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.

Planning — and Planning — to Have a Family

planning to have a baby

Sometimes family planning can take on a whole new meaning. ©Bjarne Henning Kvaale/stock.xchng

A few weeks after a first date with this guy I met in college, he asked me: “What’s your ten year plan?” I was 19, he was 20. And in true job interview fashion, I told him that my first order of business was finishing college and then getting an internship and hopefully a job in the city.

“Then when I’m thirty, I’ll probably get married and have a baby,” I said rather confidently, giving him a sneak peek at my fifteen-year agenda in case he needed to know. (He can’t say he wasn’t warned about my Type-A-always-in-control personality).

Somehow this didn’t scare him off. Instead he wanted to know what would happen if I met someone now who wanted to get married and have kids in a few years. “Well he would just have to wait until I was ready,” was my self-assured response.

Yeah, OK.

Graduated three years later, got married that September. To him.

But in a true sense of compromise we waited on the second part of the deal. And waited. And waited.

Because before we could even consider having a baby, we had to find stable jobs. And then they had to pay enough so that we could afford to move out of the first floor, one-bedroom unit of my grandparent’s house. Grad school tuition slowed us down a bit. Later came a cross-country move for better jobs and a new house.

Finally, we had arrived. There we were sitting in our new house with three bedrooms, a nice backyard, one block from the elementary school. The space was big, empty and quiet — even after we had unpacked the boxes and adopted a puppy.

I was 27, he was 28.

It was our fifth wedding anniversary, eight years since our first date, and still no mention (or sight) of those babies we had talked about years before. The way I looked at it, I was still ahead of the game. The way my husband saw it, he was running out of time.

And it was then that we decided — we were ready for a baby. Or more like, it’s now or never. Mixed with a little bit of I guess we’re as ready as we’ll ever be.

A few months later, when we flew home for Christmas and shared the news that we were expecting, our families kept saying: “We were wondering when you would finally get moving on that.” This from the same people who warned us not get pregnant right away when we married young.

So all the stars were aligned for the birth of our first child. There was a bedroom waiting for him, and a playroom no less. We had great jobs, good schedules that allowed for plenty of time together as a family, and everything we ever needed to be comfortable.

Our planning would have paid off. It could have been smooth sailing.

Except that no sooner had we shared the news than my old boss made me an offer to come back. Oh, wouldn’t that make everything all the more perfect if we could be near our families as the baby grows up?

And then we learned that sometimes, no matter how much you wait and plan and make things perfect, it can all change in an instant. We basically started from square one that autumn after L. was born and we had moved back home. As in gutting a house, nursing my husband back to health after a debilitating injury that put him out of work, and then moving twice before the baby’s first birthday.

But you know what? It’s all fine now. One more baby added into the mix. A little more chaos in our days. And really, it’s all good.

Just like we planned.

Amanda was quicker to jump into family life than I was. But with all of our fits and starts, we’re pretty much running side by side these days.

Were We Ready for a Baby? Define “Ready.”

©Tinneketin/stock.xchng

When it comes time for family planning, does the stork get an opinion? ©Tinneketin/stock.xchng

We were fools. Absolute and utter fools.

Here’s the scenario: It’s the late summer of 1999. Y2K fever is starting to really take hold. I am a newly-minted 25 year-old, my husband is 26. We have been married for a year and a half.

T. has a part-time job — some of the first in many steps on his way to a career. The hours are awful, the pay even worse. While his office is only about ten minutes away from our two-bedroom apartment in a quiet suburb, because of the nature of his work, he is often sent to various locations at strange times, sometimes hours away from where we live. His schedule is always changing — we can never predict when and where he will be at any given time. And while he has been at this particular job for over three years, the opportunity for advancement at this place is bleak — moving to another state could be in our cards.

I’m an associate editor at a national consumer magazine. I love, love, love my job even though I too am a low rung on a very long ladder. The hours are O.K. but the pay is not. My commute to work involves an hour-long train ride and a 25  minute walk. I’m also enrolled in graduate school (student loans aplenty), pursuing a master’s degree in publishing. I leave the house at 6:30 in the morning and on days when I have classes, I don’t get home until after 10 p.m.

We are broke. We never see each other. Our apartment, while charming and certainly a decent enough size, is really only ideal for two people.

Sounds like a great time to introduce a baby into the mix, doesn’t it?

We apparently thought so, because that August, I made an appointment with my gynecologist and asked him what my husband and I needed to do to so we could have a baby.

(That came out wrong. Obviously we knew what we needed to do to have a baby, but we wanted to know what we needed to do ahead of time vitamin and health-wise so our new little one would have every advantage.)

Seriously though. We have three children — one of which was a “surprise.” That it was not our first, but our third, astounds me to this day.

But as it turns out, everything turned out just fine. Better than just fine. That October, I was promoted unexpectedly — complete with a slightly higher salary and my own office (with a door — great for hiding morning sickness in the first trimester). In December, T. was promoted too — a full-time job that came with a huge jump in salary and health benefits. And in January of 2000, we found out we were pregnant with our first baby, C., who joined us in our new house that September.

It’s funny how things work out. I wouldn’t say we were in a rut before we found out about C., but it was only when we planned to have a baby that things really began to happen for us.

New jobs. A house. A baby.

Our family.

It was risk we took, for sure because things could have easily gone the other way. But that can always happen, can’t it? Life changes in an instant — sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. Our thinking at the time was, emotionally we were ready and that was the most important part. The rest would fall into place.

And it did.

Just how we planned it.

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What about you and your family? How much pre-baby planning did you do — if any at all? Why?

Suzanne and her husband put a little more thought into the planning to have a baby process. And you know what? Everything turned out just fine for them too — eventually.