The Pros And Cons Of A Wide Age Gap Between Siblings

by Annie Reneau
Shutterstock / Maria Symchych

Before my husband and I had kids, I’d always assumed we’d have our children a couple of years apart. We didn’t plan it out. I just figured that’s how it would work.

But it didn’t work that way. I loved being pregnant the first time, I loved our first baby beyond words, and I kept waiting for the desire to have another. I remember thinking when she was 6 months old that some women get pregnant again at that point, and the thought of it terrified me. I was nowhere near ready to have another baby.

At a year, I gave it serious thought for about two seconds and was 100% sure I wasn’t ready. At 18 months, still no desire. Two years, same thing. I didn’t want a baby and a toddler at the same time.

Our second baby wasn’t born until our first was 4 years old. And then our third child was born four years after that. A four-year age gap was not what I’d pictured, but here we are. And now, with kids who are 17, 13, and 8, I’ve seen firsthand some of the pros and cons of not having kids close together.

Pro: You only have one baby/toddler at a time.

For me, having one baby or toddler at a time was dreamy. Babies and toddlers are precious, but they are a lot of work. I was happy to be able to focus on fully enjoying those years with each kid separately.

Pro: The older kids can help.

Along with only having one baby or toddler, after the first one, you also have a willing (usually) helper. Even just having someone who can go grab baby wipes for you in the midst of a diaper blowout makes a big difference. My babies’ older siblings doted on them in those years, and having small-but-capable helping hands made the early years much easier than they could have been.

Pro: You only have one kid in college at a time.

Our oldest is in the prepping-for-college stage, and I have to admit, only having to think about one kid’s college tuition is pretty nice. She’ll be done by the time our second hits this stage, which is a little easier to juggle financially than if we had two at a time pursuing higher education.

Con: They’re always at totally different stages of development.

I’ve found that the middle years are particularly challenging when there is a wide age spread. They each have such different needs and are at such different stages that I constantly feel pulled in three vastly different parenting directions at once. Dealing with tween angst and toddler tantrums at the same time was super fun — let me tell you.

Con: It can be hard to find full-family activities.

When your family is spread between a 13-year-old and a 5-year-old, finding games that everyone can play and enjoy playing is tricky. Movies tend to be a challenge too. When one is ready for Hunger Games and one still finds Disney movies too scary sometimes, making everyone happy becomes practically impossible.

Con: You might worry about sibling bonds.

Because of their vastly different developmental stages and interests, I worry sometimes about my kids’ relationships with each other. Will they not be as bonded as they would be if they were closer in age? Will my youngest even feel like he really knows my oldest since he’ll still be quite young when she leaves the house? I’m sure there are ways we can mitigate that possibility, but it’s something to think about.

If you’re in the family-planning stages now and trying to decide how to space your kids, there are advantages and disadvantages to each age spread, and those pros and cons will change multiple times as your kids grow and go through different phases. So much depends on personality, too, so there’s really no guarantee that your pros and cons will be the same as mine.

Sometimes, I wonder if I could go back and do it differently knowing what I know now, would I choose to have our kids closer together? There have been times that I’ve wished I could, and other times that I’m so grateful for a wider age spread.

Looking back at our original thinking, I feel like we made the right choice for our family. Three kids under 6 might have done me in, physically and emotionally. And paying for more than one kid in college at a time might have done us in financially.

Every family is different, but for us, the pros of a wider age spread have outweighed the cons.