Raising Kids 6 Years Apart

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I have an almost-11-year-old son and an almost-5-year-old daughter. Many people seem to have a reaction to this sibling age gap. 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 also have a 8-year-old, he just happens to be a dog, their expressions are priceless.

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To be fair, when you look at the statistics, my children's ages are not considered the ideal age gap between siblings. 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 apparently many people think there is an ideal age gap between siblings. 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 to going against what's considered the perfect age gap.

Different Ages, Different Stages

Built-in BabysitterPhoto credit: Cheapism
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 being different than what many think is the best 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 when spacing your kids apart. 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. My daughter at 2 loved participating in any and all group classes, and fawns over 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 

There is an added bonus: My son is able to keep an eye on my daughter for me when I need to be working on something else. Having a helper in the house is a huge perk to spacing your kids apart. 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 spacing your kids apart by more years, 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. Perhaps this is the best age gap for saving money?

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. The mothers I know who did continue to work while having back-to-back children had to deal with 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. If you're a working mom, the ideal age gap between siblings may be more years, not fewer.

While it's never easy 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 career. (Well, except for summer break — that's insanity for every parent, no matter what age your kids are.) The negative of spacing your kids apart would be that those mothers who had kids back to back were finished with the difficult stage of juggling baby needs versus career needs earlier, instead of dealing with it at two different times.

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Missing Out on Fun

Magid KidsPhoto credit: Cheapism
I had a toddler at the same time that many of my friends had multiple kids in school, so this isn't always the perfect age gap. Being home for nap time was no longer on their radar. 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. Near or far, my younger one just isn't ready to handle certain activities anytime soon, .

Ultimately, I'm pretty happy with how it worked out for this age gap between siblings. Whether this is the perfect age gap or not, everyone will always have opinions. There are no hard and fast rules to follow when it comes to parenting. 

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