Though each is just shy of turning 2, these boys appear older—less like babies and more like kids—than most of their friends. A benefit when you consider that each is able (and, more important, willing) to help Mom soothe a crying sibling, push him in a stroller or show Dad the right way to "read" a nighttime story. And while some parents can’t imagine having two under 2, others—like the ones you’ll meet in this story—can’t envision it any other way.
"I’ve always admired the chaos and energy that comes along with families who have lots of little ones running around," explains Erin Rutman, a 31-year-old Lincoln Park mom to Isabelle, who turns 2 in September, and Ariel, born this past February.
"Because Jonathan and I want three or four kids, it was only natural to start thinking about Baby #2 when Isabelle was just a few months old." And while Erin and Jonathan openly admit to experiencing moments of "what were we thinking?" the couple undeniably feels they made the best decision for the health and happiness of their family, Izzie (short for Isabelle) especially.
According to Erin, Izzie adores doting on her sister. "The other morning, we woke up to Izzie saying ‘baby, baby’ while pointing at her sister’s room. It was precious!" To that point, because Izzie is trying so hard to communicate with Ariel, it’s promoting her speech and language skills. "Even though Izzie is still too young to speak in full sentences, I definitely think her vocabulary and language is more advanced since Ariel came into her world."
As you’d guess, the Rutmans aren’t alone; Charlie’s parents, Jamie and Jason Robin of Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood, agree that the birth of their second child, Ryder—who was born in December 2007, when Charlie was about 19 months old—spurred Charlie to mature at a quicker pace than he might have without the new addition.
"Charlie takes his role as a big brother pretty seriously. It’s fun to watch," Jamie, 29, says. For example, Charlie knows that whining, rather than using "his words," is how babies communicate, so he’s careful not to do that (in public!). He also enjoys—and understands how special it is—to spend time alone, as the big brother, with his Mom and Dad. "Although we want both kids to love being together as a family, we also want to make sure that neither one feels deprived of his alone time with us."
An important concept, explains psychologist Amy Robbins: "It’s completely normal for a first child to feel jealous, neglected, upset—any and every emotion—when a new baby comes into his or her world, regardless of age. But, when the first child is too young to even comprehend those feelings, it’s the parents’ job to ensure he still feels loved, safe and nurtured through behaviors and words."
However, it’s not all baby-to-be bliss the second time around.
First, the pregnancy itself is a whole new world. During pregnancy #1, it’s all about Mom and baby-to-be. Enter pregnancy #2 and it’s suddenly about Baby #1, baby-to-be and lastly, Mom. That said, it can also be an easier pregnancy—nine months seems to pass at lightening speed when you are chasing (or crawling) after a toddler. "Sometimes, I find myself so caught up in what Riley (13 months) is doing, that I forget I am even pregnant. That never would have happened the first time around," admits River North mom Pam Greenfield, 31, who is due in November. But obstetricians across the board warn that Mom must still treat her body with sound mind, being careful not to do too much, work too hard or push herself beyond normal limits (easy to forget when you have a toddler to keep track of).
Then the actual birth comes, and along with the excitement and joy of having two under 2 comes the harsh reality that even simple things—like making dinner, going to the grocery store or reconnecting with friends on Facebook during naptime—are more challenging with two in tow. After all, two kids, two schedules and two sets of needs divide Mom’s and Dad’s time by two.
"It’s somewhat like being in a circus act, juggling a lot all at once. It seems tough at first, but once you get the hang of it you realize how fun the family dynamic actually is," explains Lakeview dad Brian Blitz, 31, whose boys, Logan and Asher, are 16 months apart.
And Brian knows this all too well, as he and his brother, Kevin, are just 20 months apart: "It was so fun growing up with a brother who was also a buddy. When you’re little, it’s an automatic play date. And when you’re older, it’s like living with your best friend. My wife, Tracy, and I wanted that same thing for Logan."
The same reason—spacing of siblings—was a huge factor in Bucktown’s Glenn and Katie McMillan’s decision to try for baby #2 when their first, Andrew, was just 8 months old.
"Our siblings are at least four years older or younger than each of us. And although we love and care for our brothers and sisters very deeply, the age difference seemed huge at different stages in our lives," Katie, 28, explains. "We hope Andrew shares a special closeness with his sibling."
Nationally recognized pediatrician and author of The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block, Dr. Harvey Karp says that this closeness in age can help foster independence in both the older and younger baby. Plus, it can be easier for Mom and Dad to get the "babying" over with in one fell swoop.
Chicago-based pediatrician Dr. Ken Lyons witnesses this first-hand in his Lakeview practice: "I’m no longer surprised to see a Mom at her child’s 15-month check up, announcing the news of Baby #2. I think it’s great. As long as the parents are ready to parent another infant, the addition is a wonderful gift to the family."
So while there’s no hard-and-fast rule on spacing out kids, experts agree that you can’t go wrong having two kids close together. Perhaps Jamie Robin put it best when she said, "There’s never a dull moment in our house. That is a benefit, right?"
Robin Immerman Gruen is a freelance writer and mom to 16-month-old Charlotte and can’t imagine having another one anytime soon.