How Far Apart should I space my Children?

This is one of these “whatever you think” questions. If you survey a bunch of moms, you will find that each one has pros and cons to the spacing that they chose. So maybe the answer lies in which set of pros/cons most appeals to you.

One or Two years Apart

All my children are less than eighteen months apart, and this has some distinct advantages. Firstly, they are all best friends. They go through the same stages, pretty much right after the others, and sometimes overlapping. The rules are the same for everyone, they play with the same toys (mostly), and they learn from one another–both academics and morally. I pretty much have just one code in the house at all times and this works well for everybody. The first was a late bloomer, the next child was average, and the younger two are precocious (from learning from their older siblings). All the siblings needed to learn how to share and not steal as babies, so they work well together with just occasional squabbles over stuff. And they can share a room, watch the same videos, and keep each other happy in the car or anywhere else. It is not a utopia or anything, but having your children close together is a very special thing for them. When they come close together, there is less chance of resentment… our children were only toddlers when the next new person came along, so they accepted each new person happily as if they were always there.  They are also very cute on the parental end. Babies closer to a year apart feel like twins =)  You can really get into the swing of things and just laugh or admire them all day. You have a sense of preciousness about your home. Plus, with your children spaced close together, you can have more children easily if you are interested as well as get over certain stages (i.e. like diapers and carseats) sooner.

On the disadvantages, there is much more work involved. Safety and decorum-wise, you have your work cut out for you. It is much harder to keep cool, not stress over development, and find peace. You are usually battling these things from a day-to-day standpoint. You always encounter the same problems, in one child after the other, and you can say the same thing all day long to everybody… things like “share with your brother” or “don’t put that in your mouth,” or “let’s use the toilet now” can go on for four or five years straight. So you have to be ok with a large amount of monotony, or innocent to it. Also the intensity involved in making sure everyone has the attention, love, health, discipline, and opportunities they need goes way up… one toddler finger-painting is enough for most people, but would you like to have two or three? You’re more likely to put a lock on the art cabinet and say No Way. The same for going to the grocery store. With just one two-year old, you brave it with some problems. With a four year old and a baby as well, you’re likely to hire a babysitter and go out to the store for your own “date night.” And there is definitely more competition potential, or more of a comparison mentality, when the children are in the same peer-age group.

Just a quick note: my babies who were spaced closer to a year apart seemed to have less trouble adjusting than my friend’s babies who were spaced closer to two years apart.  Two-year olds must have a notoriously difficult time when the baby sibling arrives, but my fifteen month olds barely noticed!

So having more children is more work up front, and more irritation, more vigilance, more stress. But in the long run, most parents of siblings that are close together say it was worth every sacrifice… I have heard this even from the siblings, on the grown-up end. If you want more than two children, it is definitely something to consider for their benefit.

Three or Four years Apart

From an educational or psychological perspective, having your children three to four years apart comes highly recommended. So if you are a development guru, this spacing is for you. The siblings are old enough to not regress much, and the older ends up teaching the younger a lot. Or entertaining them. A three-year old can “help” with the baby, and very soon learns to protect and cherish them. You can pay more individual attention to each child because the older is more independent, wanting more skilled play, and the baby has a different set of needs which ministers to the tender aspect of mommy’s heart. For you, this can be more fun. Activities are more diverse… while one is still in diapers, the other is just starting school. And most parents with children three or four years apart felt more ready by the time the second or subsequent child came along, both physically and emotionally. The baby stuff was brought out of storage with joy, and Dad could easily entertain the four-year old while Mommy was in the hospital with the newborn. The siblings do not compete as much, and the older-younger dynamic really takes hold, for the better.

On the other hand, there is definitely a chance for sibling rivalry when the next sibling comes along. The “baby” of the family will almost always be displaced, and it will be harder to emotionally reassure them than if they were younger. Also, the siblings do not share as many life events as they would if they were closer together. The older-younger dynamic is bonding, but maybe not as bonding as the peer dynamic you get when the children are spaced more closely. They will be apart cognitively, so rules will need to be different, expectations, responsibilities, and that sort of thing… probably the main trigger of resentment. And they will be separate in their educational experience: when one goes off to school, the other is left behind (both in the preschool and college years), and there is less overlap of when the children go to the same school (as in, one in middle, one in high school). This is important because school is so large a part of children’s live, and the kids will almost definitely have different friends, activities, worries, and issues. It is the sharing of these types of things, however, that creates the lasting (interdependent) bond in your adult child’s mind. When your children who are more spaced apart grow up, they will love one another deeply but in a more independent way. Distance between two siblings three or four years apart is manageable, but it may be hard for oldest and youngest to bond if a third is introduced, also that width apart.

Five or Six Years

Spacing your children five or six years apart is a little rarer than a spacing of three or four years, but it is more common now that mothers feel significantly more freedom concerning how to fit their work and childbearing years together; this generation has more options than ever before. I think this is a really good thing because what is right for one family may not be right for another, and having your children five or six years apart can be really fulfilling. Sometimes this happens when Mom is having trouble getting pregnant again. Other times it happens when there is a miscarriage. Other times it happens when Mom or Dad are not sure they want another child and need some time to figure it out. When your first child hits the ripe age of five or six year and they are over their “little child” stage, a sense of relief or accomplishment may trigger the “ok, maybe we can have another one after all” response.

Because your first child is in school by then and probably over the hump of needing ridiculous amounts of attention and worry, having another baby at this time can be really nice. You have another new one to love and lots of time (at least during school hours) to love them. You can breastfeed and wander around in your pajamas more, but the children are not so far apart that the older cannot appreciate the younger. You will definitely have an older-younger dynamic going on, but sometimes this is a real source of pride for the older child because they are old enough to understand what having a sibling really means, and can help more significantly than a three or four year old.

That said, your older child may feel they have a longer time to wait before they really get to relate to your younger. Five and six years is a small lifetime to children, and it may be hard for them to understand why their baby sibling is eating their legos, gnawing their school papers, and generally taking up all your time. I’m not sure they’ll be resentful as much as neglected. The tendency to feel like your five and six year old can handle themselves is more tempting than if they were in preschool, so you have to make extra special time to join them in their little worlds; they are still sensitive and just starting to enter the world of youths. On your part, you will feel like you are trying to meet the needs of two very distinct individuals, separate from one another, and this isn’t bad—just different.

Seven or more years apart

I put this category distinct from five and six years apart because once you get beyond about six years spacing, the older sibling becomes more like a parent to the younger. Granted, a seven year old is not very “old” when your baby arrives. But by the time your baby is two and three, you will have an almost baby-sitter on your hands as well. Siblings that are spaced this far apart rarely bond the same way that sibling spaced less apart do. And this can be very good or very bad; sometimes the sibling pair really hits it off and the older has a soft spot for their baby. But you have to help create this dynamic through modeling and opportunity. Otherwise, the temptation is to get two very independent people who just happen to live together, or an older sibling that resents having to take care of themself and the younger baby. So you have to watch out for this.

That said, I know two mothers who have had children almost a decade apart, and three of them—one in the twenties, one in the thirties, and one in the forties. These mothers may have had their first too early when they weren’t really ready and then went back to career. They enjoyed working and had the second when they were really ready, in the early thirties when other people were having their babies. Then when they were thirty-nine or forty they had an “accident” pregnancy or just decided they wanted to have another baby in life. And they really liked this. I think they liked it more than the siblings did. For whatever reason, it was really fulfilling for them to bring up children eight to ten years apart, and they felt like a completely different person each time they had a baby. I don’t know about how the siblings will feel about this when they’re older… I suspect they will find it harder to relate. But maybe not if they live close together and can start a good relationship when they’re older.

**

A lot of this information can be seen by observing not just families with a couple children spaced apart but families with multiple children where the older and younger are spaced farther apart with middle siblings in between: a lot of the dynamics concerning years apart still hold, even though there are mediate siblings. However, in the case of having many children, you often get a “pairing” phenomenon where certain sibling pairs really hit it off. A teenager may have a special affinity for their two or three year old sibling. Or two middle children who were born closest together may act like twins. Or any other kind of combination! This can be very cute, but you also need to work hard at preventing “cliques” which would overly exclude others; children can benefit from all kinds of sibling relationships, even those that are less natural, if you as the parent work at it a bit.

34 thoughts on “How Far Apart should I space my Children?

  1. After my son was born I underwent treatment for cancer which has meant I can have not further children. What are your thought’s on raising an only child? I have been concerned recently (he is now 4) that he is missing out on having a sibling and am very aware of the old cliche of the only child being the spoiled child.

  2. The only child does not HAVE to be the spoiled child. You just have to work at it more, knowing that is the temptation. Well, maybe not even the “spoiled” part as much as the unsocialized part… children often need more than parental (adult) exposure in order to thrive. Lots of people have raised successful only-children, however, so praise God for your survival and enjoy every moment you have won with your lovely family.

  3. My husband’s an only child and he’s less spoiled than me🙂 – of course he did spend a good deal of time with his cousins growing up.

  4. I have got 7 children that play together sometimes

    boy 10, boy 8, boy 7, girl 6, boy, 4, boy 3, boy 2 .
    I don’t like having 6 boys and only 1 girl because the girl feels left out.

  5. I have not had children yet, but when I do I would like to have three and space them out four or five years.Starting at 25,then 30, and lastly 35.I think it is only fair to the child that they get their full baby time and the parents full attention until they at least start preschool. I was an only child, and I am certainly not spoiled or unsocialized.Please, with school and extra curricular activities that started when I was three, how could I be unsocialized? I want more than one child myself, but if one is all I could have I would be happy. Don’t worry about the sweetheart.Soon all of his friends will be hanging out at your home and you’ll feel like you have six sons instead of one🙂 Plus, financially, it will be so much easier and you’ll be able to do so much more for him🙂 Hmmmmmm…..maybe I will just have One…Lol…

  6. Thanks for your thought! Very interesting.
    One thing I am wondering about personally for me is physically how often can I bear to be pregnant? I joke with friends and family that if someone could drop off our new baby at our doorstep I would be more than ready for more babies. But having to be pregnant again and again ugh! Even after 24 hours of all natural labor I felt ten times better than the day before just being pregnant. Even with all the sleepless newborn nights I felt more rested than when I was pregnant. I am still feeling a few of the affects ten months later. People say then why dont you adopt but of course it is a complicated choice we aren’t at this point ready to make.

  7. My husband has an eleven year old and a ten year old (boy & Girl, respectively). We have a 22 month old daughter, do you think that having another child would be better for my daughter or will her much older siblings provide enough sibling interaction?

  8. i have a ten month old daughter who so far is an only child. my brother and i are 18 months apart during our childhood we fought and argued all the time we basically hated each other a lot. now that were grown we live in different states and dont communicate much. i can honestly say that although having children close together seems like a great idea it really isnt us kids dont like having to share toys all the time or taking baths together all the time or doing stuff together all the time my brother and i spent so much time trying to avoid each other that it became rediculious i tihnk that 2 to 4 years apart is a better idea that way the children dont have to feel like they have to suffericate each other when they want to play sometimes children just want to play alone or be alone if they want a playmate they will ask for i know it seems snotty but its true

  9. my brother and i are 15 months apart and for a good portion of our childhood. we were inseparabable. there was a short time in our early teens when we hated each other (around the time our parents divorced), but now that we’re in our twenties we’re closer than ever. i don’t honestly know what i’d do without him. he is definitely one of my best friends. neither one of us had trouble sharing toys, we’d take turns choosing games, i would play ninja turtles and gi joes with him, he’d play barbies with me. it was great having a built in playmate!

  10. I’m the middle child. My sister is 3 years older & my brother is 20 months younger. My brother & I have always been much closer than my sister & I. My sister & brother have never been very close, being 4 & 1/2 years apart. I have a daughter who is 11 months old. We plan on having 1 more, I want my children to be close. Should we start trying for another now?

  11. I think you should try now. My husband and I just had our first baby, a girl four months ago. We want our children to be close also. I think we are going to try for another very soon. That way they will be about 15 months apart. My brother and I were 2 years apart and there was just a big enough age difference to where we just fought and argued constantly. I think that having children closer together to where they will be the same age seems like the road for us. But, everyone has their own ways. Good luck.🙂

  12. I think that the only thing that leads to children arguing or getting along really has nothing to do with their age difference. It all depends on personality. You can have kids close together and they get along perfectly, or you can have them far apart and they still get along and bond well. I am 6 years older than my younger sister. Ever since my parents brought her home from the hospital we have been very close. We played all the time and we still hang out and chat and have a good time. However, I do believe that having kids more than 7 or 8 years apart does cause an issue with bonding. My youngest sister is 9 years younger than I and we never bonded. I see myself more as her parent than her sister, and I think she feels the same. I’m here when she needs me as a guide, but we’d never hang out or get together like friends. And, her and my other sister, even though they are closer in age, can’t get along if they tried. So, as I said before, it’s more about personality than age spacing.

  13. HELLO MY NAME IS GRISCLDA FLORES AND I HAVE A 13 MONTH OLD BABY AND WE WERE PLANNING TO HAVE ANOHER BABY IN 6 MORE MONTHS WHICH MEANS THEY WILL BE 2 YEARS APART AND I WANTED TO WAIT UNTIL YASMINE (THATS HER NAME) WAS 4 OR 5 YEARS OLD THOUGH MY HUSBANDS HAS 3 SISTERS ARE 1 YEAR APART THE OLDEST ONE IS DALIA 25,CINDY 24,MY HUSBAND 23, YESENIA 22 AND THEY GET ALONG VERY GOOD. AND MY BROTHERS AND I ARE EACH 5 AND 6 YEARS APART AND I DONT BOND WITH THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE IN TO DIFFERENT THINGS THAN I AM BECAUSE NOT ONLY IM MARRIED BUT BECAUSE THEY ARE BUSY WITH GIRL FRIENDS AND STUFF LIKE THAT. AND IM THE ONLY GIRL, PABLO 25 ME 19 DANNY 14. WHAT SHOULD I DO HAVE THEM CLOSE TOGETHER OR FAR APART? AND IM ONLY 19 YEARS OLD. MONEY IS NOT A PROBLEM ITS JUST THE STRESS AND ALL I HAVE TO GO THROUGH HELP ME PLEASE

  14. i have a son who is 11 years old. he is a loving child. he cares for everybody. i love this thing about my son. the only thing i do not like about him is that he does not pay attention towards his studies. he will never complete his class work, never tell me if he got any remarks from school and many many more things. i always approach towards hand my support and ask him to complete his class work and keep his note books complete and submit the books for correction in time. but he always fails to do so. i talked to his teachers about this behaviour of his they say that he is very overconfident which indeed is not a good sign. previously i used to hit him, beat him up and keep on nagging because he was the same from the begining. but now i don’t wish to him cause he is growing. can i u help me get rid of his overconfidence? Please can u advise me what to do?

  15. Grisclda,
    I really don’t think there is any perfect age gap, but here is my experience. I always wanted my kids close together, but the way things turned out, my son was almost five before I had my daughter. It turned out great. He was a lot more independent at that age, so I wasn’t so overwhelmed. My son is very protective of his little sister, too. It’s really cute. He is now 8 and she is 3. They don’t always get along, but they play together and I think they will be close when they get older.

  16. Its more with personalities and the way the parents are, and not the age gap.My sister in law has 3 children, her first 2 are only 10 months apart, and then 13 months apart, and they always fight, hit each other, bite. but thats because of the parents, not that the kids just dont like each other. The parents dont give attention to any of them, and are hardly loving and caring, and the children have no one who taught them to be gentle and caring and loving. There is the same problem with my older sister, she has 2 girls, 5 1/2 years apart, and they are always fighting, the older hates the younger- who is now 2, because she takes her toys, gets more attention, and is more demanding, and the younger hates the older. Its very sad. I have 3 children, the first 2 are 27 months apart, and then 24 months apart. I’ve been doing a lot of research, and studying other families, and I try to be attentive to the needs of every child, and I show care and love and gentle tenderness toward the babies, and it teaches the older child to also care, and love. I always tell them I love all of them, and give each attention on appropriate levels. My oldest is 6, I give her projects and activities, and I would take her shopping just her and me, we would have ice cream, and generally bond, and I have a 3 1/2 son, I also give him projects along my daughter, they enjoy doing art together , and reading together. My youngest is 18 months old, and of course being the baby of the family, she gets more attention, but my oldest loves playing with her, and being her big sister, and I’m positive that as she gets older they will be the best of friends, all three of them. It all depends on the discipline, and guidance, and the love and care of the parents to their children.

  17. I am very sad to sad my daughter is not want to understand any thing .when her teacher teach that time she say to teacher i understand every thing but when teacher give her homework that time she can,t do homework properly she telling lie to everone what can i do do i cant understand.

  18. I am very sad to say my daughter is not want to understand any thing .when her teacher teach that time she say to teacher i understand every thing but when teacher give her homework that time she can,t do homework properly she telling lie to everone what can i do do i cant understand.

  19. I have an 18 month old daughter and i’m wanting another one but don’t know if I could handle it. lol I just want them to be happy together. Everyone says have them close together or I will regret it, or you need at least 2 or she will be a total brat,(or lonley).should I wait til she is in school or have one now? The fact that having 2 babies in diapers scarres me.

  20. I am trying to get pregnant with our second child. Our Daughter is going to be six this July. I have been worried that its too big of an age difference and my Mother has told me to not even try because of the age difference. We really want to have another and I havent been on birth control in about 2 years and havent gotten pregnant yet. We really were trying but if it happend then that would be great but now that our daughter is almost 6 I’m feeling a big rush to hurry and have another one. I’m a bit worried its too far apart but our daughter wants a sister or brother really bad too and I want one more at least.

  21. We had always planned on more than one child. I always loved the idea of 3 yrs apart. But then when our son turned 20 months he was diagnosed with autism. In an instant, our life as we knew it was turned upside down. We are now trying our best to get him better, on the road to recovery, which we know is possible. Our dreams of having more than one child now are fading away with everything needed to ensure our dear son will have the best possible future. From Dan! doctor visits, therapy sessions – OT, Speech, floortime therapy, now ABA therapy, then we have hyperbaric therapy, sensory integration therapy, oh, and of course the special diet requiring everything be made from scratch.
    I would still love to have another, but our sons medical expenses and time spent on his therapy leave us wondering how we will ever be able to.

  22. I have 2 boys – 1 turned 8 in December the other turned 6 in January. They had their periods of either loving each other to pieces, playing sweetly together for hours, the older teaching his younger to read, write, etc – or screaming, fighting & not wanting to share, it really just depends on the day! LoL
    Then, I separated from their father & married my wonderful husband🙂 we had a daughter, who turned 1 this February & my 2 boys love her to death! They see her as their sister, not just their 1/2 sister, and I think she has made them feel closer to each other as well. They both give her all of their attention, both boys play with her together, nicely, all day long, try to teach her things together, take turns helping mommy get a diaper or feed their sister. It’s the sweetest thing you’ll ever see!🙂 my husband & I do plan to have another baby – he’s hoping for his own son, although he sees my boys as his own, he wants one that is his blood, which I totally understand. Although I’m secretly hoping for another little princess😉 he thinks we should wait till our daughter is 3 to have another, but I think we should get on it soon, so they are just about 2 years apart, & so I’m done having babies by the time I’m 31 or 32. I feel like when they are older/in school, the 2 older boys will drift away from their little sister (when they get their own friends, etc) but I could be wrong! Who knows?
    Growing up, I was the oldest of 3 girls, each of us 2.5 years apart, &i ended up bonding more closely with our baby sister (5 yrs younger than me) while our middle sister felt left out a lot. But as adults, we are all the closest of friends! I guess it just depends on the kids themselves, each one is different & each parent is different. But ultimately, in the long run, I personally feel that about 2 yrs apart is perfect spacing!🙂

  23. I have 4 brothers and sisters all younger than me and i am closer to the younger 2 than i am to the 2 closest to my age. My sister and i are 18 months apart and we always fought and still are not very close. I was the older child and it annoyed me that my sister got to do everything i did when i never got to be treated like the older child and she was always competing with me on everything. Now we both have one child 4 months apart and i feel like she still competes with me through our children. I dont want my children that close together because i dont want them competing with each other so i want my children 3 or 4 years apart so that i will be able to give them both their own special time and hopefully they will be able to be closer than my siblings and i were.

  24. My brother and I are 10 years apart and it sucks. I feel like a baby sitter instead of a sister. It really is a shame. We will never be close and be able to relate, so to all you parents who have kids around 8-10 be careful of how you treat the oldest, don’t take advantage of the fact that they are almost mature enough to care for a infant or toddler.

  25. I went through fertility treatments that unfortunately did not work and after 7 years of trying found out I was pregnant naturally. When my daughter turned 3 we decided to try again and here I find myself pregnant (again naturally) but she is turning seven before the baby is due. I have mixed feelings about this. I am glad to be pregnant again but scared about the age difference (and my age). I have a cousin who’s 2 kids are 9 years apart anda girlfriend’s who’s kids are 7 years apart and they are as close as can be. Yet I have a friend who has an 18 year old and a 17 year old that do not get along at all and never have.

  26. Mellisa, I don’t think think that the age gap of 7 years matters really. I have a sister who is 61/2 years elder to me and a brother who is 31/2 years younger to me. I could never gel well with my brother, but always had a very good relation with my sister. The difference was that our frequecies matched. Also, my sister was of the type, who would have some or the other thing ready to play with – creative. She also never felt jeoulous for the fact that I was more intelligent and good at studies compared to her. Wherease my brother was always a fighter cock, trying to grab and snatch things from me. We couldn’t really come to healthy attachment till the adulthood. Now, I myself have a daughter,who is 6 and am planning of a second one. Only thing that you need to ensure is that you shouldn’t make the elder one as a care taker against its wish. Elder one should have its only independence even with a younger sibling.

  27. i have a 6 month old baby and i would love to have another child soon dont know what to do if its a good choice or not

  28. I am the oldest child, and I have two brothers. One is two years younger than me, the other is five years younger. I was always closer with the brother that was five years younger growing up. We didn’t fight as much and got along better that my brother that is closer in age. Now that we are grown up we all get along just fine. But I always had a special bond with my youngest brother. I want my children to be at least 3 years apart when I have kids.

  29. i love ur article i have a son who is 4months old and i dont want to get pregnant till after 2years please how do i achieve it

  30. I have a 5 years and 7 years. When they were at home with me as babies, toddlers and infants they were great and we all had such and enjoyable time. When my daughter started school she was great for the first term, then after that she has become a really stupid child and so irritating and annoying now my son has started school after the first term he is now acting the same. I get cross with them before and after school, whereas when they were at home with me and rarely got cross with them. When they are off school they are back to normal again after a few days. So I don’t know what to do they both act as if they are two when they are at home morning and night, and driving me nuts I don’t feel as it is ever going to end. Can anyone help. By the way their behaviour at school is impeccable

  31. My son is almost thirteen months and I am going through a phase of aww I want another and do i really want to have another c section and everything that comes with that and a toddler at the same time. So my husband told me that he would let me know when he wanted another one. I have asked many people for advice… I think if you wait to long to have your next child you probably will not have one simply because you will be used to the routine. But then on the other hand two under two is a little overwhelming at times. So I would love advice! Also my husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis the day after we came home from the hospital with our son…. I was thinking that we would wait until my husband got on a medication that helped get his M.S. under control… but that could take a while we are on number three! So please I would love some advice on this!

  32. I think more important than age gap is the attitude of the parents and the personality of the siblings. But I do feel that the closer in age siblings are they are more likely to be close but they are also more likely to not get along and be competitive. For some close in age siblings butting heads and competition stays mostly friendly but I know many siblings where it didn’t stay friendly and they hated eachother even if they also loved eachother and were not able to become close until they one of them moved away sometimes though they never reconnected. My sister and I were that way we didn’t become close again until I went away to college. My fiance is 7 years and 7 months older than his younger brother and 13 years and 2 months older than his younger sister but only because of his parents good parenting and the effort he put into spending time with his family.

  33. I meant to say that my fiance is very close to his siblings in spite of their huge age gap. We personally want to have 3 children spaced out 3 to 5 years apart in age but we are leaning more towards 4 to 5 years apart. We just feel that we will be able to make better parenting choices if things are less stressful, it will be easier to give each child individual attention, but we hope the age difference won’t keep them from all being very close. Also my fiance is not as good at handling stess as I am or as patient so we think it’s better to not go through a shorter period of more extreme stress since we doubt it would be healthy for us.

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