Child spacings: pros and cons of a small gap

Ooh it’s a thorny question – to space or not to space, and if to space, how far apart? Amongst us Catholics who are properly so (not the smorgasbord types who pick and choose which bits they’ll accept – sorry, but it’s all or nothing – plenty of Protestant options out there :P) it’s often something of a taboo topic. You know, need a serious reason to not get pregnant and all that.

Some interpret serious as one or two things hardly anyone would fit into. Others think a trip around the world instead of having babies is acceptable. I’m not going to go into that issue too much, cos it’s such a tricky question and only the couple, in consultation with the Big Boss, can decide. At the moment we are avoiding getting pregnant for many different reasons, but it’s kind of a moot point since apparently my oestrogen levels have been levelled by all the breastfeeding and don’t seem ready to rise enough for me to ovulate any time in the next… till at least one of them weans, which doesn’t look like it’s going to be any time soon.

Anyhoo, after 20 months odd of having children 17 months apart I’ve thought a lot about spacings and the pros and cons of having children close together. It wasn’t something we planned, it just happened that way, and in many ways I’m glad it did, but in many ways it’s been HAAAARD. With different children it could have been easier, or even harder (doesn’t seem possible!), but from the children I have, here’s how I’ve found it to be.

Pro: Lord B didn’t have any issues adjusting to a new sibling, seemingly quickly forgetting there was ever only one child in the family. I also hadn’t had much time to forget what to do with a newborn.

Con: My body didn’t really have time to recover from the first pregnancy before it had another.

Pro: The boys are super close, play together, miss each other when separated.

Con: They fight over the same toys; Lord B doesn’t have a whole heap more emotional maturity than Sir A so doesn’t have the superior problem solving/coping skills of an older child when there are conflicts.

Pro: Lord B is skinny and average height, Sir A is “sturdy” and a bit taller than average – they can share a lot of clothes and Sir A has been able to follow on in the right season with shoes and clothes too small for Lord B.

Con: They’re both obsessed with the trucks jersey I bought for Sir A that he didn’t care about till a couple of weeks ago and we have to convince them to take turns. Though there’s the pro in that that they’re getting even better at sharing and taking turns, and respecting each others’ wants/perceived needs.

Pro: They can do the same activities, and while Lord B is more introverted and doesn’t like participating much, he takes courage from his more extroverted brother. For example, when I took him to the library playgroup by himself he just wanted mim the whole time and wouldn’t participate. When I took them together, Sir A was really into it and Lord B followed suit.

Con: Lord B has missed out on things because of the sleep needs of his younger brother. A big one was playcentre, which I fully intended to take him to, but by the time he was finally ready to drop his morning sleep Sir A was getting rather tricky with his day sleeps and it was too stressful for me to try and make it happen. And then we moved away from the one I’d been planning on going to. He also never got to go to Mainly Music till after Sir A was born and hated it. Might possibly not have hated it if he’d had exposure from a much earlier age. Also the general being stuck at home quite a bit while their sleeps dovetailed.

Pro: Lord B has probably breastfed a lot longer than he would have if he hadn’t had a brother to share it with. Tandem feeding has been wonderful for maintaining a connection with them both and, I think, for bonding between them. Plus once I got the hang of doing them both at once I could keep tabs of them both more! These days it’s often the younger toddler that’s causing trouble while his sibling feeds… The feeding toddler was also great for engorgement, and for when Sir A wasn’t putting on weight – I knew I had the milk cos I could feel several letdowns after he’d “had enough” and Lord B helped keep up my supply. I suspect it’s also the tandem feeding that’s kept my cycles away so long.

Con: Really awkward when they both really want to feed at the same time in public. At home and around certain friends doesn’t bother me, but until society gets over it I will keep avoiding simultaneous feeding in public if I can.

Pro: Sir A is becoming quite independent these days and I can enjoy Lord B’s growing self-sufficiency a lot more than if I had a tiny baby now, with all the stress and time-consumingness that brings. Once he doesn’t need me all that much anymore I’ll think I know what a good gap would be from that perspective – was thinking 3 till Lord B turned 3; not so much!

Con: Sir A has been rather a high-needs baby, which has been great in that I’ve had to be really responsive (not my natural way of doing things – I’m a task orientated, not people orientated, person) and we’ve learnt heaps of things we wish we’d known before Lord B was born. But I think Lord B has missed out on a lot of things and attention that would have benefited him a lot. I can’t help wondering if he would have been more independent earlier if I’d been able to give him more attention, though I suspect he just needs to take his time. He was actually quite happy doing his own thing a lot of the time before Sir A was born, and even when he was a baby, but became increasingly more needy as time when on – also possibly a result of not getting the attention he needed. Having two needy children has caused me a lot of stress and invited out the beast within, though I suppose at least that gave me the opportunity to start learning to manage those emotions. I say start cos I still go into major stress mode when they both need me at once and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Pro: If we hadn’t had a baby that needed me to sleep with him, Lord B wouldn’t have had Daddy start sleeping with him. For many this would be seen as a con, but it’s really strengthened the Daddy-Lord B bond (it was commented on when Lord B started Montessori that they must have a really strong bond since it’s unusual that dads get so anxious about their children being left alone) – Lord B almost always chooses Daddy over Mummy (except when he needs mim).

Con: Well, there isn’t really one in terms of benefits for the kids, but it would be nice if we could sleep in the same room without people losing sleep and/or getting stressed (I’d be the stressed one). Plus there are people who think it’s their business where we sleep and that our marriage must be in dire straits because we don’t sleep in the same room (cos of course sleeping with separate children because it’s beneficial for them and the best thing for our family right now is exactly the same as choosing to sleep in separate rooms because we don’t want to share our lives) and we have unwanted opinions offered on the topic. (Just for the record, our marriage is very healthy. In every way.)

Pro: Lord B sat early and crawled late, so I spent my first trimester pregnant with Sir A languishing on the couch most of the day (I don’t eat for the first 3 months – not good for energy levels) while he played happily on the floor, in one spot. No running after a toddler while feeling like sleeping for years.

Con: Lord B also walked late, so still required a lot of carrying when I had a newborn.

Pro: Sir A has closely observed Lord B’s journey from nappies to toilet and wants to be just like his brother – at 20 months he’s started potty training himself and pretty much needs no encouragement. At this rate he’ll be out of nappies before he’s 2. He’s also learnt lots of other things, like various phrases, attempting to dress himself, how to use certain toys, that Lord B didn’t have the opportunity to do cos there was no one learning just before him. Still unsure how much is natural being ready earlyness with Lord B being ready laterness and how much is just cos they’re close in age. Guess I’ll never know. But in many areas they have similar levels of ability, or much closer than Lord B now and Lord B at Sir A’s current age. If that makes sense.

Con: I think Lord B sometimes gets a little annoyed that his brother is in his spotlight. That’s about all I can think of for that one. Mostly he’s just proud of him and encouraging and it’s probably easier for him to be able to deal with his brother on a similar level. Except for when Sir A wants to play with the bridge on the train tracks and doesn’t yet have the fine motor skills to not knock it down all the time.

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