The Pros & Cons of a Sibling Age Gap

We’ve all seen the families with “stair-stepping children,” where there seems to be a uniform 2-year age gap between each one. And sure, there are definite pros to having children spaced closely and evenly. But what about families with big gaps — 5 or more years — between their kids? What kinds of things do they get to look forward to as parents, and what hurdles will they have to cross that parents of children who are closer in age will not? This article goes into detail about the pros and cons of a sibling age gap. 

The Advantages

Having children who aren’t close in age — whether by choice or by outside forces like infertility, economic instability, or blending families — has some significant advantages to parents. Here are a few. 

  • Individual Attention – Because their older children are at school, parents can focus more on their younger child’s early development without having to divide their attention. Older children are also more independent, which allows parents to form a strong bond with the younger child during their formative years. That’s not something that can typically be done when children who are close in age.
  • Role Modeling – Babies with an older sibling have a built-in role model. An older sibling serves as a de facto mentor, positively influencing the younger child’s behavior, learning, and social skills. They can also help their younger sibling with learning activities and even classwork as they enter elementary school.
  • Reduced Sibling Rivalry – A big age gap doesn’t mean siblings won’t ever fuss, but being at different maturity levels can mean less competition and rivalry. In fact, older children may take on a protective, caring role, which can enhance family cohesion and mutual respect.
  • Financial Stability – Parents have more time to recover financially from the expenses of a first child before taking on the costs associated with a second child. Similarly, parents with kids spaced farther apart have time to save and recover from big milestones, such as buying cars or paying for college. 

The Disadvantages

  • Extended Parenting Time – Parents who have their children close together finish parenting quicker in life. They may be up all night for years taking care of multiple babies, but they’re done after five years. By extending the intensive part of parenting over many years, parents with children spaced farther apart in age may find themselves exhausted. It’s also important to not overlook the fact that parents’ personal and professional goals usually have to be postponed as they manage young children longer.
  • Different Life Stages – Kids who are similar in age have similar needs. It’s easier for parents to address the developmental needs of several children when all of those needs are roughly the same. But a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old have very different needs. Parents who are raising older and younger children may never feel “in the groove” because they are constantly hopping between two age groups’ needs. 
  • Different Interests – Parents navigating a big age gap between children can’t just turn the TV on and expect everyone to enjoy what’s playing. Finding activities that suit both age groups can be hard, and everyone in the family might find themselves more frequently running into the question, “What’s something we can all do?”
  • Social Challenges Between Siblings – Siblings who are farther apart in age probably won’t share the same social circles or peer groups, and they may find themselves feeling unable to connect or relate to one another. And, despite the fact they probably won’t feel an intense rivalry, there can still be feelings of jealousy or resentment. If the younger child perceives that the older child receives more privileges or the older child thinks their younger sibling gets away with more, it can widen the disconnect they may feel.

No “One Way”

In the end, the age gap between siblings is something parents can’t fully control. For all kinds of reasons, parents can’t always choose how much time they have between kids. However, if you have children who are farther apart in age, there’s no need to fret. There are a lot of advantages for having children at different ages (and disadvantages for having them close together!). Don’t feel bad or like you’ve been dealt a less ideal hand as a parent. It may be different from what you were expecting, but there are lots of reasons to celebrate your family!