Sibling age gaps and the family planning debate

No, I’m not pregnant. And no, we’re not planning another baby yet. But for some reason, recently I’ve found myself thinking more and more about a brother or sister for Frog.

Maybe it’s because some of the other mums I know, who have children the same age as Frog, are pregnant.  Or maybe it’s because Frog is now 16 months old, so it’s getting rapidly too late for her to have a brother or sister who is just a couple of years younger than she is.

Whatever the reason, I’m broody as hell.

Everywhere I look there are babies babies babies. And not climbing, talking, non-walking toddler babies. But babies babies. Tiny ones, gurgly ones, sleepy ones. The ones that make you forget the hell of waking five times a night for six months, and just remember the blissful moments; the first smiles, the snoozy cuddles, the days when everything was new. Remember when there was still an element of novelty to changing a nappy? Those are the days I’m talking about.

The thing is, we chose to have Frog at a relatively young age. I was 26 when I got pregnant. Despite what many people thought, it was a deliberate decision. We weren’t married, we didn’t own our own home, but we knew we wanted a fairly big family (three in an ideal world), so we knew we better get cracking.

Although it seems like we planned everything down to the finest detail, that’s not really the case. We didn’t discuss age gaps between siblings, or plan when we’d start thinking about baby number two. We just sort of assumed it wouldn’t be for a while. And biologically, time was on our side.

I have no idea what the “right” age gap is between siblings. In fact, I’m pretty sure there is no “right” gap.

I suppose on the plus side, a closer gap means there may be more shared interests between the children. But then it also means those early years could be harder, dealing with a newborn and a toddler, both in nappies with the typical demands that newborns and toddlers make.

And I guess a larger gap means you run the risk of having two children who have nothing in common at all, who grow up to be too far apart in age to relate to each other in any real way until they become adults.

Or do you?

The (self-proclaimed) Northern Love Machine has two brothers. They are both younger than him; one by 19 months and one by eight years. Yet he’s equally close to both of them. When he talks about his childhood, both brothers are there in equal measure. And now that all three are adults, that bond hasn’t been broken. They were both his best men when we got married in August. He speaks to them both pretty much every week. There is mickey-taking and pretend fighting and more mickey-taking. They are brothers. The age gap is not an issue.

And there are four years between my sister and I. She was annoying when I was eight, but I rather like her now. In fact, she’s my best friend – always has been.

For us, it’s not the right time for another baby yet. And I realise we’re priveleged to assume a second baby will just happen naturally, when we’re ready. But whenever that is, I hope the number of years between Frog and any future brothers or sisters doesn’t affect her relationship with them. I hope she can count on them as friends, whether they’re two, four or eight years younger than her.

And until that elusive brother or sister comes along, she’ll have to make the most of just hanging out with me…

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What’s the age gap between your kids? What’s the age gap between you and your siblings? Do you think it matters?

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46 Comments

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46 responses to “Sibling age gaps and the family planning debate

  1. cute wellies!
    There is 2years between myself & my older brother,he hated me growing up & I often hated him too – usually because he used to go out with my friends!
    I now have my eldest 2 with a similar age gap (22mths) & the same sex/order as we were & I can see history repeating itself, they bicker so much, but then they play well together other times too. When they were younger they used to play together really well. Jack is 6.5 & 8.5yrs younger than his sister & brother and he plays well with his sister & also fights with her too, he has a different relationship with big brother though – they adore each other & I really hope that bond will continue.
    I do think that 2 years apart is a good gap but then that’s what I’ve experienced, I’m sure all gaps have positive & negative points.
    sorry, I’ve waffled a bit here!
    x

  2. I have 21 months between my boys and man it was hard work when they were both in nappies. Spud was still a baby yet was expected to be a grown up by everyone around us because there was a new baby. He wasn’t interested in the baby and often wouldn’t go near him so I felt my days torn between the two and Spike spent a lot of time in a baby chair. Now that Spike is older and mobile they play together but do often squabble! I think it depends on the children and not the age gap. I have 3 years between me and my brother we didn’t have much in common growing up but we get on really well now. My friend has 14 months between him and his brother yet they hate each other!

    • It’s really interesting – just goes to show that whatever the age gap, siblings won’t necessarily get on or be best friends. I think it’s just as much about the type of children they are, as well as the age gap between them.

  3. Sam

    It took us years to have No1 son so we were expecting a large gap before No2 (if it happened at all!) so quite surprised to now find ourselves with three sons aged 4, 6 and 8. They are all completely different characters, get on most of the time and fight some of the time. You may or may not know when the time is right but 2 things are guaranteed – you will be very tired but it is still great fun!

    • Tiredness is a given when you become a parent I suppose! I think you’re right about knowing “when the time is right”. For us, that isn’t yet, but hopefully it won’t be too many years down the line!

  4. Oh my–I stumbled on this post and can totally relate! My first was a total surprise, and now that she’s six I’m wondering if it’s too late to give her a sibling. All of my friends and family are celebrating new babies, so I keep telling myself that maybe it’s just the new baby excitement. Thanks for posting!

    • You’re welcome! As I said in my post, there are 8 years between my husband and his youngest brother, and it hasn’t made any difference to the bond between them. As some of the other commenters have said, I think there are positives and negatives between having a large gap. At least you wouldn’t have two in nappies!

  5. Expat Mammy

    we are thinking the same thing, if fact I woke today took a test and No not pregnant……… quite disapointed really which makes me feel guilty as I already have one beautiful child……….

    • You shouldn’t feel guilty. If you’re trying for another child it’s natural to feel disappointed if you’re not pregnant. I’m sure it’ll happen soon. It doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate the beautiful child you already have. x

  6. I agree that there isn’t a perfect age gap. The relationship between siblings has much more to do with their inbuilt personalities than anything else. However, reading between the lines of your post, there won’t be a huge age gap for Frog and her next sibling; broodiness is a powerful tool when it comes to family “planning”, so watch out!

    • You better tell that to the NLM – he’s not broody in the slightest! It’s so true what you say about the inbuilt personalities being the main reason for siblings getting on (or not, in some cases).

  7. I think you’ve pretty much written your way round to the answer. I don’t think it matters really. There is 5 years between my younger brother and I. Growing up, we got on really pretty well most of the time. When I asked my parents about it when we were thinking about Number Two my Dad said it’s up to the parents to make it work, whatever age gap you choose/end up with. I guess he meant the importance of fostering and nurturing their love and respect for each other and ensuring there are plenty of opportunities for them to learn to get on/co-operate. I can see where he was coming from. For what it’s worth, there’s 2 and a half years between mine. At the mo, my eldest is nearly 4 and my youngest 16 months. Up until a few months ago it was going swimmingly. When he was a newborn he just got carried around in the sling, feeding and sleeping and my little girl and I carried on as normal. For the next 6 months he mainly sat on his mat and banged stuff, so life carried as normal. He’s just started walking and climbing and generally wanting to be involved in the action. He’s also rather fond of destructing things and throwing stuff. I’m finding this stage really hard. And I have a year before my eldest starts school. But it’s all swings and roundabouts isn’t it?! I’m sure whenever you decide the time is right, Frog will be an amazing big sister and you and your other half will endeavour to ensure they love each other to bits x

    • Thanks for the brilliant and inisightful comment. I’m sorry you’re having a tiring time of it at the moment. But I’m sure you’re right, it’s swings and roundabouts. I expect this phase your son is going through won’t last very long – and very soon they’ll be the ones playing together telling you to “get out of the way Mum!”.

  8. There is 9 yrs difference between my 2, they fight just as much as myself and my brother did (2.5 years apart) but not as rough lol.
    I dont think there is a “right” age gap tbh, We wanted another child close in age to my youngest, almost 5 years down the line its not happening, if its meant to be it will be. x

    • That’s a good attitude to have, I agree with you. I think it’s what one of the other commenters said, it’s more about a child’s inbuilt personality than the age gap between their brother or sister.

  9. I wrote about this a few days ago though I am already 15 weeks pregnant with 15 month old twins! I worry that the gap is too small and what people will think. I got lots of lovely responses from people saying if it is right for me then I should not worry about others and do you know what, it is right for me, for us as a family. It is going to be tough but our children will be close in age and that is important I think when the other two are twins x Now they can be a threesome I hope rather than a two and a one.
    http://www.edspire.co.uk/year_2011/11/09/bump-watch-cor-youve-got-your-hands-full/
    You will know when the time is right for you and yours x

    • Very true, it’s just as much about the right time for the whole family as planning a non-existent “perfect” gap. And I know I’ve already said it – but CONGRATULATIONS! again. x

  10. Ive been thinking about this too lately, initially I wanted to have a close age gap between Iyla and her potential bro / sis but it’s just not going to happen. I am at college until next year and financially we can’t do it so realistically there is going to be 3/4 years between them (obviously assuming tha we are able to do it al again naturally of course), I am just trusting that they will get on eventually if not at the start. I think there are positive and negatives for both options but at least by four they start school so you get to enjoy some time alone with the new arrival and it will be much easier! Lots of people around me are pregnant with number two, I am quite interested to see how they get on! X

    • That’s a really good point, that with a slightly bigger age gap you get a bit more time alone with baby number two. I hadn’t really considered that. Sounds like you have it sussed!

  11. Rachel

    I have a brother 20 months younger than me and a baby sis 10 years younger and as adults I am far closer to her, although still reasonably close to little bro.

    My family however is a bit extreme …. I have 18 year old twin boys, a 13 year old daughter and a 2.5 year old son and it works brilliantly. Its almost like he has 5 parents as they all love him to bits and regularly babysit which is an added bonus ;o)

    I think any age gap is ok – as long as they are loved!

  12. My two are now 15 and 12. The oldest was having one of her teenage hissy fits at her younger brother and asked me why did I have a second child. It was said in good humour but reminded me why I did. I am an only child and it wasn’t until I was an adult I really missed having a brother or sister. I didnt want my child to feel the same. It also got me thinking if I got the age gap wrong.
    I think what ever age gap you have will be the right age gap for you, well you can hardly pop them back if you change your mind or till you feel ready. There will always be positives and negatives for any age gap so I would say go with what you feel is best.

  13. The right time to have a second baby is when you feel ready. Arithmetic is far less important. If you’re harassed and weary and struggling to cope with two small children, any advantage of a small age gap would be lost. I think you’re being very sensible (and that was a beautifully written account, by the way)

  14. Vicki Clark

    With the best will in the world, you just can’t plan your baby’s personality and I think that has more to do with whether siblings get on than their age gap. Mine are 20 months apart. They’re both girls (which I think helps!), they bicker most days but they are also best friends and would defend each other to the hilt. My eldest keeps telling me she wants to marry her little sister when they’re grown up! My youngest will start pre-school after Christmas and will be with her sister for two afternoons a week and neither of them can wait. That all said I know it was very hard for me the first six months I had them both (I say ‘know’ because like childbirth the memories have softened and faded!), but I wouldn’t change it for the world because it was right for our family, and our girls x

    • They sound like lovely sisters – and it must be nice that they get to go to pre-school etc together. I agree that it’s all about what’s right for your family, and all families are different. x

  15. I had an older sister, 5 years gap, and sisters the same age… and I’m best friends with both… I have two children, with a 17 month gap, and man, was it haaaaard in the early days… Not so much because there was two to look after but because I was so exhausted with my son (the youngest) not sleeping that everything seemed such an effort! Now they play wonderfully one minute and the next thing there’s tears and tantrums… There never is a “right” age gap I don’t think, because so much depends on personality too, but I would love to have another baby in about a year’s time, because I know my girl (who would be nearly six at that point) would shine in the big sister role (she doesn’t really feel like a big sister to her brother I don’t think because they are so close in age.) Whatever you decide to do, good luck!

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. Some really interesting situations coming out of this post – it’s great to hear everyone’s take on it. I can completely relate to the whole sleep deprivation thing. There’s nothing worse than dealing with a full day on little sleep, and I suppose when you have a toddler you can’t just nap when the new baby naps!

  16. When to start trying for Baby No 2 has been discussed and booked in the diary at ours! Oh yes, baby making is all very regimented in our household. Actually, I have been thinking about a new addition for a little while – like you, if we can we would ideally like to have three although let’s see how it goes with two – but a couple of things have stopped us. One is my brother-in-law’s wedding. I didn’t want my due date to be at the same time and risk missing out on his big day. The other is we wanted, if possible, to time the birth so he or she will be one of the oldest in the year. I know we will be lucky to have another at whatever time of year, but I like the thought of little one number two having slightly longer at home before heading off to school. Let’s see – the best made plans…

    • AS the mum of a summer baby I can totally relate to wanting a baby at the other end of the year. I read an article about this the other day, actually. It appears lots of couples plan their baby-making attempts very much around where their future baby would be in the school year, so you’re not alone there. Sounds like you have it all worked out – I’m a bit jealous of your meticulous planning and organisational skills actually!

  17. I think you’re right, there is no ‘right’ age. I’m also not sure that being close in age makes you more likely to get on. The sibling I’m closest to is six years younger than me, so it will be interesting to see how my four, aged six, five, three and one, develop their friendships. Or not. Good luck!

    • Yes, it’s all about personalities. Granted, if they’re closer in age they may be more likely to be into the same things – but if they’re totally different types of children that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll get on. As another commenter said, you can’t plan for what personality your child will have and there’s never any guarantee they’ll get on all the time!

  18. I’ve really started noticing babies recently as well. Every day, the yearning gets a little bit stronger. It’s not something I’d like to act on yet, but I suspect that will change in the near future.

    I would definitely love Li’l D to have siblings. I didn’t intend to have any kids, but the moment I accepted I was having one, I knew I wanted to have more than one. Siblings were the best part of my childhood.

    One sister was just 15 months younger. We were inseparable after I gave up trying to get rid of her, the first few months. A brother came three years later and another sister two years after that.

    I wasn’t as close to my brother or my youngest sister as my just-younger sister, but I loved them dearly. And in adulthood, they remain the people who–understandably!–get me better than just about anyone else, all of us having been a part of the others’ surviving and thriving in hard times.

    • It sounds like you’re lucky enough to have a great relationship with your siblings. I’m exactly the same with my sister – and the NLM is with his brothers. It’s funny, because I expect part of my wanting to have more children is to do with hoping to replicate that type of relationship for Frog. Plus those babies are just too cute. Broodiness is a powerful thing!

  19. Age might not always matter, but sometimes it does. There’s six and four years between me and my brothers. They’re both older than me. They hang out, share jokes, invite each other for parties and share the same friends. I don’t. Even though my oldest brother and I look alike, have the same interests and share mannerisms, we never hang out except at family dinners. My other brother and I have tried to build a relationship, but we’re too different and I think both of us hold back a little because we’re afraid the other will judge (he’s conservative christian, I’m liberal and bi). I think it’s the age thing (having the two of them close together and then me long after), and the gender thing (they’re boys and I’m a girl).

    On the other hand, is it important that your children become good friends with each other? I’m fine even though I haven’t spoken to my brothers in a year.

    • Good point. I think it’s to do with wanting your children to be happy and, for me, a lot of my happy memories involve my sister. That said, I realise it’s not the same for everyone and it’s certainly not something I’d ever be able to control for Frog. As a parent, I would hope that Frog would get along well with any siblings she may have in the future, because it’s nice to think of your children liking each other and wanting to spend time together. But again, I think it’s more to do with inbuilt personalities rather than age gaps.

  20. I have an only child and never wanted anymore after she was born. I think people do think too much about age gaps if I’m honest; if the children are being brought up in a loving family, I don’t think a gap should be an issue.

    CJ xx

  21. My brother and I are 15 months apart, can you believe! It definitely wasn’t planned. Actually, neither of us were. My mum had me when she was 25 and though she really wanted a baby, it wasn’t really planned. I’ve gone and done the same! Hope that doesn’t mean I’m getting knocked up next month!

    We fought like mad, wished each other dead and drove my mum up a wall. But we also played together, defended each other and confided in each when our parents hit a bad patch in their marriage. We also shared interests and friends and still do.

    I’m not sure this has as much to do with our ages as it does with our personalities, to be honest. I think a lot of it is just chance when it comes to the age gap.

    For my part, I’m planning a small age gap (as far as one can “plan”!). We’re hoping to start trying for another some time next year. This isn’t so much about the age gap as it is with me wanting to string all the nappy, sleep deprived years together if possible.

    I’m sure you’ll make the right decision for you and your family. Or just wait and let things happen.

    • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there – that it’s more to do with personalities than age gaps. Sounds like you’ve got your family planning covered – wish I could take your zen-like approach to just let things happen. I may try it…

  22. There’s 12 eleven years between my two, the eldest a boy, it works brilliantly. He absolutely adores her, finds her hilariously funny, never gets helots and can’t do enough to help. I never thought it would work this way but it has and it’s great 🙂

    • What a lovely story – thank you for sharing. I can totally see the benefits of a bigger gap in terms of less sibling rivalry etc. Although I guess it will always be there in some form or another at some point!

  23. There is ten years between me and my younger sister- and although my Mum would have had her a lot earlier if she could have done (she had fertility problems), I wouldn’t change the age gap for the world. We are really close, maybe cause she is mature and I am immature but it just works well and I love her to bits.

    I am also as broody as hell so I can sympathise! x

    • Sounds like yet another argument for the personality vs age thing! Amazing how the broodiness suddenly kicks in isn’t it – I can’t look at newborns at the moment without getting that huge broody feeling!

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