On family dynamics and age gaps

Recently I wrote age order posts about each of my children (David, Mary Virginia, Thomas) because, when I have time to think, I think a lot about my kids — about who they are and what they need as individuals, and about how they fit into and shape our family.

Our kids are pretty close in age. There are 21 months between David and Mary Virginia, and 23 months between Mary Virginia and Thomas.

We planned it that way, or at least hoped it would happen that way. Now that I have three very young kids I can see some pros and cons that come with having babies back-to-back. (I don’t mean to be blithe about family planning. I know it doesn’t happen so easily for some people.)

These pros and cons blur a bit as both good and bad. And also some of this is part of having a family with multiple children regardless of age. (Having little kids is so confusing.)

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My kids have similar interests, the same friends, and they play together all the time. David doesn’t even ask me to chase him around the house anymore because he has a little sister who’s more willing and more fun. All three of my children like going to the park and I don’t have to worry about my 6-month old swallowing a teensy Lego because my oldest is still into Duplos.

I hope that when they look back on their childhood, they’ll remember playing with their siblings and will think of them as their best friends. But for now while they’re playing together all the time, they’re fighting, too. Not sometimes or usually, ALL.THE.TIME. They fight before they’re out of bed in the morning, and as they fall asleep each night. They fight whose turn it is to make Thomas laugh and if David calls Mary Virginia a big sister then I just cancel all my plans because, didn’t you know? She’s not big. She’s little.

I have siblings, so I know bickering is inevitable and also part of how siblings build relationships. But I also wonder if it would be different if they weren’t in each others’ space so intensely at such a young age.

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Having three young kids is a lot of work. I have three kids who ride in five-point harnesses, can’t tie their shoes, or make their own breakfast. And when do kids learn to wipe their own bottom? Someone tell me.

More significant than the work of raising babies is the work of actually having babies. I’ve been either pregnant or nursing since November 2010. All that baby-growing and no sleep is hard. I’m weary. It’s hard on my body and hard on my psyche. With back-to-back-to-back pregnancies, I feel like I haven’t had a chance to recover and get my feet under me.

But when we’re done, we’ll be done. We are IN the baby stage; neck-deep, drowning in the baby stage. But when we’re out? We’ll be out. The same goes for elementary school, puberty, and high school. No starts and stops. Which means no whip-lash between stages, but it also means no or rests in-between.

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Perhaps the biggest sacrifice is that my babies don’t get to be babies for long; they’ve had to move out of the baby stage whether or not they were ready. David was still very much a baby when Mary Virginia was born, and the same thing happened to Mary Virginia when Thomas came along. Whenever Mary Virginia dissolves into tears because she can’t get a top off a marker, I remember that she’s still very, very young. It’s only because we have Thomas that I expect her to act like she’s older. If she didn’t have a little brother, I’d probably still be carrying her everywhere.


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No matter the age gap, parenting is challenging — I think we can all agree on that. Even though my kids are close in age, I do still have a 4-year old and a baby, which is quite a span. It means one is learning about phonics while the other is just starting solids.

I think age gaps change the family dynamic almost as much as the number of children you have. A family with two kids two years apart is completely different than a family with two kids eight years apart.

When I’ve talked about this with my friends, they mostly seem to like the age gaps they’ve experienced — both in the families they grew up in and the families they’re raising whether it’s what they intended or not. I’m 18 months younger than my sister and five years older than my brother; I know first hand that close age gaps foster a unique and deep friendship, but so do large age gaps.

As with so many things, there isn’t a right or wrong. It’s just one more thing that shapes sibling relationships and makes each family unique.

What has worked for your family?


[For some seriously extreme parenting, check out @chloeandbeans on Instagram. She has six children ages 3, 2, 1, and newborn triplets. And she’s 22. If that wasn’t hard enough, she also has over 220,000 Instagram followers criticizing her life choices and swaddling techniques! Social media!]


  1. Katherine A. December 18, 2015

    Great post! I love when kids as close in age as yours are so close in height. For some reason, I think that’s adorable.

    Mine are a bit more spaced then yours … 2 1/2 years and 2 1/2 plus three months. Haha! They are still close, but currently, their age spacing is what is making my life seem crazy. Julia is in kindergarten, which means it’s all the paperwork of life … permission slips, homework, sign this, return this, bring this! I’m awful at details, so this totally stresses me out. John is at the end of hard toddler phase, so still having the emotional breakdowns, rolling on the floor, “not THAT SPOON” type of stuff. Ahhh!!! And then Emmett has begun eating real food, but has no coordination, so he’s just messy ALL THE TIME! He’s covered in food, he eats dirt and other things, and he poops a tone. So … administrative, emotional, physical. This is what the age gap feels like it’s bringing me these days. Good to think through why I’m tired at this particular moment in time.

    Also, my kids all fight, all the time. I love when other people’s do too!

    Merry Christmas to y’all!!

  2. Carley December 20, 2015

    I think the best spacing for your family is whatever spacing you have. That being said, I have two girls 16 months apart, and I love it. They are best friends. They sing know life without the other. It’s great! (And I absolutely refuse to buy into the “wait until they’re teenagers” warning that I get a lot.)

    My biggest struggle with close-together spacing is that I have found some moms (not all… And not you) to be prideful about their spacing. Like having a certain number of kids in a certain number of years makes you a superior mom. it frustrates me when I see moms out their identity in that spacing.

  3. Lynsie December 20, 2015

    Ahhhh the fighting! I was raised an only child (with half siblings already grown and married) and the fighting is what makes me loose it. I just have a hard time remembering that at 2,almost 5, and 7 they are not going to consider each other before doing ANYTHING.

    But parenting is hard, it makes taking a bag of trash to the garage hard, it makes budgeting hard, it makes bed time hard, and it even makes finishing a cup of coffee hard. I was at the grocery store last week with just the 3 month old and a mostly Spanish speaking lady’s little girl started asking me about my baby. The mom and I couldn’t communicate well, but we were both buying big carts of food, checking to see if the eggs were cracked in the carton, and seeing which size and brand were the cheapest. I couldn’t understand her well, but I understood just fine when she ask me how many kids I had and then said “It’s so hard isn’t it?” I said “Yes, it is! We have some good days and bad and some that are total chaos.” I don’t know if she understood every word, but she agreed completely.


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