The beauty of ‘spaced out’ children

I’m sitting in a plane winging it back to Canada from Paris as I write this. And how, you might ask, was I able to take this rare romantic trip with my husband if I have a 13-year-old at home? A good question. I credit the age gap between my children. Some parents have grandparents who can step in. Others have kids who love overnight summer camp. Me? I have a responsible 21-year-old daughter!

(Side note: Before you peg me as a mean mom who leaves her children behind, let me assure you that even though the girls grumbled about not going this time, both of our daughters have been on numerous vacations with us, including a few that involve jetting across an ocean!)

But now, let me return to my point – how lucky I am to have one child old enough to look after the other while I’m away. This is just one of many benefits to having a substantial age gap between your children. Except for blended families, most parents I know have their children all at once, in the space of a few years. Young parents all seem to assume that this is the best way to do it, and many don’t look ahead to the possible benefits of spacing their children out.

My husband and I did not have our second child until the first was fully eight years old, and at the time I worried about the gap. Everyone was telling me that having your kids close in age was the right way to plan a family, and that it provides all manner of benefits, ranging from getting the diaper years over quickly to being able to plan family activities that appeal to both children. The main benefit, though – the one I heard over and over – was that youngsters the same age provide each other with a built-in playmate, which makes life easier for mom and dad, provides more fun for the kids, and might even lead to a strong life-long sibling relationship. I can certainly attest to the veracity of this last point, as I have witnessed the very strong relationship between my husband and his twin brother.

But do children need to be close in age to develop a strong bond? Surely not. I can’t imagine two children loving each other more or enjoying each other’s company more, despite my daughters’ eight-year age gap. The strength of the relationship stems from the chemistry between the two children – they’re a good match! And it seems that the age gap actually helped that relationship grow. If they had been close in age, I’m not so sure that they would have ‘clicked’ the way they have.

The age difference helped the girls avoid becoming rivals. One had the profound experience of being witness to her sister’s birth. The other has a big sister role model to lean on when times are rough. The older one gains a sense of responsibility while the younger one has a sister to teach her how to manouevre a bicycle along a busy Kingston Road.

I could argue for spacing children out on other grounds. To begin, it allows both parents to keep working because day care is much more practical and affordable for one child at a time than for both at once. Further, payments for those big college or university bills  can be spread out over many more years. In the interim, you have the opportunity to enjoy that strong one-on-one relationship that is normally only enjoyed in single-child families. We had eight intense years with our older girl before the younger one came along, and now that the older one has more or less left the nest, the younger one will be our virtual ‘only child’ throughout her teenage years. In the middle, the girls had about a dozen years of intense sister-sister time, so in a way we all got the best of all worlds.

Being the parent of children so far apart in age has definitely posed challenges. On the one hand, I couldn’t take them both to dance class together, or swimming together; nor could I read them bedtime stories together. I only had two years when the two girls were at the same elementary school. And it was very tough on both of them when the older one headed out to university. On the other hand, I got to share bedtime stories with my children for many, many years. And just when those memories of holding and nurturing a beautiful, pudgy little baby were beginning to be old memories, we got to do it all over again with the second one – and what a joy it has been both times.

Families come in all shapes and sizes these days, and all can be highly workable models. Often fate will deal us a hand we did not expect, but if you are one of the lucky ones who has the opportunity to plan your family, consider the spaced-out model – an option that can work beautifully for everyone involved.

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