I have an almost-8-year-old son and an almost-2-year-old daughter. Many people seem to have a reaction to this. They either a) assume I had fertility issues (no, but that's none of their business anyway, thankyouverymuch); b) feel bad that my kids are supposedly too far apart in age to play together (sometimes insinuated while my kids are actually playing together); or c) ask if I have other children, assuming my daughter was the last in a set of three, with the other two close in age. When I tell them I do also have a 5-year-old, he just happens to be a standard poodle, their expressions are priceless.
To be fair, when you look at the statistics, my children's age spacing is not the norm. Only 5% of women with one child expect to have another one more than five years after their first, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By contrast, 22% expect to have another within two years and 24% expect to wait no more than five years. (The rest don't expect to have another child.) My kids' age gap may be larger than most American siblings', but it is by choice, and I actually love it.
I'm not someone who had a master plan to have kids at a certain point in time — though to hear it from both people I know and random members of the general public, apparently that was something I forgot to check off my to-do list. When my firstborn was still a toddler, I heard a lot of, "When are you having another?" and "Is he your only?" People made statements like, "I would rather have two in diapers at the same time and get it over with" and "You should have kids close in age so they can be best friends." This one is possibly my favorite, though: "With kids close in age, you don't have to play with them, because they play with each other." True, it would be nice to not have to deal with potty training years after the first child. However, the 6-year age gap between my two kids really doesn't feel like that big a deal. If anything, there are some major pros.
Different Ages, Different Stages
It turns out, there are biological reasons not to have kids too close together in age: The World Health Organization recommends spacing pregnancies at least two years apart for the mother and child's health.
Having more time to get back to "being myself" before having another child has worked better for me than spending a number of consecutive years in the sleepless baby slump — at least I got a break for awhile. But one of the main pros for me is that my son is old enough to perform basic daily activities without my assistance, such as getting dressed, going to the bathroom, grabbing a snack, and reading a book on his own. I don't have to wrestle two kids into shoes or get both into bed during the typical baby bedtime hour (although I wish my older child didn't fight to go to bed at the same time I do!). And despite the age gap, they do find ways to have fun together, even if that often involves jumping all over the furniture.
It's Like Having 2 Only Children
Yes, my son and daughter are at different developmental levels. I can understand why some parents may consider that a negative. However, they are such different people, and I wonder if they would've been able to nurture their own interests so fully if they'd been grouped together. At age 2, my son cared about nothing but construction trucks, dinosaurs, and Thomas the Tank Engine; he fussed at any group activity I dragged him to. At almost 2, my daughter loves participating in any and all group classes, and fawns over dogs and dolls and dress-up. I know this may all sound somewhat gender stereotypical, but the point is, their interests are coming from a place within them, not from me forcing both to be involved in the same activities at the same time. Had they been close in age, would they have been able to develop those unique interests to the same extent? And would I have been able to focus on giving each individually enough space to focus on what they love?
Built-In Babysitter (Sort Of)
There is an added bonus: My son is able to at least keep an eye on my daughter for me and let me know if she's up to no good if I need to get the laundry, check work email, make dinner, or even run to the bathroom without worrying about leaving her unattended. Having a little helper in the house is a huge perk. I most definitely look forward to being able to leave him home with her instead of paying a babysitter someday! By the way, it's also fun to have conversations with him about how ridiculously his little sister is behaving, and brainstorm how to handle it. Spending my days with two incoherent beings at once wouldn't have been good for my personal sanity.
The Money Factor
Financially, there are plenty of pros to having kids spaced far apart, but also some big cons. The good: I didn't have to pay for two preschools at once. I didn't have to buy double strollers, a bigger car to accommodate multiple car seats, more than one crib, or different size diapers at once. And I (presumably) won't have to pay for two kids in college at the same time.
Related: 50 Things Kids Can Do For Free
A number of mothers I know dropped out of the workforce completely after having children back to back, finding multiple young children at home to be prohibitive to their careers. Their identities became solely "mommy," as they entrenched themselves in parenting 24/7. The mothers I know who did continue to work while having back-to-back children had to deal with child-care situations such as expensive day care for two kids at once and extra exhaustion from chasing a toddler while caring for a baby on top of a busy career.
While it's never easy-peasy to be a parent in any circumstances, I find it a little more manageable to have one child home at a time and still have a semblance of a career. (Well, except for summer break — that's insanity for every parent, no matter what age your kids are.) The negative would be that those mothers who had kids back to back were finished with the difficult stage of juggling baby needs vs. career needs earlier, instead of dealing with it effectively two different times.
Missing Out on Fun
I have a toddler at the same time that many of my friends have multiple kids in school. They are spending their weekends out and about without a schedule instead of making sure they're home for nap time. They're taking trips with their kids that my son now likely won't get to experience for a number of years. He's at the age where he's ready to see more and do more, and has been asking my husband and me to take big trips to places like Alaska and England, as well as simple trips such as tent camping in the woods. Near or far, these are travel suggestions that my toddler just isn't ready to handle anytime soon.
Related: 12 Tips for Smooth Travel With Kids
Ultimately, I'm pretty happy having a large gap between my kids' ages. Here's something I learned as soon as I became a parent: Everyone has an opinion on the "right" way to be one. Take one look at the countless mommy blogs, Facebook groups, and Instagram accounts, and it's clear that there are no hard and fast rules to follow when doing this parenting thing. Well, except for the "mommy needs coffee and wine" memes — those, I can get behind.