March 14, 2016

ode to a four year age gap...

I'm sure it sounds trivial to some, but for a while I was truly (and needlessly) worried about the four-year age gap between my daughters. When I was younger and thought about having children, I always figured I'd have a few relatively close in age. I thought that was just how most people did things. I can see now that so much of it had to do with my own family and how it automatically influenced expectations I had for my own life. (Two of my sisters and I are relatively close in age, and two are much younger than I, but they are only a couple years apart from each other.)

Regardless, the thought was there, and when (after a year of trying) we were expecting our second baby, I became a little obsessed with finding other parents of children with the same age difference.

Four years! Will they even bond? Will they even play together? Please tell me that they'll still have that special, sisterly connection! Dang, why is this giving me extra heartburn right now?

And you know what? I feel a little crazy now, looking back on how worried I was. I meet more and more mamas who have 4+ years between their children, and the bond between those siblings is just as strong as if it were only a year or two. Granted, it's often a different sort of relationship in some ways (an older sibling is definitely not a "peer" and is always at a different learning/developmental stage during childhood), but it is a sweet one, just the same. There is still that special bond. For some, it's right away…for some, it takes a while. But that could happen with any age difference, I suppose.

I remember my mom telling me how her older brother (four years older, mind you) was always one of her best friends when they were growing up. Knowing that even as children they were thick as thieves really gave me so much hope. I thought that was the sweetest thing. (It also flies in the face of what we see sibling relationships represented as in much of our current culture—fighting, teasing, snarky attitudes, no respect or grace or compassion—but I suppose that is an entirely different post to write.)

In any case, I wanted share a few of my favorite things about this four-year gap between my daughters. To reassure any mamas (future or present) out there who may be struggling with the same worries I had so recently. For some, waiting years for a second child (or third, etc.) is a choice, but I see more and more stories of women who would have happily expanded their brood much earlier, had their bodies let them. Sometimes, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it all, and our plans must give way to new ones. That was where I found myself when I had Cora right before Eisley's fourth birthday. But, wouldn't you know? Having those years between children ended up being pretty darn wonderful.

First of all, the fact that my older daughter had such an understanding throughout my entire pregnancy was absolutely wonderful. She was three years old, so right from the first moment we shared the news with her, she was able to understand what was to come (for the most part, at least!). I took her to all my appointments, the nurse would print out extra sonograms for her, we could brainstorm names together (I had to veto Cinderella, much to her dismay), she loved watching my belly grow, and we had so many months to share with her the importance and excitement of being a big sister. I loved sharing those moments with her before Cora joined our family. They were so precious.

I've also been somewhat surprised by how Eisley hasn't lost her enthusiasm for her little sister. I wondered if we would come into a bit of resentment on her part, but overall she has been head over heels since day one. (A few sporadic weeks of transitional difficulties aside. She is only four, after all!) It's been nearly eight months and she is so genuinely excited over that little baby. I know this isn't always the case with older siblings, but I have a feeling age four was the perfect stage for Eisley to become a sister. As time goes on, she only becomes more and more excited to interact with Cora—to read to her, to help her play or sit or roll over, to teach her things, to tell her stories, to do all she can to get her to belly laugh. We definitely had a few rough moments (Cora has been on the receiving end of a couple head punches) but overall, their relationship is already so sweet to watch.

As a mom, I've loved the gap in development and age—much more than I thought I would. Especially when Cora was a newborn, it was so nice to be able to sit down with Eisley and have a thoughtful conversation. We could go out for a Starbucks date, play games and do puzzles together, do some schoolwork, create things together, and do a number of other things that warm a four year old's heart. It felt so good to have a child who could communicate with me, one who could tell me what she needed, one who could give hugs and kisses and adorable pictures she had drawn, one who actually slept through the entire night. And she's very much become my sidekick in many ways, since we'd had nearly four years of her as our one and only!

But then there were also moments in the weeks following the birth of my second child when I was so grateful for the simplicity of Cora's needs, and would just rock with her in my arms and relish the quiet, how I was able to meet every single one of her needs without anything outside of myself. On some days, it feels especially nice to have a sweet baby in my arms, and although babies need so much, they are all simple things. I don't have to worry about shaping her character or what she should or should not say or how many episodes of Curious George are too many for one day. There is not yet an attitude, there is not yet an argument over snack choice or her wardrobe or what she thinks is horribly unfair about a great many things. Especially during those first weeks, I had a newborn who would look into my eyes and love me wholly and beautifully and innocently.

Going back and forth between these two extremes several times each day, every single day, has a way of refreshing me—which feels like such an unexpected gift.

And now, I'm given these moments throughout each day, when I'm able to leave them together to "play" and just be with one another. Cora is already so enamored with her big sister, and I'm pretty sure Eisley is the one who can get her to giggle the hardest. Eisley loves putting on little shows for her sister, begging me to help feed her baby food or Cheerios, entertaining her when I need a moment to do something by myself, choosing her outfit for the day. There have been a few challenges along the way (which was to be expected, especially after Eisley had been an only child for that many years) but overall the transition has been better than I thought.

We've survived, we've learned, we've grown, and we continue to do all three—each and every day.

At this point, I see more and more how I wouldn't have wanted it any other way, after all. (Hindsight is a tricky thing, you know.) But I see so many different families these days—with one child, with four, with three under the age of three, with two teenagers and three toddlers and an infant, with a four-year age gap between each child, with hardly a year between two. I always thought that there must be a "best way" to space out your children (as if any of us have any real control over the thing!). I remember even wasting a bunch of time searching the internet for "the most ideal age gap between children". (Wouldn't you know there wasn't a solid answer I could find anywhere?)

But my biggest lesson was to realize that you just…do your thing with what you've been given. Which is most certainly always the case. And, goodness, how grateful I am for these two girls.

Further reading: gold stars in motherhood

6 comments :

  1. this was a lovely post. I really enjoyed reading it considering my daughters are just 18 months apart and I often wondered who they'd be together when Bianca gets a little bigger. You have lovely daughters!

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  2. I love reading this! Thank you for sharing. I'm expecting our second baby in a few weeks, while my daughter turns 4 tomorrow. The age gap was not intentional. I experienced recurrent pregnancy loss and secondary infertility, so the age gap was not what we'd planned and I have worried over it, wondering how they'd bond and interact. It's so wonderful to hear about the bond between your girls, and it leads me to hope the same kind of relationship will unfold between my kids. I *do* think the age gap has been pretty perfect in terms of pregnancy, since my daughter understands so much and is so excited and eager to be a big sister. Let's hope that enthusiasm continues.

    Thank you again for sharing. It's very reassuring.

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  3. I love this! We're expecting in June so there'll be 4+ years between Eli and his younger sibling. My sister and I were also four and a half years apart, and my mom has said how nice it was that I was able to entertain myself, grab diapers and wipes for her, and help out a little bit when my baby sister arrived.

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  4. I had many similar worries about my two girls who are 3 years (and a month) apart! But I'm seeing so many of the same things. The baby can't sit up yet, but big sister already loves to make her laugh and help out, and she loves to talk about all the things they'll do when she gets a bit bigger. Three years has turned out to be great for us for the same reasons!

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  5. Love reading this and love hearing how Eisley is as a big sister. Since I have no idea when we'll have our next child, I'm always curious how different age gaps affect siblings.

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  6. <3 That was so lovely to read.

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