If you’re thinking about having another baby or you’ve got another one on the way the debate on how long to leave it comes a close second to that over familiar question, ‘So when are you going to have another one?’
Just like everything with parenting there is no perfect time to add to your family. It’s a choice that comes down to what you think is best. Money issues, space, education and childcare are often a factor in the decision of whether it’s the right time to do the baby thing again.
Two emotional factors you might want to consider as your family grows:
• Understanding the emotional impact becoming an older sibling will have on your Little One
• Awareness of the impact it will have on your relationship. If you’ve got a toddler and a new baby it takes a lot emotionally and physically not to mention financially.
There’s nothing wrong with sticking to one
You might be feeling like you’d like to stick to one thank you very much and feel under pressure to have another child. Your Little One may not have brothers and sisters but they’ll have other benefits like having your entire focus. That well-worn expression, ‘We’re having another one to keep them company,’ doesn’t really hold water. If you want another baby than go for it, but you are not depriving your child if decide your family already feels complete.
You can’t wait to have another baby
If you find yourself hoping every month that you might be pregnant even if you are using contraception, then it sounds like baby No. 2 is a fait accompli. Having a new baby can be wonderful for everyone, it’s lovely to watch the relationship between siblings develop as well as reliving those precious new born days.
So, if a new baby is already on the way or you’re thinking about when you want to start trying for another one here are a few things I’ve observed in my work with thousands of families over the last four decades about the pros and cons of different baby gaps, and I’ll just say it again – there is no perfect gap, they each come with an upside and a downside.
If you’re first child is an older baby or toddler then you are in the parenting zone. You’ve got plenty of recent experience and most of the resources and equipment needed for caring for a new born and aren’t looking back through nappy-free rose tinted spectacles.
It might be you’re feeling broody or want to have your children closer together for more practical reasons to do with career gaps or childcare options. I often hear people say that they want to get it all over in one go, which is understandable.
Here’s the downside – having two babies at different developmental stages is exhausting. Your physical and mental health is going to be stretched even further so it’s time to be honest and practical about the support you’re going to need, to not just meet your children’s needs but your own as well. Some couples experience relationship problems when children are young because the demands are so high. If you’re in a relationship, it’s more than likely you are going to have less time for each other as a couple, with the increased demands looking after more than one child will have on your energy levels. For a lot of people logistics become more complicated and finances are under greater pressure.
You’ll often hear people say that having children close together is giving them a best friend to play with. I know this is contentious but often from a toddler’s perspective they don’t like having to share their Duplo never mind their mummy and daddy. It’s more frequently as adults that we value our siblings. The bond you share with someone who has known you for your whole life is very special and potentially is the longest relationship you will ever have. Though of course with parenting there are no hard and fast rules, everyone’s experience will be different.
An older baby or toddler can’t express the feelings of insecurity they experience when a new baby comes along. They may feel unhappy and have tantrums. It’s quite common for them to display affection for the baby and be very protective towards them while also being angry towards the mother. Also some toddlers do become enraged and are aggressive towards their new baby brother or sister. For them it’s a bit like they were your favourite teddy bear then come Christmas morning Santa brings you a cute tiny bear which everyone adores and they feel like they’ve been replaced and you won’t want your old teddy bear anymore. If you expect them to be jealous at times, and look at ways to help them see that you still love them very much rather than feeling annoyed and frustrated, hopefully things will go more smoothly.
It’s rare that I meet a mum with two or more small children who doesn’t feel divided. Feeling pulled in all directions and that you can’t give the new baby the same attention as was lavished on the first is common. But think of how much more experience you have now. You’re probably going to be more relaxed and worry far less than you did with your first baby. Also second time around parents often savour those early months as we know they really aren’t a tiny baby for very long.
Mums who have a longer gap often have more time to recover from giving birth and have regained a sense of self. You still have all the experience from raising your first baby to draw on without having to meet the huge demands of an older baby or toddler at the same time.
Some parents with longer gaps between children do find it takes longer to conceive which can be tough on you both. Depending on how big the gap is, it may have an impact on your career and childcare arrangements. The older we get the less energy we have and the more we worry, though second time around parents are more relaxed. But having to get up in the night with a new born baby if you’ve got used to having a good night’s sleep can be a bit of a shock to the system.
Spacing children out more may be better financially and give you time as a couple to reconnect before you go back into the baby zone. You’ve been able to devote yourselves to your first baby’s practical and emotional needs and form a strong attachment. You’re more likely to be able to talk to them about having a new sibling and help them find a secure role.
If your older child is already in full-time education then you’ll have a big block of time each weekday to dedicate to your new born baby’s needs and can spend quality time with your older child when they get home. This may mean you feel less guilt and anxiety than parents who are home with a new baby crying and a toddler hanging off them.
A bigger gap doesn’t mean that an older child won’t experience jealousy or have behavioural issues. It’s natural to feel anxious about a new person coming into the home. I don’t think as adults we’d like it if our partner told us very loved us very much but they’d met a gorgeous red head who they wanted to bring home who they loved just as much, and we were all going to live together as one big happy family. It’s a little bit extreme as an analogy but we do have to respect our children’s feelings as much as any adult.
The most important thing of course is that all your children feel loved and secure. You’ll have your own ways of doing this in hundreds of tiny conscious and unconscious ways every day, and the fact that you are giving it so much thought means you’re a very caring parent.
What do you think about the baby gap? We’d love to know.
I believe there’s no perfect gap, no right number of children – it’s all about choices and trying to meet the practical and emotional needs of the whole family (including you mums and dads). But what do you think? Comment, Tweet, Facebook – we’d love to know.
After four decades as a health visitor Sarah Beeson MBE and her daughter Amy co-wrote The New Arrival, Sarah’s true story of life as a trainee nurse in 1970s London. Their follow up memoir She’s Arrived! and parenting book Happy Baby, Happy Family: Learning to trust yourself and enjoy your baby will be published by HarperCollins 7 May 2015.