When I thought about how I wanted my family to be, when I was younger, I never thought I’d have a 15-year gap between my oldest and second children. My children are 20, 5, 3, and 2. While I love how things shaped up (it took me a while to meet someone I wanted to settle down with and have more kids with), having a large gap between kids has presented a bit of a challenge. My big kid has a completely different set of needs than my younger kids do, and because the younger kids need a lot more hands-on from mom, as much as I hate to admit it, my older kid can get lost in the shuffle of everyday life.
While my 20 year old is crushing it at college now, there’s still a good bit of balancing that goes on to keep family life running smoothly – and to make sure no one is left out. Without further ado, here are things I found that work well for parenting when there’s a large age gap.
Set aside time to focus on the older child(ren).
I can’t stress enough how much I cherished the time last summer with my oldest. We went on a daily walk/run for all of July and August. That provided my son with an opportunity to have his mom all to himself for the duration of the outing, without interruptions from younger siblings. This meant he could talk about all the things that were bothering him, important to him, etc. It was great.
We also take him out to dinner – just him – at least a few times while he’s home in the fall and winter. It’s not really possible to do that during the summer due, but we do that whenever we can – and it’s really nice to have that time.
Don’t make your older child your designated babysitter.
I know. I’m guilty of this from time to time, but last summer we compensated him for the time he spent watching his siblings. It’s really easy to get caught up in the convenience of having a child old enough to babysit at home. Be sure that you’re not relegating your child to this role.
Be aware that even with big gaps between kids, sibling rivalries can exist.
Growing up, there were 14 years between my older brother and myself. He grew up in a different household, so he always felt like my younger brother and I were the “real family” and he was an outsider. It’s so important, especially if there is a new relationship involved, to protect your child from feeling “cast aside” in favor of younger siblings. I was actually pretty shocked when my big kid was picking on his younger sister and taking her toys – who knew you had to worry about a teenager snagging a toddler’s toys?
Let your older child be a big sibling and mentor to your younger child.
In fact, encourage a mentor ship role. Life is hard, and your older child has navigated a big part of it. Let him or her give your younger child tips – whether it’s on avoiding getting in trouble with mom & dad or it’s sharing the best ways to learn to ride a bike. The magic of this is that it will foster closeness between siblings – even when one sibling is out of the house already.
Maintain a sense of flexibility.
Kids, particularly the 5 and under crowd, bring a certain amount of chaos into the picture. Have a backup plan for family activities, and try to plan them when best for the energy levels, hunger levels, and moods of the younger child(ren). You won’t regret it.
Support your older child’s activities and interests.
This may mean hiring a sitter for the evening. Show up to games, meets, plays, recitals, etc. It’s worth it. Again, the last thing that as a parent I ever wanted to do was to have my oldest feel he’d been replaced by his younger siblings. It isn’t always possible for us to get up to his college to see him perform, but in high school, we made sure to go to every home game or meet and every play he was involved in.
Do you have children with a large age gap? Share your experiences in the comments. Read more about raising children here.