I want to preface this by saying that obviously a four year age gap is all I know. There are a multitude of reasons why people space their children apart as they do, some by choice and some not. I’m in no way saying this is the right or best way to do things, I’m simply sharing our family’s experience.
Before I had kids, I had thought I wanted three or four of them close in age. I grew up the youngest of four and loved being raised in a house full of people and I imagined the same for my own children. A two-ish year age gap seemed pretty standard in the parenting world, so I assumed that’s what would work for us.
And then I actually had a child. Any new parent can tell you that first baby will throw you for a loop, but our newborn was diagnosed with “colic” (later turned out the be food allergies), making infancy all the more difficult to a couple of new parents who had no real clue what they were doing. Having a baby that cried most of his waking hours and didn’t sleep through the night until he was a year old (and not consistently until he was three years old) was tough on every aspect of our lives–careers, marriage, friendships–and we found ourselves thrown into the camp of “if we have any more kids, it won’t be for a very long time.”
Things improved drastically when our cranky baby turned into an easygoing toddler around the time he was 18 months old. At that point most of our friends with kids the same age began trying to conceive again, but I found myself terrified over the thought. It seemed we were just getting to enjoy our son and our marriage was stronger than ever. We both had more freedom and more time and energy for our careers and friends. Why would I want to upset the balance we had finally achieved by throwing a baby into the mix? I didn’t.
Finally, shortly after our son turned three, we decided we might be ready to add another family member to the mix and a year later we welcomed our daughter into the world. While things have been much easier this time around simply because we’re more experienced, it doesn’t hurt that there’s a solid four year gap between our kids. Here’s why:
- Our son isn’t interested in being the baby anymore. When my friend welcomed her second child a couple years after the first, her older son declared that he was now also a baby and wanted to do all the baby things again–sleep in a crib, use a pacifier, drink from a bottle, go back to diapers–which ended up being a bit of a struggle for them. Our four-year-old has zero interest in revisiting babyhood and is happy to play the big brother role, which brings me to my next point…
- He loves being the helper/big brother. For the most part, our son has embraced the roll of big brother beautifully and loves being Mommy and Daddy’s helper. He gets excited when I assign him special jobs, like grabbing a diaper, searching for a pacifier, or dangling toys in front of his little sister should she become fussy. Having the extra set of hands has been amazing, even if they do belong to a 4-year-old.
- You can explain things to a 4-year-old that a younger child wouldn’t understand. This was extremely helpful when prepping him before baby’s arrival. We talked a lot about what babies do (and can’t do), that they sometimes cry a lot, and that they need their mommies a lot when they are really little, so none of this stuff was a surprise when it actually happened.
- He knows not to hurt the baby and how to be gentle. When another one of our friends went for two under two, there was a time when their older child told them she wanted to “stomp the baby.” Needless to say, they didn’t exactly feel comfortable leaving the two of them alone together for quite some time. Our older son knows to be careful whenever he’s playing around our daughter, so I don’t have to worry about her being stepped on or hit by any flying toys.
- He’s more independent and can (sometimes) be trusted alone. It often takes me quite a bit of time to get the baby down for a nap, but I’m able to get out a game or put on a TV show for our son and remain fairly confident that he will stay out of trouble. This also means that once the baby is sleeping I can squeeze in a shower or anything else I need to get done during that time. And don’t even get me started on how incredible it was when he learned to get himself snacks unassisted. This also came in handy when I was extremely sick during the first half of my pregnancy and could barely take care of myself, let alone a toddler. (Of course there is the off-chance they will get their hands on a set of face paint and go to town, but I supposed you can’t win ’em all.)
- Little sister adores her big brother. He plays so well with her that even at just a couple months old, she already loves watching her big brother and happily receives his snuggles and the attention he gives her.
- Our son sleeps. Newborns tend to have fairly erratic sleep habits, meaning mom and dad aren’t exactly getting a whole lot of shut eye at night. But at least with our son we’ve been able to reliably count on him sleeping from 8pm-7am since he was about three years old. I can’t say the same for when he was one or two and just the thought of two little ones being up at night exhausts me.
- I had my body to myself for a bit. I nursed my son for two years, so by the time we weaned I was ready to have my body to myself again. Those couple of years allowed me to really feel like “me” and by the time I got pregnant the second time I was feeling great and didn’t mind having to house another human for 9 months and was excited to breastfeed again.
- I experience less guilt than I would otherwise. When I start to feel guilty that I’m spending so much time taking care of the baby, I remind myself that my son had me all to himself for the first four years of his life. He’s also to an age that allows him to be independent enough that I still get plenty of one-on-one time to bond with his sister, so that I don’t have to feel like she’s getting gypped out of time with me either.
One of the arguments I hear most often in favor of having children close in age is that they’ll grow up to have a close relationship. While I don’t doubt that’s the case for many siblings within a couple years of one another, I also know plenty of people who are extremely close with brothers and sisters who are much older or younger than they are, myself included. And when I see my kids together, laughing, smiling, and snuggling, I have no doubts that their age difference only strengthens their bond.