Making the Case for Space:

A Birth Spacing Opinion

These days, I get two questions without fail. Family, friend, or complete stranger: “How old is your son?” Me: “Almost two.” Them: “When will you have another one?” Me: “Ummm.”

Social cues are certainly pressuring me to get another bun in the oven. Several very close friends of mine already have had or are currently pregnant with their second child. In the parallel worlds that are our lives, friends and I have first sons who are around the same age, attend each others’ birthday parties, and are going through pretty much the same developmental stages at about the same time. Part of me wants to keep our collective future children in similar age brackets so that my friends and I can, you know, keep having play dates, and possibly even have our kids together in the same classes with the same teachers from elementary on through high school. Maybe even through college. Heck, maybe my kids could be best friends with my best friends’ kids! (Is there such a thing as “arranged best-friendships”?)

But the truth is, my husband and I are not quite ready for a second child. Long ago, I based my understanding of the perfect birth spacing on solely physical needs. On its website, the March of Dimes recommends most women wait at least 18 months after giving birth before getting pregnant again. “This gives a woman’s body enough time to get ready physically for another pregnancy.” The part of that message that I used to ignore was, “It also gives her time to adjust to life as a mom.”

Many reasons for hurrying or delaying birth spacing exist, and there are likely tons of pluses and minuses to any age difference between children, whether the gap can be counted in minutes or years. But it turns out, to my surprise, I am a fan of 2 to 4 year birth spacing. Whereas, I used to want my kids to be close enough in age to be close friends, I’ve learned that it is probably more important that we wait to make sure everyone in the house will have enough energy and tolerance to welcome a newborn into the family, as well as not suffer from a lack of attention.

Alice Blue, a seasoned mom and a senior planner with the Community Service Council of Greater Tulsa, had her son (Micah, now 28) and daughter (Nina, 23) about four years apart, which worked extremely well for them. Blue recalls that Micah was out of toddlerhood, and from his young child perspective, having a new infant in the house was “nice, cute, and a great photo op, but not where the action was.” At 4 and a half, Micah was independent enough to not mind sharing his parents’ attention with his little sister.

Now, were Micah and Nina best friends? Not at first. Blue says there was a clearly defined, classic big brother/little sister dynamic between her children while growing up. But now that they’re adults, “There’s no distance between them…. They are each others’ biggest fans.”

T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., in his book Touchpoints Birth to Three: Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Development wrote, “In planning for a second child, parents should try to keep in mind their own energies and tolerance…. My own experience has led me to the feeling that, if the parents can enjoy the spacing of the children, the children will be better friends for it…. In other words, children had better not be planned to please each other.”

I expect, then, that Dr. Brazelton would not think highly of my fleeting urge to have a second child to maintain our family’s play date schedule.

Blue emphasized that, no matter what, “It’s important to be happy with what you have.”

Sure, it’s nice to have two independent children or an older child who might even be interested in helping care for your new baby, but if you have two kids close in age, you probably have found lots of fun in their shared experiences and tight relationship, despite the short-term challenges of, say, having two under age 2 and in diapers.

As parents, our job is to affirm each child’s individuality. In other words, as Dr. Brazelton wrote in his book: “However close in age or far apart, and however different from one another, children deserve to be seen as competent and loved for their differences.”

Categories: Infant/Pre-School, Little Ones