One kid is in diapers and the other is in college
On spaced-out kids
C.W.: Today’s issue mentions miscarriage and secondary infertility.
My brother is almost exactly two years younger than I am, and we didn’t get along that great for a long time. I looked longingly towards my friend Nora, whose brother was so much older than her that it seemed exotic and whose way littler sister was so cute and compliant it seemed fun. Then I became a mom, and a friend of mine had her two children five years apart, and she told me about the difficulty of finding things to do that both kids liked. It seemed like either one kid had to do baby shit or the little kid was being dragged to things way above his proverbial pay grade. So I wanted to ask witches who either had their kids far apart, or who grew up in households where that was their reality, what their experiences were like, and if there were any general do’s and dont’s for keeping peace in the kingdom. Turns out, as always, YMMV! Some older kids love having much littler siblings to love on, while others nurse the grudge of their presence for a long time. Comments are open if you have experience either being a far-apart sibling or raising them:
“I am 8 years older than my sister, and through a weird set of circumstances (my divorce from husband #1 and then marriage to a 5-years- younger-than-me second husband), I ended up having MY kids be 8 years apart as well. My 15 year old is a trans girl and she’s amazing and funny and smart and often just such a bitch to her brother. The little brother, however, seems to deal better with the oversight of his now-sister than he did of his brother. Like, he’s better able to assimilate her nagging as a sign of love because it has a tinge of femininity to it now rather than a mansplainy-ness to it like it had before. He is a STAUNCH ally of her and all queer people, wears Pride shirts to school, and advocates for her in areas where he thinks she’s being treated unfairly. But they still bicker like crazy. The 8-year gap—for them and for me and my sister—is/was so hard because you’re too far apart to be playmates but the older one isn’t old enough to be an authority figure. My daughter could definitely babysit for OTHER people’s children, but with her brother, we’re like, uhhhh, y’all will end up killing each other. But it’s getting slowly better, as we have started appealing to the 15 year-old’s better angels and telling her to be the bigger person, to not always choose to destroy his dreams. I have repeatedly told her, and it’s starting to sink in, that when she was his age, she was a blissful only child who got ALL my attention and didn’t have anyone telling her her ideas were dumb. Her job is not to fact check everything he says. Also, we started instituting ‘Sib Night’ once a week. We have them hole up in the basement and watch a movie together, and they get their fave takeout delivered. We deliver the food at the top of the basement stairs and they can call up and ask for popcorn or sodas or whatever as long as they stay down there and let us have some freaking peace. Thay do not bicker during Sibling Night and it’s helped to cement their relationship so they fight less at other times too.”
“My kids are 6 years apart. They do not really get along and seem to hate each other 90% of the time (and the other 10% are indifferent). I guess my best advice would be not to expect them to get along? My sister is 7 years older than me, and we were NEVER friends while growing up, not even once she went away to college. We only started getting along in our 20’s. I would say we are FINE now? But not really close (that may be due in part to our personalities and the fact that she lives overseas, more than the age gap). When I was pregnant with #2 I was happy he was also a boy because there was at least likely to be SOME common ground due to their boyness (surely they would both like Star Wars? Legos?) -- but it didn't seem to make a huge difference.”
“Ours are 21, 10, 6 and 4. It was the most stressful when the oldest was 11 and we brought a baby home. We tried to rely on family when we could to babysit the younger ones so we could schedule special times with the eldest. We went to every basketball/football/band concert we could and just dragged the little ones along with a backpack full of toys and snacks. We showed up every possible time and to every possible thing we could, swallowing the inconveniences of having completely different rhythms with younger kids compared to older ones. We also really tried to find the common ground activities — in my house, that’s certain meals/desserts and going to the park to play frisbee — and try to create moments that included everyone. I also had to personally try to let go of the guilt of leaving someone out. We can’t always architect the right situation so we do our best and try to relax and let the awkward stuff go. One small thing I learned along the way: As he got older, we tried not to ask him to babysit unless we were really in a pinch. He seemed to resent that and actively work against it so I basically just took it off the table.”
“My boys are five years apart. From the beginning, the little one has felt inferior to the big one, but the thing is, how can the second guy compete? Size alone means the older one is stronger and better at sports, and because the older one has been alive five extra years, he is automatically smarter, even if he’s acting like an idiot. The little one has never been able to accept this. He has always internalized it, and made it about himself, feeling like he was never going to be as ‘good.’ That’s how the little one is wired, I guess. The older one tends to act like a parent, to worry about his little brother and tell him what to do. This leads to conflict, because the younger one is like, ‘Fuck off, you’re not my parent.’ He’s got a point. Basically, there is a lot of conflict. How do we deal with it? A lot of divide and conquer. Each parent takes a kid at least one day a weekend to do different things. We rarely force them to be together or do forced family time because we have realized over the years, that this often leads to stress for everyone. I’m a little ashamed to admit it but they eat dinner in their own rooms sometimes if that’s what they need to maintain the peace. Family trips tend to be fun, despite the forced togetherness, because my husband and I are more relaxed overall and the scenery is different, so somehow this makes the kids better. The bottom line is: There is love between the two of them. Sometimes, they hang tight. Rarely, but they surprise us from time to time, and this is always thrilling! But the less we get involved and force them to like each other, the easier it is for everyone. We have basically given up on them getting along. That is our current strategy.”
“My sister is ten years older and there's no one in between. It was weird, honestly. She was an only child for her formative years, and I was not. And then my mom was willing to hand my care off to her and her friends when they were 17 and I was 7, which did not always turn out well. We really didn't fight until we were adults. I was really wigged out at first by the way my girls fight (3 year gap) and my husband had to explain that it was normal.”
“My sister and I are 6 and a bit apart, and while it rocked for my mom to have a semi-responsible caretaker for me, it really did us no favors in terms of getting along. We basically hated each other’s guts til we moved to opposite ends of the globe and became adults. We were always civil and did not actively fight, but the power dynamic was way off. I got away with murder because I was the spoiled one (in her eyes) and she could do everything and lorded it over me (from my point of view). She had her first two kids 18 months apart because of this, then added the intentional ‘vanity child’ 10 years later. I had mine 2 and some change apart. My husband has a slightly younger brother and a much younger sister (8+) that he functioned as a father figure for because his doctor dad was not around a lot, and he also pushed for kids close together, despite spending his childhood fighting tons with his brother.”
“I’m 8 and 13 years older than my (half) siblings and it was weird — I was super grossed out by babies when they came along and then sort of annoyed that family life continued to revolve around little kid stuff. We have become close as adults, but it took til my sister was a teenager and I was in my 20s and even longer with my brother (he also has autism so it’s age gap plus more there). I was pretty determined not to repeat that because if I was going to have two kids, I wanted the potential for their friendship to kick in way sooner. Ours are 4 years apart and I love it — my oldest was out of the needy toddler stage and excited to be a big girl when the baby came, but they are still close enough to play together and have a true friendship now. (And hate each other daily of course… but I think they default to a kind of closeness I’ve had to much more actively cultivate with my own sister.)”
“My brother is 5 years older than me and we were never super close. I always hated that he sort of introduced me as his ‘baby’ sister even when I was 16! But I can see how I would have seemed sooo young to him. I don’t know if our lack of closeness now has to do with our age gap or just who he married, but lately we have had a lot of fun on the phone reminiscing about random family memories. I can say that I personally LOVED being an ‘only’ child from 8th grade on because my brother fought with my mom and I was NOT a fighter. So things were quiet and calm for my last 5 years in the house. My mom did have a miscarriage in between us so it wasn't intentional our spacing. She has mentioned many times that raising me as a baby was so easy because her other kid was in school and a semi-functional human rather than an irrational 2 year old. My kids now are 2.5 years apart and they pretty much detest each other now. So I think closeness as adults can just be luck?”
“My sister is 8 years older. When I was little, she was totally a mother figure to me. But she moved out at 18, and after that we were not close at all. I was well into my 30s before we connected again. Meanwhile my boys are 7 years apart. And it’s basically a nightmare. Older son doesn’t play well independently, but doesn’t want to do toddler stuff. Younger one wants to do everything the big one does. They love each other a lot but also there’s never any peace.”
“My sisters are 16+ and 12+ years apart from me via adoption. Much of their childhood memories are without me, which is sad, but I almost like my relationship with them better than my brother who is only a few years apart. Having a huge gap was one of the reasons my husband and I opted out of third kid. By the time I could stomach the thought of being pregnant again, my youngest was 3/4 and kids would have been 5 years apart. All I could think about was being so close to empty nest, and then having a freshmen in high school.”
“When I was giving birth to my younger daughter, one of my (very young) nurses mentioned that her mother had remarried and had another baby and she (the nurse) had helped deliver her half-sister. I was so fascinated by this that I kept interrupting my own labor pains to ask her questions about it. Imagine helping your mother give birth!”
“My brother and I are almost six years apart. We have always been close, but particularly between when he was about 16 and 30. We rarely fought and had little rivalry because we were so far apart and opposite sexes (and we are totally different people). My parents definitely benefitted from a lot of free after school care and weekend babysitting by nerdy middle and high school me. Also, they are now hilariously super judgemental of my brother for only spacing his kids two years apart.”
“I am nine years older than my sister (full siblings). I was SUPER EXCITED when she was born. I basically started babysitting for her almost immediately because she would have nothing to do with other babysitters. I left for college when I was 17, so we didn't spend tons of time together after that, but I stayed relatively close, and had a sort of cool aunt relationship with her when she was in high school and doing stupidly dangerous things. My parents treated her so much better than they treated me that you would think it would have made me super jealous of her, but I never was. I was always worried about how my parents were treating her. My husband and I had our oldest a little sooner than we expected at age 29. So we weren’t ready to even consider having another kid until she was about 4. Then when I finally started trying to get pregnant again, I had a mix of miscarriages and secondary infertility. She was 7 when her little sister was born, and she was not thrilled. She very much enjoyed being an only and getting all of our attention. Our second was much more difficult than our first; she never slept and had tons of tantrums, so our experience of parenthood was much more exhausting. While our firstborn was helpful, she basically never stopped being slightly resentful that we introduced her sister into the family. They were very competitive with each other. I would not say that they are close now, at ages 16 and 23. THEN, after more miscarriages and secondary infertility, I had my son when my older daughter was 15 and younger was 8. My older daughter was not happy about this, while my second was. She still really loves her little brother, even though she’s always been too old to play with him. The good things about having three kids in 15 years are that you can give each one of them a lot of individual attention and you never have to pay for two in college at the same time. The bad thing is that each kid needs a totally different kind of attention, and it takes a lot out of me. Like I was helping my firstborn with college applications, while still nursing my son, and dealing with my second kid’s tween friend issues. While I am a fan of a big age difference, I think my kids’ age differences are too much (not that I had a choice). But! You can’t guarantee that any age difference will make kids be better or worse friends. It is also incredibly awesome to have so much free babysitting! Basically since my first daughter turned 11, I have never had to hire a babysitter and I’ve always been able to run to the grocery store BY MYSELF, or go to a last minute fun thing out. My middle kid can take her brother to soccer practice and was even an assistant coach this year, so we got volunteer cred without doing any volunteering. It’s also really cool to get to know a wide spread of parents, even if I am sooooo sick of school after so many years of it.”
“My kids are 5.5 years apart and they hate each other. It was great when the little guy was a baby but when he was old enough to have an opinion the older one just got butt hurt older brother style. Both me and my husband are youngers (me 4.5 years and him 10 years younger) and we have no sympathy for his older brother attitude.”
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We cover all kinds of stuff in Witches, from the helpful to the hilariously stupid to the emotional to the gross. Have fun exploring the archives if you like. If you want a random old issue to explore, here’s one on postpartum sex. Like I said, gross!