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Issues! What's the Optimal Child Spacing?

parentingI have three kids, with four years between each birth. When I want to torture myself, I do the math and recall that, a decade from now, I will have one starting college, one starting high school and one in the fourth grade. For a person who is exactly 12 months younger than her only sibling, this scenario is simply ridiculous. That’s too many years between kids.

Except the four-year stretch has, so far, been pretty good. One at a time in those totally dependent newborn to 3 years. One at a time in daycare (flash-forward to college — one at a time there, too). Plenty of breathing room for everybody.

So what is the optimal number of years between siblings? Eighteen months? Two years? Five?

The July issue of Parenting: Early Years looks into the pros and cons of various spacings. It turns out, no scenario is perfect.

Here’s a recap:

For two under two, moms report total exhaustion (crap, what’s my excuse?). But planning family activities without having to wait for the younger ones to get older is a plus (agreed — my oldest gets ripped off with a lot of that stuff, while my middle one gets put in situations she’s not entirely ready for). Also, attention-needy toddlers make baby snuggling a challenge.

Three years apart

Often thought of as the ideal, the magazine doesn’t come up with many cons except for the older child not understanding why Mom and Dad spend so much time with the baby. Scheduling activities for the older child around the naps of the younger is nearly impossible. (I would add, at any age.)

Four years or more

The great part is that older kids are independent and can entertain themselves (and eat alone at the table, etc.). It’s also fun to see the older ones show such an interest in the new baby. But it’s a shock for Mom and Dad to go back to the newborn days, since most sleep problems, potty training, etc., have been out of the picture for a while.

What the magazine doesn’t talk about are those families with a decade or more between the siblings, a set up which can sometimes feel raising like two onlies. Or even spacing between more than two children.

Also, no matter what the spacing, this will no doubt be every family’s cross to bear.

What are your thoughts? How many years are between your kids? Is that how you planned it? Do you wish they were closer together in age — or further apart?

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Image: Parenting.com

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