Keeping Your Distance: Having Kids Years Apart

November 9, 2012  |  

Hilary Duff recently expressed the benefits of being a young mother at 25 years old saying,

“I think sometimes maybe if you start a little later you’re in a hurry to get all the kids you want, and I have a little time to spread that out.”

I got you, Lizzie McGuire, but not everyone has the luxury of making millions in their teens at Disney, marrying a football player, and having a “baby makes three” perfect package by 25. Shoot, at 25 I had just gotten my first professional PART-TIME gig and I was still living at home. But I can agree waiting until your late twenties or early thirties puts a certain pressure on your biological clock that may force a woman to plan her pregnancy more strategically than she may have if she felt that time wasn’t her ovaries’ worst enemy. On the other hand, sometimes waiting too long in between kids places your children in drastically different development stages and can hinder their bond.

My sister and I are seven years apart. My parents were pretty honest about the fact that when my sister was around the age of five they started to notice a self-centeredness and narcissism that they felt like adding another sibling to the mix would eliminate. They also were concerned that in the event that if anything happened to them, even if there was tension between extended family members, at least we would have each other. But admittedly for most of our lives until lately, we never had much in common. When I was into Barbies, sis was into boys. When my sister was getting her first job, I had barely gotten over my first crush. When I was picking out prom dresses, my sister was at the age when most women are picking out wedding gowns. It wasn’t until I reached my mid-twenties that we could feel comfortable having a glass of Cabernet together and discussing our misfortunes with men.

Understandably, it can be a hard adjustment for a child when they’ve been the sole recipient of their parent’s attention and affection and a sibling comes along to share the spotlight. You have to be conscious that spacing pregnancies too far apart may throw your child a curve ball that they are completely unprepared for. The one thing most children want more than anything is their parent’s attention, and the minutes that’s divided they may go to any lengths to get it back whether it’s negative or positive. You want to find a balance between giving your children enough time to feel special without falsely leading them to belief life revolves completely around them. Experts suggest that children younger than the age of 2 have the easiest time adjusting to a new sibling.

On the other hand, having children too closely together can pose serious medical risks for both mother and child. According to the Mayo Clinic pregnancy within 18 months of giving birth is associated with an increased risk low birth weight, preterm birth or uterine rupture in women who have previously had a C-section. Pregnancies that aren’t properly spaced apart can deplete the mother’s body of essential nutrients when it isn’t allowed to recover. And you also have to consider your stress and sanity. One newborn is enough to make some mothers feel like the walls are closing in and adding a toddler to the mix can be beyond exhausting. It’s not that spacing your pregnancies apart gives you a guaranteed live-in babysitter, but it’s comforting to know that while you’re changing diapers and breastfeeding, your other child can already feed himself or stay relatively occupied without you fearing for his safety every time you turn your back.

Maybe you’ve come to terms with the sleepless nights and never-ending laundry and have decided you want to do it all over again. Finances might be the determining factor in your decision to give your little one a sibling. Children under the age of 18 can cost as much as $10,000 a year meaning double the adjustments to your budget; if one child didn’t have you pinching pennies, two could definitely mean less luxury for not only yourself, but the family as a whole. With two babies in the house, you may also be considering two car seats and highchairs since there’s no time for “hand-me-downs” as well as double the diapers and daycare costs. Also in terms of career, you may want to think of how your employer will react to you taking maternity leave back to back or how it could affect your climb up the career ladder.

Parenthood is one of those things in life that can’t always be planned, and sometimes that’s the joy of it. Some women may need more time to settle into mommyhood than others and no matter if children are close or far in age, both situations have their unique benefits and challenges. It’s all about knowing your limits. I know personally that if I can help it, I never want to that mother with one in diapers grabbing for my bra while the other is making a Ragu mural on his shirt just for fun. The best thing for children no matter what birth order they fall in is to have a mom and dad with their emotional health and well-being intact.

How many years are ideal to space children apart?

Toya Sharee is a program associate for a Philadelphia non-profit that focuses on parenting education and building healthy relationships between parents, children and co-parents. She also has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog Bullets and Blessings .

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