Sibling Spacing: Five-Plus Years Apart Means More Time with Each Child

By Amy Carrier O’Brien

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

Owen, Liam, and Aiden
Owen, Liam, and Aiden

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.

5 thoughts on “Sibling Spacing: Five-Plus Years Apart Means More Time with Each Child”

  1. I enjoyed this perspective. We have a 9 year old and a 3 and a half year old…also had our older as undergrads. We are now considering another and I receive a lot of negative feedback regarding the age spaces between children.
    I did not think I would want to spread my children out over such long gaps but I am finding I love it. It works for our family and I appreciate the wide range of social stages we embody.
    Thank you!

  2. I loved this, thanks for sharing it. I have a 7 year old sone who is my world and just had a baby girl 6 weeks ago…only last night my son flipped out and broke down crying to me at bedtime after not giving any sign of being jealous….I’m glad he let it out and didn’t hold it in and now am just looking around while he’s at school on the age gap. I, too, spaced them far apart due to career decisions. Thanks again – helps to know not alone in the age gap dept.

  3. Hi,
    I firmly believe that larger gaps are best. I have 3 sons, Joseph, who’s 24, Thomas, who’s 11 and Benjamin who’s just turned 1. I have thoroughly enjoyed each of my children, and feel that they have all had the attention they deserve and want, and the interaction between them is brilliant. There is slightly more sibling rivalry between the older 2…as they both still want to use the same computer games etc, but all in all we have a fantastically settled and happy family!

  4. As a sibling with a seven year gap between me and my sister I hated it. When she got to high school she was never around. When she went to college we never spoke unless it was a holiday. What once was my built in mentor became obsolete. I went middle and high school raised as an only child. My parents always expected me to not be like my spirited sister. My sister was grown up so I was supposed to be too. It was like I wasn’t allowed to be a child. I hate having a sister who is never in my life and parents who took my childhood away because I was born when they were older.

  5. I had my daughter while I was in college. I wasn’t looking to start a family, and I spent the first year of her life as a single mom. I met someone who had two kids if his own, (one a year older, the other 3 years older.) We are now married and we have a house. My daughter is 6, and she has spent the last 3 years begging for a sibling. My husband’s kids live with their mom and only come to our house every other weekend and some holidays. My daughter feels alone, and I admit that I want another child to make our house feel more alive and energetic. I’ve just been struggling with the age gap because my daughter would be 7 at the youngest before I could make it happen. I struggle whether it’s a good move for our family. But I would like to have a child the old-fashioned way for once: with a man who loves me, in a house where we can provide her/him with everything to make a happy childhood. I think my daughter would love being a big sister. I’m still on the fence, but this article has warmed me a bit. I want my daughter to have a sibling to lean on and count on in our older days.

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