When my oldest daughter was a few weeks old and I was in survival mode as a mom, my husband took over baby duty for a few minutes one day so I could get a shower. I had little time for basics like bathing or eating anymore. As the warm water flowed over my body that day and I mentally reviewed the last few weeks, I thought: “What happened to my life?”
I was getting two to three hours of broken sleep each night. I ate my meals while sitting in the recliner with an infant attached to my breast and my plate balanced on top of the Boppy pillow. Housework was limited to tasks I could do while wearing my clingy daughter in a carrier.
Being a new parent was a culture shock. I eventually adjusted, and life improved for all of us after my daughter began sleeping regularly and for longer periods.
But my husband and I were in no hurry to add more needy babies to our brood before we were ready. I didn’t want to go through the grueling infant stage again any time soon. While it might be considered the norm for sibling’s births to be spaced about two years apart, that was too close for us.
After emerging from the fog of caring for a newborn, we took stock and decided to try to space our children about three years apart, but we lost track of time and didn’t start trying to conceive until our oldest daughter was about 2 years and 8 months old. Once we started trying, it took a few cycles before I got pregnant. Our second daughter was born when our first daughter was exactly 3 years and 9 months old.
There are almost four years between our children. It’s almost double what is considered average, although plenty of families have children spaced even further apart because of infertility or life circumstances, or just because. Fellow Mumbling Mommy writer Katie wrote a while back about the blessings of having kids who are close in age, and here I present the blessings of having kids who are spaced several years — or more — apart.
There are advantages to having kids who aren’t close in age:
You have time to enjoy the baby stage with each of your children. Life is less intense and is not a blurred frenzy of diaper changes, feedings, colic, and long nights. I had time to cuddle my babies, to take pictures, to rest a little, and to do things I enjoyed or needed to accomplish during nap times.
Life is not one long sleepless night. My husband and I made sleep training a priority, so our daughters were sleeping through the night well before their first birthdays. Because of the years between our babies, we had time to get well rested before adding another newborn to the family. I felt like we were banking up extra sleep in preparation for when we would need it with the next infant.
You don’t have to kick your older child out of the crib before he or she is ready. Some families understandably don’t want to spend money on a second crib when they have another baby, so they move their older child to a toddler bed or twin bed while they are still young. That child may not be ready developmentally for the freedom that comes with a big kid bed, and parents may struggle with getting their child to go to bed and stay in bed. If your older child is 3 or 4 years old, or older, this is less of a problem.
You (hopefully) don’t have multiple children in diapers. Of course, you might have an older child in pull-ups at night in addition to the baby in full-time diapers. But still.
Your older child can help with the younger child. Kids who are preschool-aged and older are great at fetching diapers, burp cloths, drinks for mom, and more. They’re good at entertaining the baby so mom can get a moment to use the bathroom in peace. Older siblings are also useful for entertaining the baby in the back seat during long car trips.
You don’t need a bulky double stroller. We bought a secondhand sit-and-stand style stroller with a seat for the baby and a bench for my preschooler to perch on for longer walks or trips to the zoo. But for short outings, no clunky double baby strollers!
You can get by with a standard cart at the grocery store. If your oldest is at least in preschool, he or she can walk alongside your cart, leaving the baby seat for, well, the baby.
You can pack less when you go on outings. Older kids need a lot less stuff. Keep a small bag with a change of clothes in the car trunk in case of the occasional bathroom accident, and you’re good to go. When your kids are a few years apart in age, you’re mostly packing the diaper bag for the baby. Just one child. Easy peasy.
Outings are easier. Period. I’ve seen frazzled moms chasing after their escape-artist toddlers while balancing babies on their hips at library story time. Children spaced close together require more intense supervision and it’s hard to take them all out anywhere without chaos erupting. Meanwhile, my older daughter was at an age where she was pretty good at sitting for story time and participating in craft activities afterward, freeing me up to focus more on watching the baby.
You get more quality time with each child. My oldest daughter was an only child for almost four years. We were closely bonded during those early years, and as a stay-at-home mom, I treasured those years when it was just the two of us doing things together each day. A few years later, when my oldest daughter started attending school full-time, my youngest daughter was not quite 2 years old and still had four years before she would start kindergarten, so we’ve had several good years together on our own as well.
You won’t have to pay multiple college tuitions simultaneously. My daughters won’t be in college at the same time, unless they take longer than average to earn their degrees or go for advanced degrees. My oldest will be a freshman in college when my youngest is a freshman in high school. That means that if my husband and I choose to help pay for their college, we’ll only be paying for one at a time.
So, while it may be considered the norm to space your children about two years apart, and there is nothing wrong with that, do what works for your family. If you aren’t ready for another baby yet, then don’t have one yet. There is no right or wrong way to build your family. As for my husband and me, we would do it the same way all over again. We may not have perfectly stair-stepped children – and with two daughters and no sons, we don’t even have what some people consider to be the “ideal” American family – but our family is perfect anyway.
How about your family? Do you have kids who aren’t close in age?
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