By Amy Carrier O’Brien
**Originally published in the Spring 2008 New Baby issue of The Journal of API
Aiden was seven and a half when Owen was born, and almost ten when Liam was born. He had already been with us through the many adventures that had created the foundation of our lives. We didn’t set out to have our first two kids seven years apart; it just worked out that way.
Spacing Children Around College
We were undergrads in college when Aiden was born, with both Jim and I having full class schedules and part-time jobs. Aiden was there with us through college, relocating to what is now our hometown, and navigating through our first “real” jobs. He even went to work with Jim during our first summer out of school.
When Aiden was four, and our feet were firmly planted in our jobs and new house, we considered having more children. Just when I had become attached to the idea of having another child to love, I got the opportunity to go back to school for a master’s degree. Other than us wanting another child, it was the perfect time to go, and my employer would pay for it.
I still remember the gut-wrenching pain of that decision. Waiting another few years for a baby seemed like such a loss after I had my heart set on it. We told Aiden that he would probably be in second grade when he got a brother or sister, which he accepted and looked forward to.
I got the MBA, but not before I got pregnant with a couple semesters of school left. I joked that I couldn’t seem to finish a degree program without getting pregnant. Owen was born nine days after my financial management final exam.
Raising Widely Spaced Children
Now Owen is 4 years old, and Aiden is 11. They couldn’t be more different. Aiden enjoys his peace and quiet and intellectual pursuits; Owen is not happy unless he increases the energy level in the room – positiveor negative. A born leader with an intuitive knack for expressions and social customs, Owen vacillates between charming and exasperating. He is also very physically strong and coordinated, a trait that presents challenges when it gets used to “solve” problems in things like sharing and taking turns.
Aiden has learned the art of patience since he gets to practice it very often with his brothers, especially Owen. He knows life would be easier, and quieter, without them around, and he remembers having all his parents’ attention. What we try to help him see is how his brothers enrich his life. It doesn’t seem that we have to try hard to do that – he comes around on his own, with joyful anecdotes about life with them. But there is a delicate balance for him. He loves them but needs his quiet time away from them. He loves them and respects their needs, but needs one-on-one time with Mom and Dad.
As Aiden matures, his role in the family is evolving. Sometimes he’s the third parent, conferring with us about his schedule preferences or discipline ideas: “Let’s not do groceries today; Owen’s too tired and grouchy.” Sometimes he’s the oldest sibling, leading the other two into mischief: “Let’s make a pile to jump in with all the pillows and blankets from every bed and couch in the house.” Eleven is a wonderful age, on the brink of a transition. His younger siblings ensure an environment that allows him to linger in his childhood as long as he needs to.
The effect on Owen of having a much older brother has become increasingly apparent as he gets older. He’s 4 going on 11, as far as interests and colorful use of the language goes. He does what he can to keep up with Aiden, and by shadowing him and learning about Aiden’s interests, they have found some common ground where they can relate.
Though their interaction is mostly positive, there is a part of me that wonders if my high-management, volatile-tempered Owen would be different (read: easier) if he were not exposed to “big kid” activities, themes, and attitudes that push him farther into uncharted emotional territory than his peers without older siblings.
I now know how different each child can be. The challenges I have gotten through with Aiden are not the same that I will go through with Owen and Liam. Each of them teaches me in their own way, on their own timeline. With Aiden being older, I had time to digest and reflect on his young childhood before I jumped into parenting his younger brothers. Now that he is 11, I have a tangible, wistful sense of how fast it all goes by. Life is lived in the journey, and I have learned to slow down and enjoy my three children in whatever part of the journey they will share.