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mind the gap

There's nine years between my youngest and eldest - but here's why the age gap works so well

The way I parent has changed in nine years, but that’s not a bad thing, writes Jenny Sherlock.

MY CHILDREN ARE aged ten, six and one, meaning there’s a fairly sizeable age gap between each of them. Looking at them from the outside, there’s no doubt which of them is the eldest, middle and youngest child.

Having a large gap between each child is a situation that works for us, and I don’t think I could have comfortably managed having a toddler and a newborn baby at the same time.

I’m happy with my kids’ age gaps, but I have to wonder, is being so far apart in age from their closest siblings something that will affect their personality in the long term? Is birth order really something that makes a difference, or do we all turn out the same anyway?

Moving down the pecking order

According to Emer Loughrey, a counselling psychotherapist who deals a lot with family relationships, a lot of the belief around birth order or age gaps affecting personality is down to our own perception of where we sit in the pecking order at home.

It’s not just our own perception, though, as how the rest of the family reacts has a part to play too, as Emer explains:

I don’t think it’s the order itself that’s the defining determinant [in personality traits]. I think it’s more about how a child interprets their individual situation and how the rest of the family validate or ignore that.

Emer gives firstborns as an example. “The eldest child, despite having had the opportunity of being exposed to lots of love and undivided attention, may later experience a sense of loss when things change in the family structure.”

shutterstock_653512192 (1) Shutterstock / Tetiana Iatsenko Shutterstock / Tetiana Iatsenko / Tetiana Iatsenko

I’ve changed how I parent

In my own experience, the way I parent has changed over time and I believe this is a bigger contributor to the differences I see in my children than the number of years between them, or order in which they were born.

As a first time mum of 21, I had very different ideas of how things should be done and I certainly felt the need to prove myself and my abilities as a mother. Over the last ten years, my approach has become more relaxed and I am much more confident now than when I started.

A fellow parent, Susan Grehan, has two toddlers with 18 months between them, but even she says she’s noticed a difference in how she parents her youngest child.

“It’s mainly down to getting more confident in my parenting,” she says. “Also the personality of each of my children is different, and that has affected things more than birth order.”

Donna Brown, who has four kids under six, agrees:

Birth order doesn’t really come into it as my kids are so close in age,” she says. “The personality differences between each of my kids is what is most obvious.

shutterstock_1067952962 Shutterstock / Aynur_sib Shutterstock / Aynur_sib / Aynur_sib

Is there an ideal family structure?

In my own experience, there is certainly no magic formula when it comes to space between children. The most important factor for us was whether we felt emotionally and physically ready – not to mention financially ready – to bring another child into our family.

I am a firm believer that each couple has to figure out what is right for them, regardless of what the norm is or what sort of advice they receive for their family or friends.

For Susan, the decision to have a small age gap was mainly heath-driven. “I had suffered repeated early miscarriages and when I was finally prescribed medication that helped me carry to term I wanted to stay going,” she says.

As she herself is close in age to her own brother, she could see the merit in having kids close together. “I enjoyed having a sibling my age growing up,” she tells me.

Donna also looked to her own childhood when considering age gaps. “As a small child I loved the houses of friends or family that were full of busy children, so I’m living that dream now.”

shutterstock_722869789 Shutterstock Shutterstock

Starting from scratch

While my own situation works for me, I’ll admit that each new child felt somewhat like I was starting again, going back to nappies, night feeds and sleep deprivation.

In Emer’s expert opinion, there’s really no right or wrong, which is reassuring to hear.

The best I think any of us can do, is to consider how we are doing in life first before we set on the journey of bringing children into the world.

Perhaps the biggest consideration of all is whether you can give another child what they need. “It’s a child’s job to take and it’s our responsibility to be able to give them all they need,” she says.

More: The ‘grand stretch’ is great – but how on earth do I get my kids to sleep?

More: 10 excellent hospital bag essentials no-one tells you about, according to a second time mum

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