Did your family happen the way you planned it? Mine didn't. My plan was to have two children close together before I was 40. I was so used to getting what I wanted I didn't counter the possibility it might not happen. On my 40th birthday I was childless.
Not a couple to rush into things, we married after 8 years of joint adventures in a humanist ceremony in my sister's garden. The marriage was for two reasons- one to make a public declaration of our commitment (a grown up way of justifying a bloody good party) and two, to start a family.
I was 35 on my wedding day and expected to get pregnant immediately. I didn't and after some trials and heartache (not enough space or to elaborate here but you can probably guess the gist of it) we started on our adoption journey.
We wanted to adopt two children together but our social worker told us rather bluntly that she didn't think we'd cope. We listened and within a year our darling boy H, with flushed cheeks joined us. H was nearer to 4 than 3. Our social worker was right, we struggled to adapt to family life with one child, two children would have been too much. Having H on his own also meant that we could focus solely on his needs.
Fast forward 5 years and our family grew again. We thought we would welcome another young child to minimise the age gap. By this time I had relaxed my fixture with plans and was delighted to welcome a tiny J at 10 months. I was terrified, well into my forties and proud to announce to anyone who was interested (generally they weren't) that I had never changed a nappy.
Life with two children began. An 8 year old and a baby. Of course we had some wobbles, including H's realisation that J was here for good but it's fair to say that the 3 of us took one look at J and swooned.
Having a new sibling can be difficult especially getting used to sharing your parents. Although this took some adjusting for all of us there were two key advantages. Firstly H was able to breathe a bit more. H no longer had to endure two very interested parents engaging with him relentlessly and secondly, and most importantly, he got a playmate.
So 5 years on, we have two thriving children, J is 6 and H is 13 who on the whole adore each other and giggle and tease their way through life.
Advantages of a Large Age Gap
- Sibling rivalry is not so much of an issue when there is a large age gap as the children are not directly competing against each other as their abilities are so different.
- You can all relish having a baby in the house. With children closer in age it's not always possible to give a baby so much attention. It also means the older sibling can enjoy the baby and delight in watching her/him grow and change.
- Having a much younger sibling teaches patience and insight into the human character. I'm often told how mature H is and I'm sure that's due to the fact that he's had to learn tolerance and has witnessed J's development and appreciate the limitations of younger children.
- A personal one for us but having a baby in the house allowed H to fill in some things he missed out initially. For example H learnt nursery rhymes by teaching them to his baby sister.
- Having a younger sibling stretches childhood out for the eldest. The older child can indulge in play that might be seen as too young as they have the handy excuse it's for their younger sibling.
- Both siblings get to mix with wider group of children. The younger sibling always mixes with older children, so that 'big kids' are not something to worry about. Similarly the older sibling can gain quite a fan base of younger children, something that's great for the ego.
Things to Consider
- Don't think you have to do everything together as a family. Split the children up so that they can enjoy activities of their choice without compromise.
- As with all children it makes sense to plan in advance over school holidays so that you have an even split of activities and time to play with friends.
- Sell the idea of a large age gap to the children. If your attitude is that it's a hassle they'll follow your lead.
- Think of your children as 'only' children at times. This means you invite friends to participate in activities so that they can share the experience with someone their own age.
- Do some activities together when it's clearly aimed at one of the children. Compromise is a good thing to learn as long as everyone in the family learns it!