What’s it really like having kids who are further apart in age? Tracey Tong reports
My parents had two under two. And when we were growing up, most of our friends that had siblings were close enough in age that were often friends with their brothers and sisters, too.
As parents who have meticulously planned the age gaps of their children this way will tell you, a smaller age span can equal closer relationships (as well as the ability to recycle toys and clothing). But with modern families being the way they are, age differences can end up from large to vast – either by choice (focusing on career, continuing education, and improved reproductive health) or circumstance (new relationships, etc) – and that’s all wonderful, too. And many of these parents can testify that their kids – in spite of their age differences – are just as close, or closer – than children who are just a few years apart.
‘Age doesn’t change their love for each other’ — Ana Miura, mother of Evan, age 18, and Lucy, age 2
Ana Miura’s pregnancy with her first child, her son Evan, was unplanned.
“I was quite young when I had Evan,” recalls the Ottawa resident, who works in artist management. “Although my pregnancy with him was a surprise, he gave me great joy and a direction in my life where I had been uncertain. He was a gift in my life and our family’s life – my mother didn’t think she would see her grandchildren (she was 43 when she had me) and because of Evan she was able to.”
Evan was 16 years old when his little sister, Lucy, was born to Miura and her husband. “It was a different and more fun experience being pregnant with Lucy,” Miura says.
Although the age gap between Evan, now 18, and Lucy, 2, was big, it’s worked out well. Her son was happy and helpful when the baby arrived, she said. “There is no jealousness because Evan is basically an adult to Lucy, and Lucy is so little there is no jealousy.
“They adore one another,” Miura continues. “Lucy thinks Evan is the best. Evan loves Lucy and thinks she’s so smart!”
With Lucy, Miura finds that she not only has “more experience and more wisdom in general,” but that she has more patience. To other parents who are considering another child after their first (or others) are nearly grown, she says: “if you have room in your heart and the energy for another child, go for it. It’s amazing the second time around! I find as we age, we learn to appreciate the little things even more – at least I know I do. I am able to soak up so many more moments than when I was younger – less worries about my place in the world and more space to just enjoy my child.”
‘When they do get to spend time together, they have lots of fun and cuddles’ — Cynthia Lambert, mother of Shayne, 28, Brendan, 25, Calvin, 24, and Jennifer, 5
Even with 23 years between her firstborn and her youngest – and more than 18 years between her two youngest children – Cynthia Lambert still jokes that she sometimes feels like she has two little kids.
“Her brother Calvin still lives at home with us,” explains the Ottawa stay-at-home mom. “They like to push each other’s buttons, teasing each other until I have to send them out of the room away from each other. Sometimes I’d swear that I have two five-year-olds at home. Their antics are very entertaining to watch!”
In all seriousness, Lambert’s children love each other. “Shayne lives in the States now, so we only see him maybe two or three times a year for a few days each visit. He loves his little sister and will buy her gifts or little treats. She has a similar relationship with Brendan, who lives in Montreal. They all enjoy the time they get to spend together, however short.
“I believe that the distance between them in kilometres is more of a factor, rather than age gap.”
When Lambert announced her pregnancy with Jennifer, her other children were surprised, perhaps, Lambert says, because they believed her age had precluded a fourth child. Although there were moments where experience kicked in because she had gone through similar situations with her older children, many things about being a new parent felt new again.
“I was thrilled to be able to go through all the milestones again,” says Lambert, who says that many things have changed in the almost 30 years since she first became a mother for the first time. One example is cellphone cameras. “It’s so much easier to capture all of those moments,” she says. Other changes were found within herself.
“Although I have much more patience now that I am older, my parenting style is a bit more strict with my youngest, because I was quite lenient with my boys and realize now that they could definitely have benefited from more discipline when they were young,” she muses.
Her advice to parents in similar situations? There’s always some way that the older one can help out, Lambert says. “Read a story, give a bottle, help with a diaper change. If the age gap is as big as mine is, then you get the benefit of having free babysitters!”
‘The older kids help with picking up the youngest from school, or making the youngest a meal’ — Jennah-Lee Trenholme, mother of Spencer, 17, Sadie, 15, and James, 4
For Jennah-Lee Trenholme, the gap wasn’t exactly planned.
“I’ve always wanted four children and would have preferred to have them closer together, but it wasn’t to be that way,” says Trenholme, an Ottawa resident and stay-at-home mom. “My youngest adores his older siblings, especially the oldest one. He thinks his older brother is the greatest.”
Although sometimes, the “older two do get annoyed with the youngest, especially because they don’t understand that some of the behaviours my youngest has are typical small child behaviours.”
As with anything, Trenholme found that practice makes perfect. With her youngest child, “I was very excited for all milestones and way more prepared. There was also a learning curve because things are much more different now – I was also able to save much more money on formula and diapers this time around because I knew more about how sales worked and coupons now,” she says.
She continues: “I was also able to advocate for myself and my baby better during this pregnancy.”
‘They look out for him, wonder why he might be upset, try different things to settle him, and try to make him smile and laugh’ — Simone Hurkmans, mother of Isabelle, 12, Evelyne, 9, and Hugo, 3 months
With 12 years between her oldest and her youngest, Simone Hurkmans says “a very caring, maternal, and playful relationship exists between my older daughters and their baby brother.”
Although unplanned, the age gap works for this Ottawa family.
“The large age gap allows my daughters to take on a responsibility for and protectiveness of their baby brother that wouldn’t be possible if there wasn’t such a large age gap. Their maturity and life experience allows them to marvel at and appreciate how he’s changing and growing each week.”
Hurkmans, a minister, says she definitely feels she has more experience this time around.
“I don’t worry as much about my baby’s development as I did with the girls, and I am more relaxed about parenting in general. I tend to appreciate the small things more now than I did with my older daughters (noticing how my baby’s hair fuzzes up after a bath, for example).”
She’s also more relaxed about having others care for Hugo. Because Isabelle and Evelyne play ringette, the family spends a lot of time at the rink. “My baby is often being held by other parents in the stands so that I can help coach on the ice or on the bench,” Hurkmans says. “I would never have been comfortable with this with my older daughters.”
Hurkmans’ advice to other parents is to try and go with the flow as much as possible, and not to be so hard on yourself.
“A large age gap often means a mom is older when having her younger child,” she says. “Your body doesn’t bounce back as quickly and there is lots of pressure (from society as well as self-imposed) to return to your pre-baby body.” She also says that the lack of sleep after many years of sleeping well is “particularly brutal.
“The other thing is to be prepared for a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out),” adds Hurkmans. “For example, I can’t join my daughters and husband when they go to see the new Star Wars movie or on the ski hill because I’m with baby. The ease of doing errands, grabbing some lunch, etc. is now gone because it’s harder to do with baby.
“Despite this, it’s all worth it to meet this wonderful new person and witness the relationships that develop in our family,” says Hurkmans. “It’s a whole new world and with it comes a totally different dynamic. Even at three months it’s hard to remember what our life was like before our baby came along.”
Being the older sibling
Growing up in Niagara Falls, Janet Busby was one of the Beam family’s four children.
Her older brother, David, was born in 1949, Busby was born in 1951, and their younger brother, Larry, followed in 1955.
Their mother, who was young when she married, was pregnant again in 1968, says Busby, a retired teacher and herself a mother of two. The baby of the family, Craig, was born four days before Larry turned 13. Busby was finishing Grade 13.
“I lived at home for four years while attending university, so I got to know my brother during his preschool years, but I married and moved to Ottawa the same year he started kindergarten,” says Busby. “Distance between the cities meant we didn’t see each other more than once or twice a year. My brother David married and moved out when Craig was six, and that was the year that Larry moved to Toronto to go to the University of Toronto, so Craig really grew up as an only child from that period of time.”
Although their mother left her job to be a stay-at-home mom to Craig – just as she had when Busby and her two oldest brothers were small – she still noticed differences between her childhood experience and Craig’s.
While Busby had memories of the cottage and her grandparents’ peach farm, Craig enjoyed trips across Canada that none of his older siblings had.
“My youngest brother has always felt detached from the three us. Our experiences growing up were in different houses and different decades,” she says. “My mom had her first son at 20 and her third son at 39.”
That isn’t to say that siblings with large age gaps can’t be close. Craig is now a university professor who enjoys discussing philosophical questions with his oldest brother, David.
“The blessing of raising a child late in life gave my mom the chance to go back to university herself,” Busby adds. “Studying part time, she earned a degree in fine arts and was always very proud that all five of us had university educations.”
“It’s difficult to ‘get back to normal’ when you’ve got busy older kids and a baby, so go easy on yourself. I’m realizing I’m preaching to myself as I write this!”
– Simone Hurkmans, mother of three