A bigger age gap between siblings has certain cons, but are there pros? Find out with this mom’s quick guide.
by Amy Borg | Amy Borg is a digital content producer based in Manchester, UK. She runs a website and online community for parents of small kids, full of tips and advice aimed at making family travel easier and more fun. You can follow Amy on Instagram @seatkickers_ and visit her site SeatKickers.
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When we had our first child back in 2013, we hadn’t really given serious thought to how many kids we wanted or when. As children from families with big age gaps (seven years between my brother and I, ten years between my husband and his brother) I knew I wanted a small age gap though. I really wanted kids that spent time together, got on, and had a bond. I was convinced that to achieve this, we needed fewer years between kids. But obviously, life moves in mysterious ways and has other plans for us.
Our eldest (now nearly nine) had awful silent reflux as a baby and did not sleep. She still doesn’t to be honest, and when my friends were cracking on with their second babies, I was still in shock from the lack of sleep and life turning upside down.
Once we did decide a sibling might be nice, a couple of miscarriages paused our plans, but our bonus prize second daughter arrived into the world in January 2019, when our eldest was five and a half.
While friends and family were over the moon for us, I did read that a bigger age gap between siblings has certain cons like jealousy for the older child and a struggle to find activities that entertain them both. So does this ring true? What is the reality of a bigger age gap? Here are the pros and cons of having siblings with a bigger age gap.
Our eldest wasn’t jealous. I made a point to involve her all along. She came to scans, bought the baby her first outfit, and came to the hospital. She had important roles. As soon as I could, I had a day with her. It’s tough, you do feel guilty not having the time to spend with someone who for years has been your number one, but you soon find your new normal.
Not having two in nappies (diapers) is a god send. How do people do it? The one thing friends with children of smaller age gaps always mention is having two kids in nappies at once. For us, our eldest was very capable. She could get herself dressed and had already started school when our second arrived. This meant I had the days just with the baby, then could give her attention when she came home. She was sleeping well and didn’t ‘need’ as much from us.
Now, my youngest is three and I see the utter joy in her stopping to look at a butterfly or a flower. While my eight year old dances to Jo Jo Siwa with zero interest in me, I realize how lucky I am to still have a ‘little’ one. The first time around, I rushed all the milestones. I couldn’t wait for her to talk and walk, and then suddenly, she was at school. This time around, I take everything way more slowly and enjoy every second. Most of my friends have a nine and seven year old. I feel really lucky to still be enjoying those precious toddler years, and to be able to do it while the eldest is at school and I can concentrate just on her. I honestly feel blessed, and know if I had two closer together, I’d be rushing this time, too.
Okay, stretching things out isn’t always good. My friends with two older kids are now back to enjoying sleep or pawning the kids off on grandparents to enjoy trips away. We are still in the toddler phase, which means nappies at night and occasionally, broken sleep. Going back to zero sleep at night so long after our first baby was a real shock. I really felt it and I really felt my age. The lack of sleep is a huge con. I do sometimes feel envious of my friends who have their ‘lives back’ while we’re still in toddler land, but then I have to remember to count my blessings.
FREEDOM (or lack of it)
I did find this hard to readjust to. Our friends had done the ‘two and done’, and were back. Our eldest is a brilliant kid who adapts really quickly, we’ve taken her everywhere. When she was two she came on our honeymoon long haul. When she was four we did a road trip to Florida for my birthday, and she loved every second. To go from this type of freedom back to the baby stage, having to say no to visiting friends and going out in the evening, and planning a life around naps again, was hard. Super hard. Friends drifted away as a result and that is tough.
NOT GIVING A FUCK
In all honesty, the second time around, with a big age gap and therefore 6 years older (and wiser??), I didn’t give a flying fuck about a lot of the things I did the first time around. I can remember those first baby classes–the panic, the desperation, the worry–the second time, I was so chill. I knew by the time I had a five year old that it’s fairly hard to fuck them up. You can try gourmet food, no screens, early bedtimes, and the hottest toys. But they all end up wanting beige food and SpongeBob Squarepants–yet, they still end up as well-rounded, funny human beings.
The second time round, with a ‘been there done it’ attitude, you can sit at a baby class and chill the fuck out, with zero pressure to make friends or genuinely broaden the baby’s horizons, just purely belting out ‘wind the bobbin up’ without a fuck to give other than actually having fun. It was glorious. I miss it.
Having an only child was wonderful, I loved it and the relationship I had with her. People said the girls wouldn’t get on. They were wrong. We have encouraged their relationship and it’s a joy to watch it blossom. Little kids LOVE older kids. Our youngest gazes at her older sister and copies everything she does (dreading her being a teenager), while our eldest has taken on being a protective guard of her sister from the moment she first saw her. They find a way to play, from hide and seek to barbie dolls. The eldest regresses slightly and goes back to playing with toys she’d lost interest in, and the youngest has to fast forward to toys beyond her years, and somehow, they meet in the middle.
So, honestly, they become harder and way more expensive. Our eldest traveled like a dream and we loved our adventures with her. With one though, you can take everything in turns from entertaining them on the flight, swimming with them, etc., etc. Add in a second, and suddenly the airport is like hunger games and a flight endurance test. Holidays with small children are NEVER relaxing, but again, the oldest loves to help with her younger sister. We still love holidays. It’s so fun introducing the little one to your favorite places. Just expect to come home skint and knackered.
This is all difficult again. You might have got used to having dates and nights away when your first child got a bit older. Add in a second small child, and suddenly grandparents aren’t so keen to babysit. We divide and conquer–it’s the only way–but I do find we have to make way more effort. More effort not to fight, more effort to support each other, to listen and not to argue over who had 30 minutes more sleep or who last changed the baby’s bottom, etc.
With siblings of a bigger age gap, there’s no academic competition because the kids are at such different stages. Also, because your brain no longer works and you’ve quite frankly forgotten what your eldest achieved and when.
I work with a lady whose girls are less than two years apart. Her eldest left for university last year and she told me she’s dreading her youngest leaving next year, too. “We’ll suddenly have an empty house,” she said. Now, you might possibly see this as a pro rather than a con, but for me, I’m glad that when one goes, I’ll still have the other at home for another five years. I don’t think my heart could cope with them both leaving so close together–give me 10 years and I may regret saying this!
Something I really hadn’t considered until recently is how having siblings with a bigger age gap has affected my personal achievements. If you have two children, two years apart, your career (or partner’s) might go on hold for a bit, and then when the kids are at school you can get back to it should you want to. But with a larger age gap, this career limbo lasts longer. Some of my friends who went part time when their kids were little are now back smashing it. Some aren’t of course, but for my career, it had to go slightly on pause for a while. My youngest starts full time pre-school this September, when my eldest turns nine. It’ll be the first time I’ve truly considered ‘what’s next’ in my career since my eldest was born.
Having had a child for five years already by the time we had our second, I’d totally accepted the change to my life and was really ok with it. I no longer bought into this narrative of not knowing who I was or wanting to ‘get back to who I was before’. I’m not who I was before I had kids and I don’t want to be. Being a mum is the best thing I ever did, it’s changed me and made me a far better person. I want to be this person, and I totally accept that with it comes a responsibility, lack of spontaneity, zero disposable income, no sleep and no social life. I knew that and was ok with all of it by the time we had our second. It wasn’t a shock.
‘THIS TOO SHALL PASS’
By the time you have a five year old, you know that everything is a stage. The horrific lack of sleep, the painful breastfeeding, the gained weight, the loneliness, the zero time for yourself, the fussy eating, the constant snotty noses, the peeing on the carpet, the tantrums, the refusing to get dressed–all of the shit they and you go through in the early years–it all passes eventually. So when you gear up for baby number two, you know by the time they are five, life will be immeasurably easier.
WHEN THEY STOP BEING CUTE
You also know that at around seven they get a bit sassy and stop being ‘cute’ so you know to make the absolute most of it with your second toddler.
SO MANY TOYS
If you entertain the idea that you might have a second, you’ll find yourself keeping all the stuff from the first child–all their toys, clothes, etc. If you’ve got two closer together, chances are they’ll play with the same stuff and by the time they’re four or five, you’ll have gotten rid of all the baby stuff. With a six year old and one year old, I found my house full of every toy from ages 0-6. From rattles and shape sorters, to Barbies and LOL dolls–there is so much stuff everywhere. Nothing currently gives me more joy than when the youngest grows out of stuff, and I can finally get rid of it FOREVER.
My confidence as a parent has been so much deeper this time around. I know it’s that way for most people with their second, but I honestly think the longer you wait, the more this develops. I had a chance to see my first daughter develop into an amazing child and know that we as parents created that. It made me realize that my choices were good, and all the ‘mistakes’ we’d made didn’t actually matter. I also had more friends with kids, and had seen so many different parenting styles that I knew what worked for and suited us.
I love our children’s age gap, I honestly do–I feel privileged to have a toddler who I can enjoy and be slow with, who is fun and funny and makes us all laugh. Also, I feel blessed that I got five years alone with our eldest, having wicked adventures and creating a bond that’s unique and wonderful. And nothing makes me happier than witnessing their little moments together, full of love. I know they will grow up to have independent experiences and totally different times, while also sharing an unbreakable love for each other, and that is amazing!
If you’re considering having siblings with a bigger age gap, then I hope my list of the pros and cons of siblings’ bigger age gap has put your mind at rest.