’s allergies and what they mean for our lives together; I kind of made peace with it all. The possibility of another baby with allergies and eczema no longer terrified me; instead, I felt – and feel – capable of dealing with that, if it happens. Parenting comes with unexpected challenges no matter what. Ours came early, but we did find our way through. Not only do I know what to do if I see symptoms similar to Kaspar’s again – even if that does happen, we will not have to live through a year and a half of trying desperately just to figure out what the heck is going on – but I now know that being a mom gives me super powers, straight up. Whatever parenting presents me with, I can rock it. Therein lies the difference between first and second-time parenting: I know a big secret new mamas don’t: it turns out we usually don't know as much as we think we do, but we can figure anything out.
I’d grown annoyed with the IUD by this point anyway, so I decided to have it removed this past December. We figured we’d let life decide when our next baby would come to us, and how. Whether through adoption or pregnancy, the other route would always be available to us if we ever decide to have a third child. As it happened, I got pregnant almost immediately. Like, a few weeks later in December. We were – and are -- SO excited. I can’t wait to do this again -- growing the belly, feeling the baby kicking, feeling its hiccups, giving birth, and sharing another babyhood, this time as a family of four, big brother very much included. (He’s excited, too!) And now that I’m pregnant, friends and family have been saying to me that the age difference between our kids will be ideal. It’s an unexpected, reassuring perk, since we didn’t exactly plan it this way, but I’m encouraged to hear other moms, or simply friends whose own siblings are about three years older or younger than them, that this kind of child spacing tends to work out well.
I know some families who spaced their children apart by certain intervals deliberately, either to do the diaper years all at once, or to give themselves a break before jumping back in. I also have friends who, through accidental (surprise!) pregnancies early on, or unexpected infertility struggles, have spaced their kids either closer or farther apart in age than they intended. Obviously, every family’s different, and love is all that counts in the end, but tell me: how far apart are your kids in age? Did you plan it that way? If not, what came up in life that changed your plans? What are the pros and cons you’ve discovered in spacing kids closer together or farther apart? What’s the ideal age gap between siblings? I look forward to reading your thoughts and perspective!