Spacing Siblings

Parent Q&A

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  • I'm a 38-year-old mom of a 1-year-old.  She's a wonderful, curious, and fun baby but no one would ever describe her as easy going...  We'd like to have a second baby but my family has cautioned us that based on our daughter's temperament, it might be particularly hard on her to have a younger sibling when she's under 3 (even though in general 2.5 years is common sibling spacing).  They recommended waiting until she's three to have another baby. 

    I think they're right that our daughter benefits from a lot of parental love and attention right now and if I were ten years younger, I'd definitely wait.  However, waiting would mean I'd be 39 or 40, and I'm worried about my ability to conceive again.  So, I'd be curious about how others in similar situations have navigated the tradeoff between sub-optimal birth spacing and potentially waning fertility.

    Also, if anyone could weigh in on how their more high strung 2.5 year old reacted to a younger sibling, that would be very helpful too.  Thank you!

    My older child is very challenging and we also weighed the challenges of two kids close together against the ticking biological clock. Our kids ended up 3 years apart, and it has pros and cons. Having a newborn and a 3yo was actually not so hard, but we struggled when our younger kid started to hit the challenging toddler stuff around 1.5 and our older kid was 4.5 and still really acting like a toddler in a lot of ways, and kind of wished they were further apart so that our older kid were older and more rational. Now our older kid is 6 and still having a hard time with some behavioral stuff and I wish our younger kid were older and more rational! I think, ceteris paribus, it would be a little easier if they were further apart, but the risks of waiting are real (we lost one pregnancy in between our two kids) so I wouldn't make a different choice about spacing. Having a challenging older kid is really really hard (I compare our situation to friends with a challenging younger kid, and it is definitely different because the older kid really sets the tone in a lot of ways) but that's the case no matter the age difference. 

    Our daughter sounds like yours. we had a second child when she was 3y 1 mo. She was mad at us at first but has always loved her sister to bits. We’re 5 months in and it feels like the new normal. Her verbal skills and maturity really accelerated at around 2.5 years. We did have a miscarriage before and I am also over 35. With having babies you never really can plan with precision…in your shoes I might wait a bit but not til 3. 

    I think I might be able to answer this question for you. My older daughter had a similar temperament, she was by no means easy going. We had our second child when she was 3 yrs 8 months right when the lockdown started and both the kids were home. It was incredibly hard. There were lot of tantrums, lot of aggression.It took my daughter 12 plus months to accept her new sibling but now at 17 months in she loves her sister and 80% of interactions are positive. . At around age 3-4 they go through some big hormonal changes that some kids don’t handle as well so I wondered if it would have been easier if we introduced the sibling earlier! In the end I think a sibling is a big transition so I would work towards preparing for that, lining up more support for yourself for the first year. Have the older child go to daycare or some sort of activity out of the house for part of the day. Ensuring a good bedtime routine for the older child.
    I highly recommend reading Siblings without rivalry and How to talk so kids listen.. to prepare to handle and acknowledge  the big emotions which will inevitably occur. I would not delay the pregnancy in the hopes of an easier transition for the older child. Besides being close in age they will be perfect playmates!

    I waited until 39 to try for my second and I regret it. I didn’t realize I’d have the fertility issues I do now. If you are open to IVF or other fertility interventions, it might not be as big of a deal to wait. We couldn’t afford the expense of IVF so we’re likely going to one-and-done. Remember you’ll be pregnant for 9 months before baby comes and your toddler will grow and develop a lot in that time. My daughter is very high maintenance but every month that passes it gets easier. Only you can decide what will be best for your family, but thought I’d share my experience. 

    Some things you just can't really plan - precise child timing is one of them. At 38 if you start trying now, who knows how long it would take. You might get pregnant right away, or it might take a year or more. Early miscarriages are super common too, and rob you of a few months. I got pregnant the month I removed my IUD at 37, but had a much harder time 3 years later. Having two kids under 3 is super hard (or so I've heard) but if I were you and I really wanted the second kid, I'd go for it. Maybe think about how you'd feel if you waited and then couldn't have another. 

    I had a new baby when my very high-strung, curious, and energetic son was 2 1/2 years old.  I can say now, it worked out fine.  The 2 1/2 year old was initially disappointed with his little brother, but the baby grew, and before we knew it they were playing.  They also fought, of course.  And there were a few incidents along the way.  They both survived, and almost four years later we added twin girls to the mix.  They are now 28, 26, and 22 x 2.  They all get along well.  Oldest boy is a Googler, second works at UCSC on their telescopes, and the two youngest have just graduated Cal and have their first jobs.  It was tons of work.  It was worth it.


    Your daughter sounds a lot like mine (now almost 6)! She was 2.5 when my son was born and it was not easy. She was a pretty aggressive/physical toddler pre-baby and had a lot of big emotions, and then when he came along, all of that was directed at him. She’d be cuddling him one minute and then whack him on the head in the blink of an eye. Not in anger- just like she couldn’t handle all of the emotions and that’s how they came out. I couldn’t leave them alone at all. She also had a lot of tantrums around then, but that may have happened with or without the new baby, who knows. So, yes, it was very difficult due to her temperament and age, but we worked hard to encourage their bond and teach her proper ways of interacting with him (when we had enough patience to do so). And we tried to have a lot of one-on-one time with her. Between that and her maturing with age, they are now truly best friends and love each other SO much. They still fight, of course, but their bond is incredible, I think partly because they have had a lot of time together and like to play similar things since they’re closer in age. We just had our third baby 2 months ago and our son (almost 3.5), who has the opposite temperament of our older daughter (he’s always been super relaxed and content), has responded really well to her arrival, as has my older daughter this time around, and I do think part of that is due to him being slightly older when #3 was born (but I think it’s mostly his temperament). All this to say- this is just my experience. I don’t think there’s a perfect timing on this, and it sounds like your daughter will likely struggle a bit whether you wait the extra 6 months or not. Or maybe she won’t struggle very much, she could surprise you! But it’s a massive change for everyone, so even if it’s tough for awhile, you’ll get through it and you’ll all adjust in time. Good luck with whatever you decide- I wouldn’t overthink it too much because you just never know how it’ll be until it happens! 

    I have an almost 2.5-year-old son and a 5-month-old daughter (their birthdays are 1 week short of 2 years apart) and I will turn 41 in December. Our son definitely needs a lot of parental attention and is quite anxious. Our daughter was a bit of a surprise and I was so nervous about how our son would react to her. While it is definitely a challenge, he is absolutely in love with his sister and is pretty quickly getting used to sharing the spotlight. Does he have some tough moments? Of course. He's a high strung, anxious toddler. But I almost think having a sibling is helping him realize he isn't the center of the universe and mellowing him out a little. I think kids are more adaptable than we realize before we give them something to adapt to. I'm not saying it won't be challenging, but I also understand feeling like your body may not wait for timing to be ideal. But also, your body may be just fine to conceive when you're 39 or 40. There are some good books to help prepare for new siblings that you could start reading now to see how she reacts to the idea of being an older sibling. ("You're the Biggest" comes to mind off the top of my head--our son still likes reading it).

    Hi, My daughter and my son will be 3 years apart. But I think 2 or 2.5 years apart would have been fine too. I think one key factor is to include your daughter in a lot of decision making and preparations for the new family addition. She started preschool and she started sleeping in her own bed/ room before her brother's arrival (step by step transitions without feeling replaced). We looked together at her baby brother's clothes and she gave him some of her own. I also explained to her that some clothes were hers, but now she has new clothing and she has outgrown the others. Same with toys, etc. We have also started activities that we do with her alone. Such swimming. Special mama and papa days just with her. We also told her how she can help with her little brother, if she wants to, and what he is and is not able to do because he is still so small. I encourage her to talk to him,  sing,  etc. You have 9 months to prepare her. Don't emphasize or let others emphasize that she will be jealous or that she might have difficulties.  She is going to meet her new best friend and fan. 

    I’m now 70 and a grandmother of 6, but how well I remember our 3 year old perfectionist when I was pregnant with #2.  I think first children are always a bit more of a challenge, but we forget no two siblings are alike.  Our second daughter was an angel, all laughter and delight.  Actually the difference a shock.  Keep that in mind with you equation!  I think your instincts are right and kids do need to learn life happens.  They can be best friends.  Always my goal.  

    Don't wait!

    Sorry to jump right in with that but as soon as I read your post I felt that hindsight moment. Our kiddos are 3.5 years apart and I wish I had thought about my second sooner. My husband and I joke that we were so burnt out exhausted from our first we can't even believe we had a second but then he was born and I truly saw how temperament is unique to each child. My bright, intense 3.5 year old had a terrible time with his arrival, therapy, outbursts, regression, the works. I think it would have still been a tough adjustment if she was younger but it felt even more so being that age--I distinctly remember her being so mad her sibling was there one day she said in tears, "wasn't I enough" many big feelings at our home. In our experience, having that space between them certainly did not help. It is better now that they are in school and have their separate times and groups but she continues to dominate our energy. I wish I could give you advice about how to make the transition easier for her when a second does arrive, we tried it all, and it was still tough and just took a long, long time.

    Even now, at 11.5 and 8, she likes to look through early photo albums reminding us how great life was when it was only her before his arrival, LOL. They are a passionate little duo of love and hate but that jealously lingers so I say don't wait, do what is best for you, your family, your fertility! 

    We just made it through our first year with two littles spaced exactly two years apart. Our first falls into the “highly sensitive” temperament range and while I would say it wasn’t an easy year and I could definitely see that we would have had a different experience if she was just now transitioning into being a sibling, we all made it out alive. And overall I don’t think any of us are any worse for the wear and in the long run I’m excited for the relationship they will have growing up so close in age. 
    We did a lot of preparation work with our older one by reading books about siblings and watching videos of meeting new baby siblings for the first time and talked a lot about her as a sister. 
    Littles are resilient and I think even for a highly sensitive toddler, as long as you have enough resources to be able to catch your own breath so you can stay calmly responsive to her- my biggest struggle at some moments this year- you’ll all be fine regardless of spacing. It will certainly be harder on you than on them so you get to choose your own adventure! 

    My kids are 21 months apart, i.e., my daughter was not yet 2 when her brother was born. The first year with both kids was really rough, but mostly because baby #2 was very high maintenance. My daughter loves a lot of attention and it was hard for her to share (and hard on us to handle everyone's needs). Now that they are 3.5 and almost 2 we are really reaping the benefits as they start playing together and enjoying each other more. If I waited too long and couldn't have another baby I would have regretted it. Kids adjust. It's more about how hard it will be on you rather than how hard it will be on your daughter. 

    Hello, I just want to comment on my experience with waning fertility in case that helps you make your decision. I had 3 children in my 30s with a single miscarriage in between numbers 2 and 3. Hoping for a 4th, we started trying when I was 39, assuming we'd have no problems since we hadn't before and so many women conceive at that age. It took 4 years and 5 miscarriages before I was able to get and stay pregnant again. My advise based on my experience would be to try to get pregnant as soon as possible and let go of the illusion of control over temperament, timing, spacing, etc. There is very little that can be predicted when it comes to kids, so let go and hope for the best (your daughter may in fact love being a big sister and helper - energetic/busy kids often do!) Wishing you the best of luck!!!!!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Babies 13 months apart

December 2002

The birthmother of our 11 month-old son is again pregnant, and there is a very good chance that we will adopt her new baby due in two months. We are trying to prepare ourselves, to the degree that is possible, and would love to hear from others who have had children this close together re: how you have dealt with sleep, general logistics, maintaining your sanity - anything! Thanks very much. Avi

Congratulations, that's very exciting! Our children are 16 months apart and their relationship is very close. They play together nicely most of the time, and the eldest looks out for her little brother (even though she's only 1 inch taller).

On how we've dealt with sleep? Well, I've taken 3 naps in 22 months. That's quite a difference than the daily 3 p.m. snooze I used to have with my first child. Our children are and have been on 2 separate sleep schedules (an up-in-the-morning son, and a stay-up-late-daughter). I don't know how other parents get their children on the same schedule, but if you were able to do this you might get more sleep than we do! Two is twice the fun. ty

Sometimes, fortune falls on us! It wasn't my intention to have my children so close together, but so many positive things came of this happy accident, that I came to think of 13 months as the ideal spacing. By the time they were 1 & 2, they played together for long periods of time. Sibling rivalry wasn't a problem, as it is when the oldest has had years of exclusive parental attention prior to the invader's arrival. The second one walked early, talked early, and was potty-trained at 1 1/2 with no problems, all due to observing his brother and trying to keep up. So instead of having diapers for 4 or 5 years, we were finished in 2 1/2. In many ways they were like twins, complementing each other's strengths/weaknesses, and were always best friends. They are married now, and don't live in the same community, but never had big fights or break-ups, and still get together every month or so. So have fun, and enjoy your good fortune! Susan

Best Sibling Spacing? (we have a 2-year-old)

August 2003

My husband and I are planning for baby #2 and wanted some feedback on sibling spacing. Baby #1(boy) just turned two. Various factors leave us deciding between a 3 or 4 year age gap. We would love to hear from the experts (that's you!) out there what these age gaps are like for parents and siblings. Of course, we know that child personalities will play a huge role in how well the two play together, but any sage advice would be most welcome! Family Planning

I highly recommend 4 1/2 years as just about an ideal spacing. Many of our friends spaced their children 2-3 years apart and I saw a lot of sibling hatred, sometimes surprisingly vicious. By 4 1/2, our older child was secure and welcomed the new addition to the family. The two children play together constantly, almost always with delight. Sometimes they squabble, but they always say they love each other, and they frequently give each other hugs and help each other. I think they're far enough apart to eliminate much of the competition factor... at least so far! Hoping it continues!

We have three kids now aged 15 1/2, 12, and 8. I was happy with the spacing--and I don't think it makes much difference really if they are three or four years apart, especially since you can't really plan these things down to the month anyway...The older two are three grade levels apart, the youngest is four grade levels behind his sister, though he could have been three--he has a November birthday so we started him in kindergarten at age 5 rather than 4. My only caveat is that if you're only planning on two, this spacing is great. However, there are almost seven years between the oldest and the youngest, and this poses challenges when it comes to doing things together as a family. The oldest is ready for multi-day overnight bike trips when the youngest is just learning to ride; teenagers' language is a charming addition to an eight- year-old's vocabulary (not), etc. If you're planning more than two--have them closer together or a lot farther apart! Torn between three PTAs

My boys are three years apart. I have found this to be a great spread. My oldest was old enough and independent enough that I had time for the baby, but was at that selfish stage yet so we didn't get any jealousy poping up until the baby was one (and the older was 4) and tough enough to handle the occaisional pushes/shoves/pokes/hit his brother attempted.

The other reason I really like this age gap is that at three I still felt pretty ''strapped down'' by my oldest. I had more freedom, and got more sleep, than when he was 1, but he still needed me a lot. Now that he is four, he is really independent. When we go out alone together it is not a big deal... we don't need to haul around stuff, we can go more places, etc. Giving up the freedom of a three year old and going back to a baby wasn't nearly as painful as I imagine giving up my recent four year old freedom. JMHO. Mom to 4.5 and 1.5 boys

If you have the opportunity to plan the spacing, 4 years apart seems the worst to me. The 2nd child always gets the short end of the stick. When the 1st is graduating from highschool the 2nd is graduating from 8th grade, who's graduation will be minimized (or missed totally)? And again when the first is graduating from college. Anon

About 9-12 months ago there was a very looooong discussion on this exact topic. (Did you check the archives?) I was fascinated b/c I was expecting my 2nd child at the time (my kids are 2 yrs 3 months apart) and had strong feelings that closer is better as it was the case with my own sister. (We are 13 months apart.) What I gleaned from all of the discussion is that the spacing is right that is right for the parents, and the children will be close or not close in their relationship or compatability in unpredictable ways. There were siblings 2 years apart that fought all the time and there were siblings 9 years apart that were very close. Some reported that their relationships changed over the decades. When my 2nd child came and it was a boy, I realized I had been wanting a girl, perhaps to recreate the sister relationship that I had grown up with. I felt released from that subconscious desire and am looking forward to seeing how my children develop their own interdependence and independence. Good luck! anon

Best Sibling Spacing? (we have a 16-mo-old)

September 2002

My partner and I have a 16 month old, and we are trying to decide if we should start trying to have another baby now, or if it is better to wait a few years. We both have siblings close in age, and while this made for some rivalry, it was also great to have a playmate growing up, and I think there is something to be said for being so close in age that you can't remember life without a sibling, when you had both parents all to yourself. At the same time, I know it is incredibly hard to raise two young kids, and I also think it might be nice for our little one to get to be the baby for several years, without having to grow up in ways due to a smaller sibling. I am curious to hear people's thoughts on the ideal age spread, with respect to what is best for the kids, how it is for the parents, and the financial side of it as well (we both work, so if we have another one soon we'll be paying for childcare for two.) I am fairly young (29) so we can afford to wait a few years if that is what seems best for our family. I am particularly interested to hear from people that have more than two kids, with two close together and one farther apart, since you have experience with both sibling age differences. But all comments and input are welcome. Thanks! Considering number 2

I have three children, ages 10, 7 and 2 years. The three year age gap between the first two worked well since they weren't spaced too closely to be near twins yet they are close enough in age to be able to play well now. We didn't plan on the third to be nearly five years younger than the middle child but that was a blessing, too, for the older two were self sufficient enough with new baby in tow. I can feel that natural break in ages when we do activities as a family. The older two would end up doing things with one parent and the toddler would do something else with the other parent. The toddler currently just goes along with the flow but over time, she's coming into her own activities. There have been times when it would be easier if the kids were in more or less the same age range so that we can do things together. Ideal spacing is a very individual decision. As you state, there are advantages and disadvantages to close or farther apart spacing. Those around me state that closer spacing is harder when the kids are very young, but easier when they grow older and can play and relate to one another. And the differences in farther spacing are more pronounced when they get older. Also, there are differences in dynamics with genders (i.e. two brothers, two sisters, boy-girl, girl-boy) that come into play. Mom of three

I think at least three years difference is a good idea. My two children were born exactly two years apart and I do regret that my oldest was not babied for another year. And the first six months (a newborn and a toddler) were SO hard! my two cents

Although I only have one child right now, let me tell you about having an older brother and sister myself. I hear all the time about how great it is to have siblings close and how distant siblings feel if they are spaced further apart. My brother is 10 years older than me and my sister is 6 years older than me and I couldn't have been a happier kid or closer to both of them, both as a young child and as an adult. I think closeness depends on the siblings (and parents) themselves and not on spacing. Therefore, I tend to discount spacing issues based on how close people were or were not to their own siblings. You might be interested in some extensive research by Burton White (which he writes about in the book Raising a Happy, Unspoiled Child -- a very interesting and enlightening book based on research and not just opinion although somewhat repetitive and not so practical). His research/observations suggests that an ideal spacing is for the baby to be 36 months of age or older when the next one is born. The research in his book convinced me that I would wait to try to conceive again until my son would be 3 years old when the younger was born (even though I am too old to wait much longer!). It might be worth your reading it for that input and to see for yourself what research he bases his conclusions on. You might want to contrast this information with equally compelling stories you're likely to hear from people who are quite delighted to have their babies close together; it is somewhat practical if you have to take a break in your career -- then you only have one break, for example. anon

I have 3 children. My first two are 4 years 3 months apart and my youngest is 2 years 3 months younger than my middle son. From what I have experienced there are pros and cons to both senarios. My daughter didn't suffer from too much jealousy when my son was born b/c she was old enough to understand that babies are helpless, need a lot of care, etc. but I have found that as they grow older their abilities and interests are so different that many outings are boring for one or too difficult. Just a trip to the park can be more difficult since my daughter will want to be in the ''big'' kid area while I need to be in the toddler area with my son. Since I can't be both places one child is always a little disappointed.

The closer spaced siblings will probably have more playtime together but at this point they are much more physically taxing. I keep reminding myself that this phase will pass though. Once my son can do more for himself I think I will be able to enjoy this spacing more.

So, all that said. Having them close together is more work in the short run but I think in the long run it's easier and more fun for the kids and parents. Gabrielle Ohleyer

Bottom line....I think it doesn't matter what the age spread is. My brothers and I are are 7 and 13 years apart....I never had siblings for playmates. I had one brother who teased me and one who was my wonderful big brother/daddy type. When my middle brother went away to college we became close I grew up I also became friends with his friends. Today he and his wife and daughter are of the most important people in my life. My 2 boys are 4 1/2 years apart....they fight, they play, they fight, they play. As they get older they have more in common. I think it was easier for me having an infant with one child at least a little bit self sufficient. I have friends with kids 18 months apart (+/-)'s really hard the first few years taking care of two babies, but usually they kids play with each other....OR NOT!! There's also no saying that you will get pregnant when you hope to/or if you're adopting that you'll get the adoptive baby when you hope to.

So, again, I don't think there is an ideal age spread. Each has its plusses and minus's. Good luck, Anon, please

Well, my kids are 14, almost 11yrs and almost 11 months. But, I won't be very helpful, because I think both scenarios were ''perfect'' at the time the younger child was born. Remember that if you work you'll be paying childcare for two children either you can decide to spend it NOW, or LATER. Maybe with two under 3 you'd decide to take time off and eliminate childcare costs (when my daughter was in day care that was a popular choice, because the care was so expensive it was not cost-effective with two --- and many families had at least one parent who wanted to be home).

Like many decisions we want to be logical -- the spacing between kids is not. My sisters were 16 months apart and hated each other. My nieces were 16 months apart and are best friends. You may have to make the decision on other grounds...and determine to make the best of what you get. As you noted, what's good at one age may not be at another, so there isn't a perfect answer. Good luck with what happens. Heather

My 2 cents: my kids are 4 years apart and that worked very well for us in several ways, including allowing us to recover financially so that we could afford extended work leave with the second child.

However, this is the best advice I have ever heard on this topic: the best time to have the next child is when the parents are ready for it! jennifer