Planning your family ― should you have your kids close together, or spaced further apart? Will it affect sibling relationships?

Stay-at-home-mum of two Cordelia Ho, 36, initially planned to have her kids two years apart. An older brother who was two years her senior gave her “someone to look up to, yet not too much older, such that we couldn’t relate to each other,” she explains. “That, to me, was the ideal age gap.”

However, Ho’s plans changed when her husband was posted to China for work when her firstborn, Jasper, was 8 months old. Says Ho, mum to Avril, 3, and Jasper, 8, “I couldn’t imagine being overseas with no family support, and getting pregnant while looking after an active toddler.”

So, it was only when the family returned to Singapore when Jasper was 4 that the couple decided to try for another child. As to the wider age gap between her children, Ho sees both pros and cons. “While Jasper is extremely protective of his mei mei, I feel that he’s getting to the age where he has a close group of friends in primary school, and Avril can’t quite fit into that scheme of things.”

Another mum, Jasmine Song, chose to have her kids, Sarah, 3, and Charmaine, 4, soon after the first one arrived as she wanted them to have a tight bond. “It’s incredibly hard work in the early years, but it’s also extremely rewarding to see the sisters so close,” she says.

“It’s incredibly hard work in the early years, but it’s also extremely rewarding to see the sisters so close.”

Whether you’re just starting your family, or if you’ve already have one child and planning for a second, you might have wondered ― is there an ideal age gap between kids? We’ve weighed the pros and cons.

Small age gap (under 2 years)

The older child is less likely to reject his sibling because he is too young to understand or even think about displacement issues or be territorial about his possessions.
* These “ready-made playmates” are likely to be close. They will share common interests, like similar things (no fighting to watch different cartoons), share the same group of friends, and play the same games.
* As they are going through the same stages together, this means that hand-me-down clothes, toys and baby gear will still be “relatively new” for the younger sibling. Financially, this makes sense.
* This also means getting rid of the clutter ASAP, without having to store it for years. Woohoo!
* The time you spend dealing with newborn issues like sleep deprivation is condensed. Plus, tips and tricks like how to swaddle or soothe are still fresh in your memory.
* Your older child develops patience and understanding at a faster rate, thanks to his newly-acquired status as an older sibling. He might even pick up new skills like feeding and changing himself independently, earlier than his peers.

It’s better for your career: If you intend to stay at home for the first few years of your children’s lives, it means that you’ll rejoin the workforce earlier.

* You might still need to carry your older toddler while you are pregnant. This can be uncomfortable and put even more stress on your back.
* If your older child still wakes in the middle of the night, you’ll find that you won’t able to sleep much, even in the exhausting days of the first trimester. Plus, many consecutive years of sleep deprivation is sure to take its toll.
* If you fall pregnant again too soon, they may be health risks to you and your baby, as you may be deficient in important nutrients. Some of these risks include low birthweight and prematurity. You may even risk a uterine rupture if you had previously given birth via C-section.
* There are studies that suggest that children born a year after their older sibling are three times more likely to be diagnosed with autism.
* It may take its toll emotionally. You may feel like you are neglecting your older child, and that you haven’t had enough time with him before your baby arrives.
*It will be financially challenging, as both your children will be at the diapering stage together, and will enter university at around the same time.
* There will be sibling rivalry. Common interests mean that they are constantly vying for the same toys, books, friends, and even your attention.
* One sibling (usually the younger) may feel overshadowed by the other’s achievements and feel insecure.

Find out what are the pluses and minuses of siblings with a wider age gap…next!


Medium age gap (2 to 4 years)

Your body is physically in a better condition for a second pregnancy. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that parents should wait at least 18 to 23 months after a full-term birth before conceiving again, as this lowers the risk of premature birth and low birthweight.
* You’ve likely had a break from the newborn stage, since your older child would probably be sleeping through the night by now.
* It hasn’t been that long since you had your first baby, so you might still have some baby gear, as well as clothes and toys to pass down to your baby, which should save you some money.
* Your kids will still be able to play well together, and form a strong bond.
* Your firstborn will be old enough to understand that when you are pregnant, you may not have as much energy and that you’ll not be able to carry him as often.
* You have adequate time to focus on your baby, now that his older sibling is in preschool.

* Your firstborn is at the age where he feels that his position is being displaced ― particularly if you need to make alternative childcare arrangements for him, since the second child is arriving soon.
* There will be sibling rivalry, especially since your older child is old enough to cotton on where he used to be numero uno, he now has to play second fiddle to a bawling baby.
* Is your older child in preschool or a childcare centre? Any virus that he catches from his peers may be brought home to you and your newborn.
* If your toddler is going through the Terrible Twos or becoming an angsty “three-nager”, you’ll be torn between your newborn’s needs and settling your tot emotionally.
* Your older child’s needs, like toilet training, educational activities, or moving into a “big kid bed” will be second to your newborn’s more immediate needs.
* Watch out for baby safety hazards! As your older child moves on to toys with tiny pieces (in the process leaving them all over the floor), you’ll worry about choking hazards.

Any virus that he catches from his peers may be brought home to you and your newborn.

Large age gap (4 or more years)

* A larger age gap is good for your older child’s self-esteem, as he’s spent sufficient time with you to develop his own character and personality, before his younger sibling came along.
* You will be able to spend more one-on-one time with both children.
* It’s less demanding on the parents. Once your firstborn is more self-sufficient with tasks like feeding, taking shower and toilet training, it frees up your time to nurture your littler one.
* You have a little helper at your disposal ― get him to help with diaper changes and watching out for his younger sibling.
* Your older child will develop his caring and nurturing side, as well as many skills in the process of taking care and bonding with his sibling.
* It may be easier, budget-wise, to spread out the cost of raising children over a lengthier period of time.

* If you are an older mum by the time you decide to get pregnant again, the risks are higher and it may be more difficult to conceive.
* Getting back to the swing of looking after a newborn will not be easy after a break of several years.
* Don’t be surprised that, despite the larger age gap, you can still detect sibling rivalry. While you may think that the older child will be more mature and independent at this age and overcome his jealousy, he will also be more aware that his position as the only child has been displaced by a newcomer.
* Their interests will differ. Your older child may want to be with his friends more, and see himself more as a steward to his sibling than a playmate.
* It may be more difficult to plan activities, outings and vacations as a family. While your firstborn may be looking forward to a hiking trip, for instance, you’ll also need to take into account your baby’s needs.
* This new arrival may impact your social life, especially if your peers are enjoying the period where their children are growing up, while you are back to square one ― aka the newborn stage ― again.

Photos: iStock

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