When my daughter was 18 months old, my father-in-law suggested that we hurry to have another child so we can get the diaper years “over with.” Their boys were 19 months apart (not on purpose) and that worked for them. I’d always hoped for 2.5 years or so between children but since my first was very high needs and has some special needs, we weren’t sure we were ready for another any sooner. I’d heard so many people say they had trouble conceiving their first & then – oops – surprise! We didn’t want that to happen to us, so we waited until we were really ready for another, to even try.
So, what is the perfect age gap? Is it easier to have more time between them? Have them in rapid succession and “get it over with?” Spoiler alert: there’s no perfect age gap between children. It depends as much on your child’s personality, your own, and your support system as it does on the months or years between them.
Like any child’s age, there’s no age spread that is inherently easier or more difficult than another, they’re just different. Having a newborn isn’t “harder” than having a toddler, it just comes with a special set of challenges. Just like you might find the toddler stage easier than the newborn stage, your neighbor might have felt the opposite. Just because she found closely spaced children to be easier, the same may not be true for you. One child might be much more challenging as a newborn than a toddler, while your next baby might be totally different.
When you have a large age gap, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the older child will be a helper – in fact, depending on their personality, a 5 year old might be more demanding of your time than the new baby. Having two children that need or want to be carried, nursed or rocked is hard. Having to get one child off to school and activities, do homework and projects after being up all night with a newborn? Tough. It’s also a bit trying to go back to square one and start all over with the baby stage, just when you were starting to taste a tiny bit of freedom with your 4-5 year old. Okay, maybe I do get the “get it over with” mindset, though I probably wouldn’t use those words.
The larger age gap made it nice to have several years of time alone with just one child, rather than those years being a whirlwind of 2 or 3 babies and toddlers. An older child isn’t having to give up a crib or other things for the new baby. On the other hand, jealousy depends more on the individual child than the age. A 7 year old could be furious because you brought baby toys out of the attic for the new baby, resentful of the attention the new baby requires, and acting out to get more attention. With an older child, sometimes they are expected to be excited about being the big sibling and to exhibit more “mature” behavior than you’d expect from a two year old getting a little brother or sister.
With a closer age spread, you can get the kiddos on a good schedule or structured routine. When you have older kids, it can be more difficult to plan your lives around naptime. A wide age spread often means very different interests, and a harder time planning trips or outings that everyone will enjoy. Try dealing with the age 4+ toys with 10 zillion teeny tiny parts and a little one who will put anything and everything in his/her mouth! It also means you could deal with ‘tween ‘tude, terrible twos and sleepless newborn nights all at the same time. Puberty and potty, diapers & dating.
If you haven’t guessed, I found the 2 1/2 year age spread of my last two a bit easier than the more than 4 year age spread of my first two. However, I know that’s not the case for many others, and that it would likely be a very different story if my children’s personalities were different (or swapped.)
The large age spread wasn’t what I’d planned, so I know that contributes to how I feel about it. Hearing how hard it was to have “two under two” or “two under three” or “3 under 5” really, really hurt when I had a 3 year old and had been desperately trying to conceive for a year and a half. In my opinion, if you feel like you’re ready to add another child to your family, don’t overthink the age spread. In the end, things don’t always end up as you plan!