The great debate over sibling spacing

I will never forget the first time I heard the question, “When are you having your next kid?” My son had hit the ripe old age of four days old. I foolishly thought presenting the world with a newborn babe would stave off the overly personal questions from the checkout lady at Walgreens for at least a month, but I was woefully mistaken.

Little did I know that the question of when to have the next baby was not only one I would get often, but that it would also come with a strong opinion and explanations from anyone engaged in the conversation.

Sibling spacing is a hotly debated issue, one where experiences of one’s own childhoods and parents seeing their own children all seem to add to the equation. Add to that the fact that your OB has their own opinions, as does the pediatric medical community.

To bring this question full circle, we assembled a “panel of experts” to chat about sibling spacing in real-life terms.

Weighing in were real Chicago parents, along with Dr. Denise Duval Tsioles, Ph.D., LCSW, child psychotherapist and founder of Child Therapy Chicago, and Dr. Marc Feldstein, of Northwestern Women’s Health Associates.

With all these minds melding in the same place, we present to you some more opinions on sibling age gaps: the good, the challenging and the diapers.

So, so, so many diapers.

Fewer than two years apart

The Good

Siblings can be very close-knit and will experience many of the same childhood events around the same time

Scheduling activities can be easier, especially when young; they will be able to be in the same levels for classes and teams

Siblings don’t remember a time when there wasn’t another child in the house

They can entertain each other at a very young age

The Challenging

The first year is incredibly challenging for the parents with two very young children vying for attention and needing Mom and Dad for everything

There can be a larger amount of competition because of their closeness in abilities and activity levels

Older siblings are still quite young and cannot express their frustrations clearly after the arrival of a new baby

Preparing for a new baby with a young baby in tow can be exhausting while pregnant and experiencing any pregnancy side effects

An easygoing first baby is not indicative of an easygoing second one; if the new baby is extremely demanding, it can be difficult to also care for a young toddler

Heightened risk for preterm labor, low birth weight and autism

The Diapers

Long overlap of two children in diapers

You will be potty-training one child with another in diapers.

Two years apart (up to three years)

The Good

Older sibling is a little more independent and can entertain themself for longer

Activities can still be scheduled together, especially when kids are younger

Older siblings have a better understanding of the changes going on in the house

Your OB will more than likely be happier with this age range; the obstetric medical community generally suggests waiting 12 months to conceive after a vaginal delivery and 18 after a cesarean

It’s a very common sibling age gap and kids are likely to find friends with siblings in the same range

The Challenging

Older siblings are especially prone to behavioral regressions with the arrival of the new baby: potty training, sleeping and manners are all up for grabs

Older siblings are especially prone to tantrums after the arrival of a new baby with this age range

The Diapers

This could potentially delay potty-training for the older sibling, as the arrival of a new baby can be too much change to also introduce potty-training

Very little diaper overlap, if any—this might be a welcome hiatus while enduring pregnancy side effects.

Three to four years

The Good

Siblings are still in school together, but far enough apart to have different friend groups and more independence

Older siblings are able to play independently while the new baby receives Mom and Dad’s attention

Competition can be lessened as abilities and activities are more different and siblings are more independent in them

Older siblings have a very good understanding and grasp of the changes coming to the family and can really be involved in every aspect of the new baby’s arrival

The Challenging

Scheduling activities begins to become challenging, especially as the older sibling goes to school and the younger one needs to nap

Older siblings might expect a playmate immediately and be disappointed in having to wait a long time before their new sibling can play with them

Age-appropriate play is very different when the siblings are young

The Diapers

Diaper overlap is extremely minimal, if present at all. More than likely potty-training has been well established

It could be difficult to go back into diapers after a longer hiatus

Five years+

The Good

Each child has an incredible amount of independence to find themselves outside of their siblings

Much less comparison in school, activities, etc.

Gives parents time to reflect on their own parenting choices and styles objectively and make adjustments as necessary

Older sibling is truly given time to develop their own personality before a new sibling comes in, and good behaviors are already established

Jealousy might not be as big an issue because of the true understanding the older sibling has about the new family member

The Challenging

Younger sibling potentially loses the in-home peer confidant through high school

Scheduling activities can be extremely challenging, especially around school pickup times/naps and after-school activities

It might be difficult for parents to return back to a time ruled by naps and sleep schedules

Siblings might have trouble connecting in the early years

The Diapers

Depending on the situation, it might be difficult to transition back to a few years of diapers after experiencing years without them

There is a good distance between potty-training and the arrival of the new sibling

The Takeaway

Differing opinions on timing aside, adding a new member to the house is (to put it lightly) an enormous decision. The infuriating (and, perhaps, liberating) answer is that there is no “right” or “wrong” answer to the question of “when.”

Dr. Duval Tsioles summarizes this perfectly: “I don’t necessarily think there’s one ‘ideal’ or ‘perfect’ time. All families are different and whatever seems to work for them is best.”

Factors of age, fertility, family dynamics, finances, special needs and many others may play a larger role in your family’s decision of if and when to have more children than in other families.

Often families may plan for one age gap between siblings and end up with an entirely different one. The thing that has been universally acknowledged: as time goes on and children get older, all the differences and challenges of varying sibling age gaps seem to disappear, especially as adults. So really, it turns out that while we may think timing is everything, in reality, it’s not.

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