Sibling Spacing: Two Years Apart and Getting Easier with Age

By Melissa Hincha-Ownby, API Resource Leader of Arizona, API’s Technology Coodinator, and API’s Forum Administrator

**Originally published in the Spring 2008 New Baby issue of The Journal of API

Melissa's son and daughter
Melissa’s son and daughter

One of the most common questions that parents ask themselves when they are considering expanding their family is, “What is the ideal spacing between children?” There is no right answer to this question, as what is ideal to one family may make no sense to another.

The answer for our family was two years. My sister and I are three and a half years apart, and while we are the best of friends now, the age difference left us both alone in high school. Based on my personal experience with my sister, I knew that I didn’t want my children quite so far apart.

Although two years was on the maximum end of what my husband and I were hoping for, fate stepped in and had other ideas. Ultimately, my daughter was born when my son was two years and three months old. In hindsight, the 27-month difference has turned out to be great. However, in the early years, at times, things were definitely tough.

Reality Sets In

My journey into the mother-of-two realm was rocky; ten weeks on bedrest was the beginning. I used that time to really reconnect with my son. I only had a few days between my bedrest restriction being lifted and the birth of my daughter. It was official: I was now the mom of two children, both of which just happened to be in diapers.

The Hardest Part

I quickly learned that the hardest part during those early days was just adjusting. My son had a nice flow to his day; it was fairly predictable. Infants are anything but predictable. Thankfully, my husband had saved up his vacation and was able to stay home with me for three weeks. This was helpful, as it allowed me to ease into a new routine of caring for two children.

A question I’m often asked by mothers pregnant with their second child is how I handled the sleepless nights, especially in the beginning. I can honestly say that for me, the sleepless nights were easier the second time around. I knew what to expect, so I had no unrealistic ideas about the amount of sleep I’d be getting. I’d be exhausted, but this time, I was prepared to take it easy and get plenty of rest.

AP with a Newborn and a Toddler

The center of operations for our house was based around my bed. As is the case with many families who practice Attachment Parenting, I co-slept with my daughter. My son, by this point, had declared his independence and moved on to his own territory.

In my room, I had a diapering station setup and special toys for my son. The entire family spent those first few weeks getting to know each other. Seeing my son go from being wary of this new squirmy little thing taking up his mom’s time to realizing she was here to stay so he might as well get to know her was quite cute, and will remain a memorable part of those early days. After he accepted her (which took a few days), you could see him absolutely fall in love with her. It was heartwarming to watch this transformation take place.

In the blink of an eye, the three weeks were up, my husband was back to work, and the honeymoon stage was over. Now I was on full-time day duty for two little beings that relied on me for everything. I was nervous but took it a day at a time. Diapering proved to take up a good portion of my day so I set up an efficient system of diapering. It was an assembly line of diapers, wipes, and rash cream.

Once diapering was mastered, it was time to figure out how to multitask. One of the biggest challenges I faced as a mom of two young children was meeting both of their needs—at the same time. My success in overcoming this challenge can be attributed to my vast collection of slings and wraps. My daughter’s needs were met if she was close to Momma and able to nurse when she wanted. The sling accomplished both of these needs while leaving two hands free for my son.

Keeping my son’s day as close to normal was one of my goals. He was (and still is) a creature of routine and doesn’t do well with change. I knew this would be a challenge for both of us. Adaptation was required on both of our parts, but I introduced change gently and slowly for him, keeping his needs in mind. One thing that helped tremendously was having a container of “special toys” that he was able to play with during those times when I needed to take a break or when my daughter wasn’t nursing well in the sling. He was more inclined to relax with us and play with these toys because they were reserved for our “quiet time.”

By the time my daughter was born, my son had completely given up naps. Setting aside a portion of our day for quiet time ensured that I would be rested and that my son and I could spend some cuddle time together. I honestly do not think that those first few months would have gone so smoothly had I not discovered the wonders of quiet time. To this day, our entire family still practices this quiet time tradition.

Sibling Cooperation

After the three of us adjusted to this new routine of Daddy gone during the day, my son started the true bonding process with his little sister. He would sit next to her as she lay on the floor figuring out how her little arms and legs moved and cheer her on. I still remember the day she swatted at a toy that was hanging above her: She hit the toy, making it move, and Alexander jumped up, yelled “Yay!” and gave her a rousing round of applause. Little moments like those are what made those early days easier.

Taking Time for Family Fun

When my daughter was five weeks old, I felt that I had everything together and so decided to go on our family’s first vacation to Disneyland. The trip had been planned for months, and I just never thought I’d be able to go. Two days before the rest of my family was to leave, my husband and I decided to go for it. It was an exhausting four days but also four days of fantastic memories.

The Perfect Spacing?

Fast forward several years. My son is now six and my daughter is four. These past four years have had many ups and downs and special challenges. In that time, both of my children have been diagnosed as having an autism spectrum disorder. Those early days and months were faced with both challenging times, and times that would instantly warm my heart. Seeing the two of them play together, give each other random hugs and kisses, and look out for each other assures me that for us, the age difference is perfect.

8 thoughts on “Sibling Spacing: Two Years Apart and Getting Easier with Age”

  1. I am looking for any hints – My son is 2 and a half and my daughter is 10 months old. All has been going well until she started to get mobile. My son has been so sweet and helpful but now is becoming very possesive over anything – his stuff, my stuff, the cupboards – literally anything. If my daughter starts to play with anything he roughly snatches it away or knocks her over. It is very hard to handle – I end up shouting at him which I know is wrong but with sleep deprivation and desperation eating me I need some advice.

    I read the Continuum Concept when my son was one – he was immediately moved into our bed – since has moved back into his own bed but if he comes into our bed its ok, we leave him in it. my daughter is still in our bed and has been since day one. I am breastfeeding my daughter. my son was breastfed til 16.5 months (although i stopped feeding at night around 9 months old – I was exhausted with getting up to feed him – stupidly I did not know about co-sleeping at that stage). I was 4 months pregnant at the time so he just quit. He showed no interest initially when my daughter was born, but about a month later told me he also needed milk out my boob. I gave him a try thinking he would be put off, but he is very keen – so we now have an arrangement that he can have milk in the morning when he wakes up. not sure if there is anything else that may help.

    thanks
    Siobhan

  2. Thank you for this. I’ve been worrying that 2 and a half years apart would be too difficult for my son and myself. I feel much better after reading this. We co-sleep as well, and I figure the new baby will be spending a lot of time in the sling. I want to tandem nurse and I think that will help a lot as well.

  3. My sons are 2 years and 4 days apart. The older boy sleeps well on his own (most of the time) and is welcome in our bed as long as he’s quiet and calm. At 3, he is still nursing, but we nightweaned at 18 months because I was pregnant. He is very attached to nursing so I’m grateful to still have it as a tool to feed and comfort him. Our little one is 15 months and sleeps with us. It is challenging to think where he will go. Will he be safe with his brother in the same bed, same room? Are we ready to let him go? Tandem nursing has been very challenging at times but it will all be worth it when they are ready to let it go. I want them to experience something I never did. Moving forward when they are ready because the need is fulfilled. I still have a lot to learn about how to treat them equally while being attentive to their individual development path. It’s hard to not expect too much for the older one because he’s older. Safety has been a concern with rough and tumble play between them. The little one has been to the ER twice and got stitches on his head once. I’m hoping this isn’t a continuing trend! But they love each other very much and I’m so glad they have each other and will, for their whole lives!

  4. This is a great article and is describing my life as we speak. My boys ages are 27 months and 2 months. It was a rough road the first month, its getting easier. I co sleep with the baby and the toddler sleeps in his own bed. My toddler also has quit taking naps when the baby was born. The toddler sometimes wants to play but the baby doesn’t play back so he loses interest. I hope he isn’t too bad when the baby starts crawling. The only thing that bothers me is I wonder by spending so much time with the older one if it will affect the younger one.

  5. My oldest is almost four, then we have a almost two and a half year old, then a seven month old, and our next child is due in less than two months. Some were born biologically. Some were adopted. Not how we thought our family would be built, but one day at a time and things are working so just fine… so far.

  6. I’m crying as I read this article, it is exactly what I needed today! When my second daughter was born, my older daughter was just under 24 months. My husband was home for only 10 days then back to work, on his rig, for 2 weeks. He generally works 20 on (away from home that whole time) and 10 days off. However due to much time off in december, when our daughter was born and again at Christmas, his most recent hitch is 30 days. He’s due to be home in 3 days and I’m barely hanging on. Definitely the hardest part of my day, after so many days on my own, is juggling my girls’ needs. The baby, now 8 wks, needs me and I often think of my 2 year old as being a “big girl” and that she just “wants” mommy. Today I had to stop and remind myself that her needs are just as real as my NB. She needs her one on one time with mommy, and doesn’t understand that I can’t stop nursing the little one to get her juice THAT SECOND! I’m know with age that will get easier, as she understands more.

    Watching my girls together is a huge payoff! Just the other day, my 2 year old got up from her nap and ran over to her sister and asked i take their picture. However there are still days like today where I have a hard time juggling and feel one or both is being neglected. It’s good to remind myself to slow it down and spend quality time with both my girls, individuality or together.

    Thank you for this article!

  7. Reading your lines, really reminds me what it was like in the beginning with my son (now 6) and my daughter (3.5 yrs). Mine have an age difference of 2 years 6 months. It was really tough in the beginning as my daughter had colic and my son wasn’t interested in her at all, but finally they start to play nicely together and have loads of fun in the shower together etc. Thank you so much for sharing your story!!

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