We Are Both Right

Best Sibling Spacing – Bigger is Better Than We Thought

©Runabout

When it comes to sibling spacing, a break between kids might not be such a bad idea. ©Runabout

I was an only child. Until I wasn’t.

I was one month shy of turning nine years old when my little sister was born, and was over eleven when my brother showed up. While I loved having the full attention of my parents, I also loved being a big sister and adored my younger siblings. Still, when it was time for me to start planning out my own family with my husband, we were more inclined to go the traditional route, and our first two kids were born a little over two years apart.

Everything was great. The children, while not immune to the normal sibling squabbles, were ultimately friends. And while there are certain perils to having two young children very close in age (diapers, tantrums and an overflow of talking Elmo dolls spring to mind), it was also a lot of fun.

For a while, T. and I talked about adding a third to the mix. But life kind of happened and soon enough we found ourselves out and about with no diaper bag, no sippy cups and  no large assortment of baby gear in our then-smaller car. It was nice.

For those of you have been reading this blog for a while (thanks!), you know what happened next. Short version? The day my daughter started kindergarten I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant. Five minutes. Two lines. Three kids. The return of the diaper bag.

While  I had lots to freak out about in those early days, one of my concerns was definitely about the spacing of our kids. We were doing so well, how would an infant fit into our little unit?  Having been the eldest sibling in a widely-spaced family, I knew the benefits, but I knew the downside too. Sure, I’d have two little mommy’s helpers at my beck and call. But would my two older children be as close to their little brother as they were to each other? I thought having a little (little) sister and brother was awesome, but I admit, there were times in their lives that I missed out on because I was busy doing my own things — going to college, getting married, having my own kids.

Two years after S. was born, I’m happy to report that my fears so far have been unfounded. S. is one of the beaming lights in C. and A.’s lives. They are sad when he isn’t awake when they leave for school and he is the first person they ask for when they walk in the door. They help me with him a lot sure, but more often than not, without my asking, they’ll be bringing him outside to play or plop him on the couch to read to him. They love being with him and he thinks they are the sun, the moon and all the stars.

Every day I’m amazed by my kids’ capacity to love. Would it have been on such display if their sibling was one or three years younger instead of eight and six? I’m certain it would have existed, but I don’t know if I would have seen in in such abundance.

How did you space out your children? Do you have any regrets?

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Suzanne’s kids are five years apart and she couldn’t be happier.

Mind the (Sibling Age) Gap

What do the numbers mean? Are bigger sibling age gaps any better than having them close together? ©Kriss Szkurlatowski/stock.xchng

Whether siblings are spaced seven minutes or seven years apart, there are ups and downs to every age gap — no matter how you do the math.

My children are 5.01 years apart (that’s five years, five weeks if I divided right). And there are plenty of days when that adds up just perfectly.

They have enough space in between them that there’s not much competition. At the same time, my son loves to instruct his little sister in all of his favorite pursuits, like baseball, wrestling, fishing and football. And she adoringly follows his lead every step of the way.

I’d like to think that having her around makes him more patient (on most days). And it’s not just her that he has to tolerate.  All little kids gravitate toward him and he doesn’t seem to mind.

I had to laugh when the mom of one of his baseball teammates came up to me as we were marching in the opening day parade, just to say that when she picks up her son and daughter from their after-school program, she is touched by the fact that L. makes a point of sharing how well her five-year-old is batting each day. I heard the same thing from another friend’s mom, who said she doesn’t feel bad about her little one hanging around on playdates because L. always makes him feel included. Which is funny considering that my son is 5’2″ at 8 years old and most often isn’t a match for kids his own age, never mind a child years younger.

Ah, our gentle giant. Still, I worry when I hear him in the next room calling for his sister (just over three feet tall) to surrender in a wrestling match.

At times, I wonder if having back-to-back babies, less than two years apart, would have been better. It would mean twice the work, but all the diapers and potty training would be consolidated. All of the toys at any given time would be age-appropriate — no worries about Nerf darts wandering into the baby’s crib. And the children would be a perfect pair of playmates for each other.

But I have to say that as much as it would have been nice to have them be slightly closer in age, I think a gap of between two and five years gives everyone the space they need to develop as individuals and yet have a strong sibling bond.

From a parent’s point of view, the five year gap gave me and my husband some time to take things slow and learn the ropes. We placed all of our attention squarely on L. for five solid years (and then finally gave him a break!). But seriously, I have to think that he enjoyed being an “only child” for a while.

We also had a chance to recover from the intense infant years and gave our backs a rest from toting baby gear everywhere. There were even three whole months with no day care tuition (woo-hoo) since S. arrived the month L. started kindergarten.

In the time since, she’s benefitted from having her fair share of attention because her brother is mostly self-sufficient and there haven’t been any other babies around.

So I guess we found the right answer for our family, but how about you? What’s the best age gap between siblings in your opinion, and is it what you have — or what you wish you had?

If you hadn’t guessed, Amanda and I are both first-born (that explains a lot, right?). And we each had a significant age gap between us and our youngest sibling.  To me, that meant another student in my pretend classroom and an impressionable actor to direct in my homegrown plays. For Amanda, it turned out to be a road map to parenting.

Our Two Cents: How To Prepare Your “Baby” Not to Be the Baby Anymore

So you got the "I'm a Big Sister" t-shirt. Now what? © Armin Hanisch / stock.xchngDear Amanda and Suzanne:

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

My husband and I just found out we’re expecting our second child. We’re really excited and know our daughter will be thrilled with the news when we tell her in a few weeks. Julia’s three and has been asking for a baby brother or sister constantly.

I’m just worried about how she’ll react when the baby comes home with us — considering that she’s been the center of everyone’s attention since she was born!

How did that go for you? Was there anything specific that helped you prepare your younger ones, both before and after baby arrived?

– Another on the Way

Suzanne:
Well congratulations! That is exciting news.

A little different than the first time around though, right? Your biggest worry in getting ready for baby then probably was finding the right shade of yellow for the nursery. At the most, maybe you had a pet who needed to get oriented to a baby’s cry. And now you have this sweet little one, who you can’t imagine not being the apple of your eye. The last person you think about when you finally get to sleep and the first one on your mind (and/or breathing on your face) when you wake up. You want to make sure that she’s as thrilled to welcome home the new baby as the rest of the family.

Chances are she will be. Eventually.

However you choose to prepare her for a new sibling — whether through books, talking about the baby, bringing her to a sonogram appointment, letting her feel your belly, involving her in choosing things for the baby’s room or a combination of these — keep in mind that even when she reaches the point of elation at the thought of welcoming a new baby home, she won’t really know what comes next until it really happens. And then you might be dealing with a roller coaster of emotions that could rival what you experienced during pregnancy and postpartum combined.

So basically — have no expectations. And if she turns out to be the most well-adjusted big sister ever, you can breathe a long sigh of relief. If not, you will know that she’s experiencing an absolutely normal reaction to a major change in her life. (I was going to write “her world being turned upside down” but that sounded too dramatic. Even though it could very well be how she feels.)

I thought I had it made in the shade when I found out I was pregnant the second time, only because my son was going to be five when the baby was born and wouldn’t have the same trouble adjusting as a toddler who might not be able to communicate his feelings. How wrong I was.

As much as L. participated in our planning for the arrival of his little sister, by announcing the pregnancy to our family, helping to pick her name, painting her nursery, being there for the gender reveal, and spending lots of time with her in the hospital in the days after she was born, we had no idea that he would take as many steps back in the following weeks. He hated me and my husband, or at least that’s what he told us. Hearing that was probably the hardest thing for me to digest — still to this day and he’s 8 going on 18. It came out of nowhere despite my husband’s best efforts to do special things with him every day of his leave and my reassurances that we loved him more than ever. Our pediatrician was the only one who wasn’t surprised by his reaction. The thing was, he told everyone that he loved his sister. I still don’t know what it was that made him feel divided in this way, but within a month he got over it.

In no way am I trying to scare you about the possible reactions your daughter might have around the time of your new baby’s arrival. But I hope that by knowing how wide the range of “normal” is for new siblings, you will be able to give her the time and space she might need to get used to her new role in your family.

Best wishes to all! We’d love to hear how it turns out.

Amanda:

Yay! I hope you are feeling well.

Like Suzanne said, I think the key here is to not have too many expectations. Because the thing with preschoolers is that they are funny little creatures. Not to make light of the situation, but I expect that your daughter’s reaction to the news of her new sibling will vary over the next few months depending on a lot of things — her mood, if the moon is full, if she liked the episode of Yo Gabba Gabba! on television that morning, etc.

Still, no matter how your daughter reacts to becoming a big sister — with joy, with anger or with seemingly no response at all — it’s normal and I think it’s important for you to remember that whatever she says or does, this is a big part of her emotional development.

I do think your best bet is to address the changes in your family before the new baby arrives. And this can be a lot of fun. While you may not be brave enough to solicit name ideas from Julia (while pregnant with my third I was regaled with a selection of names culled from Playhouse Disney and Nick Jr. and my kids were six and eight years old!) you should ask for her opinion on other important details like bedding, toys and even clothing. If you decide to register, bring her with you (try to keep the trip short, you can always go back later and add items if you need to) and actively ask for input. If possible, let her pick out one or two items that you purchase on the spot.

Getting her involved in the process will make her realize that she is an important, contributing member of the family and that the life of the new sibling is something she should be part of.

Another thing, I’ve found that most kids under 5 have trouble understanding time so it’s best to say the baby will arrive when the weather gets cold or around Halloween to give her some sort of frame of reference. This way you’ll avoid an endless string of “Is the baby coming today?” questions.

One baby arrives and as your family adjusts to its new dynamic, remember that your “big kid” may not be thrilled in her new role yet. Don’t be surprised if she regresses a little — asking to drink from a bottle or nurse, have bathroom related accidents, engage in “baby talk” or even ask to sleep in the crib (especially if the crib was once hers). Ask her to help you in caring for the little one – get you diapers, push the stroller or even assist in getting it dressed. It may take longer with the extra set of hands, but if she wants to be involved, welcome her efforts. (And if you are nursing, know that this sometimes makes older kids feel left out. Keep some books on hand or have a favorite movie cued up on the DVD player so you can have some cuddle time while you feed the baby.)

Some kids may welcome the new sibling with open arms and never express any discontent. Others may say hurtful things. Most fall someplace in the middle. It’s important to be patient as your little one adjusts. Encourage her to talk about how she’s feeling through words or even a picture. Try to relate — if they baby won’t stop crying, tell her that it can be frustrating for you to hear too.

Priority number one is to make sure your child feels loved and needed. Adding a new member to the family will affect Julia in a big way, but ultimately a positive one. She is getting a new sibling, but hopefully also gaining a lifelong friend.

How did you help prepare your child for a new sibling? What worked? What didn’t?

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