Mind the gap…

Once upon a time, back in my staffer days, I remember writing a feature about the best age gap to leave between having children. I vaguely recall one of the experts I interviewed postulating that the best gaps are either less than 18 months (eek!) or over three years. These gaps, the expert said, were the most likely to lead to harmonious sibling relationships, unburdened by jealousy and rivalry.

With my five and a quarter year gap, I should, then, be onto a winner. And indeed, for the first, what, 14 months of The Baby’s life, the relationship between my children was pretty much perfect. Yes, there was the occasional wail of, ‘Stop her eating my Lego!’ but in general, brother and sister were the best of friends. 

Lately, though, I’ve been finding our family dynamics less straightforward. Both The Boy and The Baby have changed a lot lately, and so has their relationship.

The Baby absolutely adores her big brother. She’s always loved him, but now she *really* loves him. She cries if he goes off to school without saying goodbye. She wants to do everything he can do. Her face lights up when she sees him again at the end of the school day.

Herein lies problem number one. The Boy loves his sister, of course, but not with the same intensity. He’s six years old, and becoming increasingly grown-up and independent. He doesn’t want to hang around with his little sis in the park after school; he wants to play with his friends. He doesn’t want to roll around on the floor with her when he gets home; he wants to vanish upstairs to read or build Lego in his room.

The Baby doesn’t like this. Not one bit. I can guarantee that within 30 seconds of The Boy shutting himself in his bedroom, she’s banging on his door, calling his name, and throwing a strop when I try to carry her away. And I get annoyed. Not with The Baby, but with The Boy. Is it really too much to ask him to be nice to his little sister for 10 minutes after school, before he sequesters himself in his den?

Rationally, I know it is. He’s entitled to his downtime after school, to enjoy his books and toys without The Baby spoiling his games. But I can’t help wishing he’d give her the Big Brother time she’s been craving all day.

Then there’s problem number two: The Baby’s insistence that what’s his is hers. I cast my mind back to being six and can well imagine how outraged I’d have been if my younger brother had been allowed to rampage in my bedroom, but that’s what The Baby does. The Boy, to his credit, is generally very accepting of this, but when frictions bubble up, I feel bad for both of them. It’s not fair on him to have his sister running amok in his personal space, but it’s not fair on her to be shut out when she doesn’t understand why. After all, his toys are *much* more exciting than hers.

The third problem is The Baby’s jealousy. We expected the reverse, with The Boy resenting the attention his little sister was getting, but even when she was at her newborn neediest, he never seemed to mind. She, however, is insanely jealous of The Boy having one-to-one time with me. If I’m listening to him read, she’ll clamber up and tear the book from my hands; if I’m snuggling up with him in bed in the morning, she whinges and physically tries to put herself between me and him.

It was bound to happen, I suppose. I was naive to think that a larger than average gap would mean that we’d never have sibling squabbles, sibling rivalry. Both of my children are big characters, and both know exactly what they want.

But that said, I wouldn’t change the age gap for the world. There are bound to be frictions as they grow up together, but who’s to say they’d have been fewer with a smaller gap – or a bigger one? I like having quality time with The Baby when The Boy is at school, and with The Boy when The Baby is napping. I like the fact that The Boy is responsible enough to watch his sister while I hang the washing out. I like the way she’s learning so much from him: words, table manners, motor skills.

Yes, there are the occasional moans and grumbles, but they play together, they giggle, they genuinely enjoy each other’s company – not always, but often. And when I put The Baby in a new dress in the morning (as I did today, with the sun beating down), and The Boy takes one look at his sister and exclaims, ‘Oh, you look *beautiful* – like a little flower fairy…’ Well, there are no words to describe how that makes me feel.


6 thoughts on “Mind the gap…

  1. We have 6 year between H and J and they are probably the two that get on the best. They play together quite well most of the times, but of course, we have another two in between them. I have 18 months between H and Z and they got on amazingly when they were little, they were so sweet but they fight like cats and dogs now.
    It’s not the gap, it’s the kids honestly.
    I have a friend who is the eldest of two. Her little brother is 3 years younger than her and they were best of friends as kids and are still great friends now. She managed to replicate this gap exactly between her two (older girl, younger boy) and they argue and shout at each other often. My friend finds this hard to cope with sometimes.

    • That’s a really good point, Jacq. DH and his two brothers were all born at three-year intervals (DH is the middle one); the youngest and eldest brother get on brilliantly, but DH rarely sees either of them. Good to hear that H and J get on well, though. I do think 5/6 years is a pretty good gap (if only because my sanity wouldn’t have stood up to anything less!).

  2. There is a 5 year and 2 month gap between myself and my sister and I can honestly say I HATED her until about 4 years ago. I am ashamed to admit it and now we both have a giggle about it. Yet in all seriousness I can see the hurt in her little face when I’m hugging my younger sister (7 year gap) on a school photo and she’s sat on the end of the bench, alone.

    One of the things which contributed to this problem was me being forced to play with her. For example my mum would say I could ‘only go and play out if you take your sister with you’ I really did not like this although I never bothered if she played with my toys.

    I don’t believe there is a perfect, ideal age gap. I believe it’s how you deal with the age gap that matters. I have 2 horrible memories which have stuck with me. 1. when I was 5 and on the toilet (toilet was in the same room as bathroom) my sister was being bathed by my mum. I suddenly shuddered, I still do this sometimes and I said ‘Mummy, sometimes when I do a wee I shake like this *did a little shudder*’ My mum didn’t look up but the second I stopped talking she said ‘Awww’ I remember thinking, ‘Is she saying aww at me? Or at HER?’ even at the age of 5 I was aware that my mum wasn’t paying as much attention to me as she always had before. 2. When I was about 8, so sister was 3. I had been sent up to my room as I was misbehaving, instead I chose to sit on the bottom stair. I overheard my dad saying to my mum that sometimes it was so difficult to like me, and that he wished I could be ‘more like her sister, she’s a little angel’

    This comment is not intended to scare you! Lol It’s just pointing out that it’s the way siblings are raised rather than their ages. I know people who had gaps of 2, 3, 4, 5… year gaps and have always been so close! We were never taken for days out, didn’t have many holidays and therefore any time we spent together was cooped up in the house and I don’t ever remember ONE instance of quality family time, this I think led to many arguments and forced friendship (if that makes any sense!) The Boy and The Baby will always have a special bond as you ensure they have such a fulfilled life and they are happy children, I don’t have many happy childhood memories. But I am so happy that I now love and appreciate my sister. I am planning a 5 year gap between Summer and the next baby and I will be inspired by you Lucy, The Baby and by The Boy. What a fantastic big brother he is x

    • Thank you so much for your lovely, honest reply. It’s sad that you always felt overshadowed by your sister. You make some very good points that I need to take on board, particularly about giving The Boy as much attention as I give The Baby (not always easy) and watching what I say when he might be listening in (we definitely do a lot of ‘awww, she’s so *cute*’ about her). I hope they’ll grow up close, though only time will tell. I do think a five-year gap is right for us; the fact that if I were to have a two-year gap, I’d already be pregnant now horrifies me! The Baby is still a baby and so demanding of time and attention; it amazes me that people are ready to go for it again so quickly.

  3. There are 23 months between my son and daughter (he’s 3.5 and she’s 1.5) and we have some the same problems that you do! She wants to play with him all the time but he’s not interested and prefers to play on his own. She gets jealous when I give him a cuddle or he sits on my knee. He doesn’t like to share his toys/snacks with her and goes mad when she touches them (we’re working on this one with him!) He wants her to do a certain thing but she won’t so they both go mental! But in between all this, they still play really nicely together, make each other laugh a lot and he’s very protective of her. I think their relationship will improve as they get older and she can talk properly. x

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