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Children with a Large Age Gap
I am the parent of two boys who are considerably far apart in age. Due to personal reasons, I waited a long time after the birth of my first child before becoming pregnant with my second. I thought I would write this hub to offer my experience to any other would-be mothers to children with a large age gap. What is it like, for instance, to have children so far apart in age? Do they get on? Do they fight? Is there any jealousy? Do they bond as well as siblings who are closer in age? In fact, do they even bond at all? I must admit that I did have a preconceived idea of what it would be like to have children far apart in age. I assumed that there would be little jealousy as my oldest child was becoming quite independent. I thought that fighting would be out of the question, and I thought that they would probably not really play together given the vast differences in maturity. However, nearly three years on and not all of my preconceptions have turned into reality.
Of course, all children are different and so all experiences are going to be different, to an extent. I can only offer my personal overview. But if you are pregnant with your second child after a lengthy gap, or if you are considering whether or not to change the dynamics of your family after such a long period, read on....
A Little Bit of History
First, let me give you a little bit of history. It's fair to say that, before we began trying for our second child, I had suddenly become incredibly obsessed with the idea of adding to the family. Somehow, I felt that having another child, a sibling for our son (who was seven when I conceived), would make our family complete. I did not want him to be the lone child in our family. For me, I wanted to balance out the child/adult ratio. Of course, many people have only one child, and those children are generally happy kids who get great, quality attention. But, for me, I felt a real need to add to the family.
Aside from the immediate changes having another child would make, I couldn't help but think of the future. You see, my own mother is an only child, and divorced as well. Suddenly she had been left caring for older members of our extended family - as well as her own mother, there were great aunts who never had their own children and were becoming old and frail. It really became apparent that she was very much alone in her generation. Personally, I have one sibling and I know, no matter where we live or what goes on, that she is always there at the other end of a phone. So I suppose I wanted my son to have somebody of his own generation as he grew up and away from the famiily home. I also thought that the age gap would close considerably as the children grew up - after all, seven or eight years is a lot when young, but virtually nothing in adulthood. I have friends of my own that are both ten years younger and ten years older than myself, and the years feel like nothing.
So, What is the Truth Regarding Large Age Gaps Between Siblings?
Well, the truth in our house is that, despite the age gap and my preconceptions, my two children really have started to develop a typical sibling relationship. They love each other, and sometimes they annoy each other as well. Now that my youngest has started to become a bit more independent, he has found the ability to really annoy his brother, but also to learn from him and play with him. Sometimes they sit on the sofa and watch TV together. Now and then the oldest reads the youngest one a story. They sit at the table and draw pictures (well, one picture plus one big scribble) alongside each other. My oldest plays the electric guitar, and whenever he gets it out to practice his little brother gets out his toy guitar and joins in with a practice of his own. Sometimes that leads to arguments, because my oldest can no longer concentrate or even hear his own guitar. But arguments and bickering are sometimes part of family life, and family life with children on board is rarely dull. There's lots of love, too - when his brother is invited to a friends house for a sleepover, or just to play, my little one is mortified. All he wants is 'my brother back.'
Yesterday they sat together on the bed and played Lego on a rainy afternoon. Even though the youngest is only two and a half, he likes to play with the 'big boy's Lego'. Not for him all the baby toys aimed at preschoolers. He has seen the real thing and that's what he wants. Anyway, they played really well until the little one started throwing the Lego all over the floor. But you can't expect miracles.
One noticeable difference is that having a younger brother has given my oldest the gateway to 'acting like a little kid' again. For my oldest son likes to be cool. He likes gadgets, popular music, computer games, and reading horror books and sport magazines. He is growing out of toys and most of them he has claimed he no longer wants. However, it is almost as though having a younger brother has given him permission to enjoy all the 'little children's things', again. Sometimes he does it secretly. Often I catch him watching the programmes for preschoolers, when his youngest brother has long since left the room. Another time, I caught both him and his school friend having a great time making things with Play Doh, something he would never dream of doing had it not been left out on the table by his brother.
Meal times are funnier, too. Funnier and a lot more lively. After all, boys like typical boy humor - something I find, as a woman, quite difficult to relate to. They laugh and crack each other up over all sorts of nonsensical things. The little one likes to pull faces and talk in a funny voice and entertain us all. The older one thinks it is hilarious - boys don't really grow up at all. It's a far cry from meal times when we only had one child. That was a far more sensible era. Two adults and one child doesn't result in the mad chaos that comes when children really spark off each other. More than one child seems to make for a certain element of craziness - and it doesn't really matter what age they are.
I definitely think that having such a big brother makes the younger one grow up faster. My toddler likes scooters that can perform tricks, football trading cards and Lady Gaga. He likes to stand on the dining room table and pretend he is a guitar player in a rock band. Today he learned to sing a Justin Bieber song, after his brother asked for a Justin Bieber style in the hairdressers. That is very much removed from the preferences of my older son, at the same age. He had never even heard of these things. Of course, some things are rather less desirable - he has, for instance, developed an interest in playing 'gun' games at a far younger age than his brother ever did. It is almost impossible to stop little ones picking up ideas from older siblings; likewise, it is virtually impossible to persuade the older one to change.
Protective and Proud (With the Occasional Spat)
I have observed, also, that my oldest son is very protective and proud of his little brother. So are his friends. My little one knows all his big brother's friends, and they all play with him in the playground after school. They look out for him if he hurts himself, and when he loses his ball they fetch it back for him. It's really nice to see, especially as boys are not always given enough credit for their caring side.
I love the fact that having a little brother has really brought out the caring side in my oldest son. Of course, I am not in any way indicating that he was not a caring person before - he was, but rather he did not have so many opportunities to express it. As an only child, he was perhaps a bit self-centered - but maybe that is to be expected of a child who has no siblings to worry about having to share with or consider. Once his baby brother came along, suddenly there was someone else who needed his parent's attention, and that has really been a good thing. I can recall really clearly the night he first visited his new brother in the hospital - he brought with him a new blue bunny that he had chosen himself. And when the little one was still a baby, our oldest hated to see him cry. Whenever his little brother started screaming, my oldest would shout out, 'He's crying, he needs feeding, feed him now!' He didn't like his brother's tears; he wanted him to be happy for every second of the day. Even now, a good couple of years later, he does sometimes get cross with his little brother, but that does not last long. They have even hit each other, and then hugged just moments later. Most of the time they really do get on great, and they have bonded in a way I was never really sure they would.
And perhaps sibling relationships are not always dependant on age-gaps at all. A woman I know who lives in my street has two daughters, both teenagers now. She tells me that they have never gotten along - not as small children and not now they are both almost adults. They are chalk and cheese, she told me. They don't even like each other - and they are only two years apart in age.
All I know, at the end of the day, is that my oldest son is delighted to have a little brother. Despite my preconceptions, my two sons really do love each other even though they are at very different stages in life. They have a sibling relationship which is becoming more and more 'typical' - there is happiness, laughter, occasional fights and mild spats. But I think that is normal - isn't it?