The perfect formula for spacing your children’s ages can seem as complicated and precise as chemistry. It requires precise factoring of closeness in time, so that your kids can play together, but also demands that there is enough distance to discourage sibling rivalry. And of course, for every story about how a specific configuration works, there’s a dire warning about how wrong the exact same configuration can go. Choosing the age-spacing of your children is a relatively new luxury for parents, and even now, it is far from being entirely in your control. Plus, while it’s helpful to do the math and plan what shape you want your family to take, getting too attached to a specific timeline can be hard on both you and your partner.
Because sibling relationship dynamics aren’t something you have too much control over, the only thing you really can affect is the spacing between kids. Choosing when you and your partner are ready to have another child is really the most important part here. After all, most of the non-medical reasoning for age-spacing is centered around finding ways for all children to get a fair share of their parents’ attention. When you feel ready to have another child, you’ll naturally have more time and energy to devote equal mental resources to your children.
Close in age
Children who are close in age have a built-in playmate, no memories of being an only child to yearn for, and someone to consistently give or get hand-me-downs from. Parents of close-in-age children get deals on joint activities and sports, a lowered expectation of parental contribution for tuition with two kids in college at once, years of driving both kids to one school in the morning, and get to save on baby equipment the second time around. On the other hand though, in some cases, siblings who are close in age can be very competitive with each other, and parents of children who are close in age have to cope with a long, diaper-filled stretch of time where they don’t get much sleep. The second pregnancy in a very quick succession can be very hard on the body as well, without the time to restock the nutrients pregnancy and breastfeeding used a lot of, which could also have a negative effect on the second baby. Many doctors don’t recommend trying to conceive again until at least a year after the previous pregnancy.
Around 3 years difference in age between siblings is one of the most common age differences, which is handy when it comes to setting up joint-playdates! Children with this kind of age difference are close enough in age to play together, with just enough time in between for mom and dad to catch a couple of good nights’ sleep before diving back into baby-raising again. In fact, this age difference comes with a lot of the same benefits of closer-in-age children with fewer health risks. On the other hand, though, some experts believe the age difference – where the older child is just old enough to be aware of the big changes coming into his or her life but not always quite old enough to understand why – can lead to resentment. Being pregnant while you’re chasing after a hyperactive toddler isn’t easy, either!
Big spread in age
Siblings with a 4-year-or-more age gap will have a different dynamic than siblings closer in age. If and when they find a way to connect with each other, though, they’ll be close when they’re young despite the age difference. Siblings move in and out of feelings of closeness, and even if they aren’t buds during childhood, their relationship will continue to evolve as they get older. They might even end up being adult best friends. Having one older child means having one more pair of hands to help with the new baby, and plus, your older child gets to share the excitement of welcoming a younger sibling into the house. This kind of an age gap isn’t always an option, especially as you and your partners’ fertility change with age, but there are definitely benefits to this kind of gap!
It would be wrong to say the time-spacing between kids isn’t important – the direction your family goes in will affect the shape of it forever! But the particulars are very specific to your family and to the way you and your partner feel you’ll be able to parent best. No matter what shape your family takes, we can say with confidence that if you feel good about it, it will be perfect.