Ask five people you know about the best age gap between kids, and you’ll get five different opinions, based on their own kids and their own upbringing. There are so many factors to consider: your lifestyle, your finances, your job, and of course, once Kid #1 comes into the picture, their personality and needs. Here’s some simple data to help you get started thinking about it, but remember these points as you read:
1) There are plenty of exhaustively compiled lists of the pros and cons of every age arrangement, but ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to planning a family. Parents and kids are individuals, and whatever you choose, the kids will be fine.
2) Nature has a way of making these decisions for you, so there’s only so much planning you can do.
PROS AND CONS OF CLOSELY SPACING KIDS
A lot of decisions around when to have kids are based on the structure of the family you grew up in: Barbara at Babycenter writes that “I’m one of four children myself and I really wanted to re-create that big family feeling.” As a result, she decided to space her kids closely, and reports that “though it was tough when they were all babies, in many ways it was great… They really amused each other and have stayed very close.”
And yes, having multiple very young kids at the same time is absolutely difficult: the diapers are endless, you have no time to yourself at all, and your body doesn’t get a lot of time to snap back to normal in between. But, then, having your children close together enables you to get through that stage all at once, so you can get on to the easier years faster: Margaret on Babble writes, “Now that our boys are ages 3 and 5, we really see the impact of our decision… They are best buddies. They play together famously. They attend the same preschool/kindergarten and help each other in their mixed-ages Montessori classroom.”
Some experts also argue that having your second child in quick succession after the first keeps the older child from resenting the new baby because your first child “never remembers life before he had to share the limelight.” I’m not sure I believe that – my older sister was just two years old when I was born, and she still remembers being upset that our mom was away and unable to comfort her during a thunderstorm! Toddlers are emotionally volatile and possessive of their parents, which means that they may decide that being a big sister is awesome one minute, and the worst thing ever the next. At Parenting.com, Laurie writes of her older daughter’s behavior, “Sometimes it was intensely negative, like saying that she hated her… Sometimes very positive, with lovely little whispers in her ear and wanting to hug her.” Both are totally normal.
It’s important to remember, though, that no age arrangement will keep your kids from squabbling, or guarantee that they will or won’t be good friends and supportive to each other as they get older.
Finally, there’s your health and your baby’s health to consider. Research suggests that the best outcomes occur when parents wait 18-24 months after a pregnancy but less than five years after a live birth before the next one, but of course there are a vast number of confounding factors, and correlation and causation are easy to confuse, so don’t let the studies get you too worried!
Of course as we get older it can be tougher to get pregnant, and there are more health risks involved, so if you’re starting a family later, you may not have as many choices as you’d like. It’s also sometimes easier for moms who choose to stay home with their babies to jump back into the job market if they don’t take as much time out.
PROS AND CONS OF WIDELY SPACING KIDS
Some of the benefits of widely spacing your family are obvious: you get to know each child as an individual and give them your undivided attention, there’s only one dirty diaper to change at a time, and you can spread out the associated costs a bit more (especially day care, which will really give your wallet a wallop).
Older kids are also more independent and mature, which means that they can talk through their feelings and get excited about the baby on the way. They can also help a little with the new baby, mostly with entertaining or feeding her, and they’ll love having their status as a “big kid” reinforced by being useful. One mom at Babycenter writes of her five-year-old daughter, “She loves to help doing things like getting out the new diaper and throwing away the old one. Also she likes to pick out his pajamas and clothes each day. She gets out her books and all though she can’t read she makes up stories to tell him which really helps because it keeps him content while I get a few things done.” Too cute!
The younger child may also pick up important skills faster because he’s eager to be as independent as his older sibling, including speaking, reading, and potty-training.
However, starting again on the baby routine later can have associated costs: you’re less likely to have all of your baby items still around the house, you may need to purchase new car seats, and you may need to re-educate yourself about birth and early childhood.
Logistically, a large age gap can be tough, too – what do you do when they’re going to different schools? And planning activities that both kids will enjoy, without one of them getting bored, can be challenging.
Still, Amy Graff at Babycenter is delighted with how her two older kids are reacting to their much younger sibling (and we’ll let her have the final word, since this is the sweetest thing ever):
“Paris will stick her big round face right in Julia’s equally round chubby-cheeked face and in a super-high, sweet voice say, “Julia, Julia, Julia, I love you Julia” repeatedly.
“Now it’s time to tickle your little toes,” Dante will say in the sort of voice used on Romper Room. “Oh mommy, isn’t she the cutest?”
“The love between these kids is big. You’d need many football fields and airplane hangars to contain it all. To express it through music, you’d need at least 10 orchestras to come together to play La Primavera Spring by Vivaldi. To describe it, I have to spread my arms out real wide, as far as they’ll go and then imagine them stretching even farther. This is big love.”