My sister and I are eighteen months apart. When my mom left the hospital with me, her favourite maternity nurse jokingly called out, “See you next year!” and my mom glared at her with the fire of a thousand suns. That was 1980. When my mom hauled her nine months pregnant butt back into labour and delivery in 1981, that same nurse took one look at her, and burst into laughter so hard she couldn’t speak.
I thought my sister and I were close in age until I met a pair of sisters who were ten months apart. I was eight or so, and capable both of doing the math and understanding sex ed, and it broke my grade three brain to even think about being pregnant again while caring for a newborn.
Maybe it is because of this that my children are reasonably far apart in age – just under five years. In case you are out there trying to decide whether to have your babies close together, or give it some time, allow me to offer you a list of pros and cons of a large age gap between children.
I clearly remember one morning, in my exhausted newborn-world haze, waking up to find my five-year-old sitting on the end of my bed eating a mayonnaise sandwich he had made for himself. My honest reaction was, “Awesome, now I don’t have to get up and make him breakfast” and I rolled over and went back to sleep.
When you have a toddler and a school ager, you have to do everything separately. What works for one does not work for the other. Even trying to find places to go they would both like can be difficult. The same is true now that they are five and ten, and I imagine when they are ten and fifteen we will still have this issue.
My oldest had what we called “Dirty Diaper Alert,” which meant, when I changed a diaper, he threw it away for me. He was able to get things for me while I nursed, or be my eyes when I needed to pee. I knew he was going to come in handy when my newborn was one-day-old, and my oldest asked if he could hold him for me while I ate my lunch.
I had a moment while I was pregnant, when my then four-year-old was playing independently upstairs, that I thought to myself, “isn’t it nice that he can do things on his own now, and I can relax without having to give him constant attention.” And then, I had a bubble-burst realization that I was about to do it all over again. Instead of a few years of hourly feedings and diapering and getting up at night, then being done with it, it stretches into a decade of everything that comes with having very small children. Just as one begins to leave toddlerhood and become a more self-sufficient older child, you go back to square one. I had my first child in 2008, and now that my youngest child is finally in school, I am just now getting that break from having tiny kids.
As hard as it was to go back to the intensity of having a baby and then toddler, it was also lovely to be able to enjoy each of their babyhoods independently. Nothing was rushed or glossed over. I had just my oldest until he started school, and then my oldest was in school when my youngest was small, so I got to spend a lot of one-on-one baby time with each of them. Plus, by the time we had another baby, enough time had passed that I missed having a baby around.
I’m not going to lie, this is a pain in the butt. Because we do French Immersion, which starts in grade one in our school board, our youngest is at our home school while our oldest is at French school. When our youngest starts at French school next year, our oldest will be in middle school, and so on. They will graduate middle school and high school in the same year, so they will not even be together for any part of high school. This makes coordinating things more difficult. Now, in fairness, because I was in the gifted program, my sister, who was one grade below me, and I were often not at the same school either. But typically, your kids attend the same school – unless they are five or more years apart.
My oldest was nothing but excited to have a new baby in the house. He was old enough to understand when I told him he needed to wait a few minutes because the baby was nursing, or crying, or needed me. He wasn’t jealous because he had the cognitive ability to understand I didn’t love the baby more than him, it was just that he could handle waiting and the baby couldn’t.
There is no right or wrong age gap between siblings, of course. You need to do what works best for your family. As for my family, I love our big age gap, and I’m glad we planned it that way.