Question: Our first child isn't a year old yet, but we're already thinking about having another baby. Do you have any thoughts on the spacing of children? Are kids happier when they're closer in age, or is it better to plan them further apart?

Answer:

There is no simple answer to the question you've raised. The significance of the age-spacing of children can only be determined on a case-by-case basis; its role in shaping sibling relationships will probably vary from family to family. There are a number of different factors to be taken into account, and both wider and narrower spacing arrangements come with their respective pros and cons.

Children born close together

Children of the same sex born within two years of each other are more likely to forge close bonds and enjoy mutual companionship than those spaced further apart. Unfortunately, they will also have more opportunity for conflict and competition. A great deal of good can come out of close sibling relationships of this nature provided mom and dad manage the details wisely. Maximum parental involvement is the key to achieving the happiest outcome.

Children spaced further apart

Kids born four or more years apart will probably experience less camaraderie while growing up. This may translate into a more peaceful household, but such is not always the case; in many instances the conflicts will simply assume a different character. There are also some subtler issues that parents will want to bear in mind in this situation. For example, if the older child, who is naturally bigger and stronger, displays aggressive behaviour, then providing safety and protection for the younger child will become a priority. If, on the other hand, the older child is mature, compliant and cooperative, mom and dad may be tempted to place too many adult responsibilities on his shoulders – to expect him, in effect, to act as a "junior parent." A child in this position needs to be encouraged to play and allowed to be a kid.

Other factors to consider

In very general terms, we would suggest that there may be more important reasons for planning a baby at a particular time than the ages of the children already present in the household. Of far greater significance is the health of the mother, the couple's desire for another child, financial considerations and the stability of the marriage. Mom and dad should consider the steadiness of their own temperaments as well as the current condition of their budget. Factors such as genetically-based depression, chronic anger, stress, unemployment and problems with substance abuse should also be weighed carefully before deciding how soon to bring another child into the world.

If you think it might be helpful to discuss these ideas at greater length with a member of our staff, we’d like to invite you to call Focus on the Family Canada’s counselling department. Our trained counsellors will be happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone. They can also provide you with a list of referrals to licensed Christian family therapists in your area who may be able to offer further assistance. You can reach them Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800. They'd consider it a privilege to come alongside you in any way they can.


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