Monday, 2 April 2018

Siblings with a Large Age Gap - Pros and Cons

Brother and sister, with title overlaid
Not so long ago, it seemed almost expected to have children close together and it was common to have two or three siblings just one or two classes apart at primary school. These days, times have changed and advances in fertility treatment, blended families, and career choices have led to more diverse family units. There are many advantages to having children with a larger age gap, such as spreading out the costs of childcare, school uniform, trips, etc. There are also drawbacks, though. If you are considering spacing out your offspring, here is everything I’ve learned from having children ten years apart.


The Pros...


It’s Easier to Explain


When you are expecting your second child and big brother, or sister are older, it is easier for them to understand exactly what is happening and where they fit in to it. Having a more mature understanding and being able to voice their feelings means you can reassure them and let them know what to expect, so it doesn’t come as a shock when Junior makes an appearance and starts taking over their world! Allowing them to help prepare for the baby, perhaps by choosing one or two items, or helping you get to grips with building the crib, will make them feel part of everything and not side-lined.

There’s More Chance to Bond


Older children have more opportunity to be involved in looking after the new baby, perhaps by reading to them, or choosing what they should wear, giving them time to get to know their brother or sister. By having their own special role in the baby’s life, they will hopefully develop their own bond too. Older children can be a big help, if they are keen to be involved. It’s better not to force it, though if they are not keen, as this can backfire, creating resentment and making being a sibling seem like an unwelcome chore!

You Will Have More Time to Enjoy It


As a family, having one child who has a level of independence makes having a new baby in the house a lot less of a battle. It’s obviously vital not to have the older child feel left out, but that doesn’t need to happen. They will be at school, at friend’s houses, or doing other activities that will give you an element of free time that doesn’t happen with a baby and toddler. Equally, Baby will be asleep (hopefully!) earlier in the evenings, to allow for spending time with big brother or sister.

You Can Leave Them for Short Periods When They are Older


This will depend on the individual circumstances, and the size of the age gap, but assuming eldest doesn't mind (bribery is an option!), and the age gap is sufficient that he or she is old enough to be left in charge, it is a massive advantage to be able to pop to the shops without having to drag a reluctant small person along, who will either want to whine, or buy everything, or possibly both. This sounds really bad, but I'm honestly not saying this as a reason you should leave a big age gap, I just found it was a happy bonus with mine. They were always happy to be left to their own devices without me interfering!

The Elder Sibling will Learn Important Life Skills 


As well as patience, tolerance and understanding, they will become experts on child development and how to interact with and act around a smaller child. It is a great life skill to know a bit about a baby's needs and basic safety around them, such as not to leave small things within reach and to always shut the stair gate properly. It certainly helped my eldest out, when she started babysitting to earn some spare cash. Her experience with my youngest, meant that she was confident with much younger children, despite being a teenager herself. I also imagine it will be a big help when she goes on to have her own children.

Boy and girl in the snow


The Cons...



The Youngest can Feel Like an Only Child


With all of your eldest's best intentions, playing with a much older sibling doesn't always offer the same opportunities for social development that playing with someone their own age would. Someone older may be more understanding of the younger one's needs, to the point where they subconsciously give in a little bit and let them have their own way more than their peers would, which means they won't need to share or negotiate as much. Younger children communicate on their own level, and learn important skills along the way, such as making up rules and being flexible. Persuading a child from a family of older children to be unselfish and share can be an issue, so when the younger starts playgroup, they might find it a bit of a culture shock. You may also find yourself arguing with your youngest over CBeebies, just to make the point!

Encouraging Independence can be a Challenge


In the same way as you would with an only child, you may find yourself having to work a bit harder to encourage solo play and independence. Having much older siblings will mean that there is likely to be a lot more people around who can give Junior attention and help whenever he or she demands it, so he will have less reason to find ways to amuse himself or learn things independently. You may have to make a conscious effort as a family not to let him have his own way constantly, as it won't be such a problem if he does when there is no one else fighting for your time. 


Sibling Rivalry Still Happens!


I thought, when I had my second child, that there wouldn’t be room for rivalry, as they were so far apart in age. They would have different friends, different interests, they wouldn’t have a need to compete. However, the first hurdle is making sure the oldest doesn’t resent the youngest. As I mentioned above, communication and listening can help to ease the transition from only child to sibling, but there may be times when you must compromise and perhaps can’t do everything the eldest wants you to, which can lead to those familiar parental feelings of guilt. Also, when the youngest gets older, he can get cross when big sister gets to do grown up things, because, well, she’s a grown up, and he can’t!

You Can’t Repurpose Anything!


Well, not much, anyway. I did unearth some Lego from the loft for the second time around but having a large age gap greatly reduces the possibility of passing down clothes, toys, and equipment, unless you are super organised and have a lot of storage space. This wasn’t a big issue for me, as I had a boy and a girl, so couldn’t have passed on a lot, but it does mean that some of your school trip savings will be spent on Babygros and blankets! 

Starting Again Can be Tough


When you have your second child, people expect you to know what you’re doing, which you sort-of do. You look more confident, you know one end of a nappy from the other, the basics aren’t new to you, but if it was a really long time ago, you are going to be a bit rusty. You are likely to have forgotten what it’s like to wake up fifteen times a night and how to juggle feeding a family, whilst comforting a clingy new-born. You might still need help and support, but people may not realise this in the same way they would with a first-time mum, so tell them. It’s ok to ask for help and no one will think any less of you for not being a pro, just because you did it once before, several years ago.

New born baby being held by a relative


The bottom line is, whatever age gap you decide upon, or even if nature decides for you, there is no right or wrong. It’s how you deal with it that counts. Anticipating potential pitfalls and doing your best for your family is going to create the best environment for your children and whether they get along or not will always be something of a lottery. I know it was the best decision for me, because my children are now 12 and 22 and they adore each other. My daughter has made me so proud over the years by taking care of her brother, helping him with homework, being nurse to him when he is sick and seeing their bond develop has been a joy, but I often wonder what would have happened if they had been born closer together. It’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t still have loved each other to bits. Maybe it’s more about individual personalities than age difference, after all.


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12 comments

  1. I always think age gaps are what they are! You can only do so much obsessing about them as I always think family will gel no matter what the difference.

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  2. There is 15 years between my last two children and Gee often says she feels like an only child. Saying that I think she has so many older brothers to spoil her rotten x

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  3. I agree there is no perfect age gap, they all come with their pros can cons. All you can hope for is that siblings love each other and when they grow up are in each other lives.

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  4. I am younger by 10 years than my nearest sibling and I recognise several of the things you have said. From the age of 8 I lived like an only child. My friends were very important. Nowadays my siblings make me feel young, and I like that!

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  5. I have a ten year age gap between my two girls and then just a 14 month gap between my middle and youngest. x

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  6. My children are 3, 4, 5 and 14 so I know all about small and large age gaps! I love that Lewis has seen his siblings grow up, they are all so close!

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  7. Our boys are close in age but the spread between them and their cousins is over 17 years, there is still a wonderful bond that I'd always hoped for.

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  8. This is really interesting to read and think about. I have two half sisters who are much younger than me but it works really well. As they are getting older they come to my for advice which is nice.

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  9. It is tricky and sometims circumstance dictates the gap and some don't get a choice. I have a big gap between my first two, my middle two are really close in age and my youngest is four years younger than her brother, I think closer in age is better as they have more in common and definitely bond more.

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  10. Oh this is a lovely post. My kids are 12, 8, 4, 2 and 11 months. The easier gaps were the larger ones for me. But the shorter gaps have resulted in the best bonds. :)

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  11. I have 20 years between my oldest and youngest and whilst it is wonderful, there can be issues. I get the "you didn't do this with me when I was little" #sigh

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  12. I agree with the pros and cons here. I am a twin mama so not dealt with any age gaps yet.

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