Siblings 2 years apart - what are we in for?
April 19, 2020 1:11 PM   Subscribe

After a huge emotional journey, we had our daughter 17 months ago. As soon as we had become resigned and happy with having an only child, of course the gods of fate decided to laugh in our faces and I got pregnant. The baby is due about a month before First Child turns 2. I go between being in denial and being bewildered. What are we in for?

Questions include but not limited to:
- Do we need to prepare our daughter for the arrival of the new baby before they are born? Will it help at all when she is so young?
- How do we deal with the first few months with a newborn and a toddler? I stress remembering what the first few months with our daughter was like and I don’t know how we will get through that again with another child who needs so much attention right now.
- What is it actually like having kids this close in age? What will their relationship be like and how can we help to make it as positive as possible?

I know we’re by no means in a unique situation. But we had very little experience with children before our first one. Two is really unexpected and sometimes overwhelming me even as a concept. Anecdotes and advice welcome, thanks!
posted by like_neon to Human Relations (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is the spacing between our kids. I don't remember much of the first few months because of the sleep deprivation - having to wake up with the 2-year old early in the morning after being up in the middle of the night was rough. We did more sleeping in separate rooms than with the first and were more protective of time to sleep.

We definitely talked about the new baby, and perhaps should have more. Our older kid became scared of the dark around that time. My theory was that part of what happened was that he fell asleep and there was no younger sibling and woke up and there was a brother. We had this book: and another one "I'm a big brother" about getting a new sibling which we read many times. Books play an important role in our house, but we really liked being able to read the stories.

That said, our kids are now 5 and 7, and have a wonderful relationship and play together all of the time. It's a great spacing once you get over the sleep deprivation.
posted by lab.beetle at 1:31 PM on April 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Anything and everything is possible, entirely depending on the kids' personalities.

For best results make sure that the eldest gets plenty of predictable one on one time with both parents by turns, at least every day, and prepare for some regression. Make sure the baby is not the constant subject of conversations, especially with your eldest. You can certainly talk about her being a Big Sister now! but you also need to keep her other identities going, like Mummy's little artist, or Daddy's big stompy boots, or whatever are her current roles before the baby is born. She will get pretty fed up if the only topics of conversation are, What a good big sister you are, Mummy is so tired because of the baby, Mummy can't right now because of the baby, Let's take baby to the park, Baby is too young to draw pictures but you can draw Mummy a picture while she feeds baby, etc.

As soon as you can, manipulate the two of them into being in league against the adults. For example when mine squabbled and fought they both had to go on time out - which would last only until they both gave permission for the other kid to be let out. The gleeful expressions on their faces the first time they realised that they could look at each other and nod and walk away two seconds after getting on their time out chairs was a sight to behold. They were so smug they would have been high fiving if they knew how to do that. Of course being in league to evade my restrictions like that stopped the squabbles dead. It also happened that when the youngest was exhausted and miserable from interacting with the oldest she could keep them both in time out, separated as long as she needed and made him realise that he could push her too far and she did have some power and it mattered to him how she felt. If he didn't work around what she needed and wanted then he would lose.

The hardest thing will be the constant need to be on duty with a small and a baby that both need supervision. Keeping them on a schedule where you get some time off every day is critical. It also helps if you can get out of the house without them every day, even if it is only five minutes on the porch with a cup of coffee.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:47 PM on April 19, 2020 [23 favorites]

Childless person here, so can't speak to the logistics of raising kids close in age. But I have a brother who's 18 months younger, and I've mostly thought being close in a age is pretty neat. Of course there's never a guarantee that your kids will get/like/enjoy each other (and sometimes these things just take their time), but I think being close in age helps avoid many pitfalls in silbling relationships:

- I can't remember much of my time as an only child, so there wasn't any jealousy to overcome.
- I never missed a time when I had my parents singular attention. I think it was more of an advantage that someone else was there to demand their attention. I suspect I would have found too much parental scrutiny rather stiffling.
- I'm not that much older, so the expections for me to be more mature weren't that much higher.
- My brother and I went through the important milestones in quick succession, so our parents standards/expectations/rules didn't change too dramatically in-between. I think it's easier to stay consistent about things like screentime/bedtimes, etc. if the kids aren't too far apart.
- I never saw a reason to accuse my parents of playing favourite and my brother has never expressed such a sentiment either (at least not to me, but I think he would; we have a strong relationship as adults).
- We could play well together and entertain each other for hours without needing parental input.
- Having an in-house playmate to always fall back on made me bit lazy about seeking out other kids/working on my social skills to attract friends in kindergarten, because I didn't quite feel the urgency. But it also made me feel secure enough to just run for the hills when another kid gave me bad vibes. Later, as a teenager, when it became increasingly clear that a little brother can't compensate for the lack of a BFF or a clique, I lost some of that confidence and put up with a lot more bullshit from others as a result, for a while.
- That said, my brother has always been much more gregarious than me, and to this day, I benefit socially from the association.
- In turn, I have often helped my brother with schoolwork and stuff, because I've generally had an easier time regarding academics.
- There were ups- and downs, of course. The summer when he was thirteen I found him insufferable. We had mostly a truce as teenagers when we were both too preoccupied with our own stuff to give each other much thought. We supported each other through some difficult times later and are pretty close as adults.
posted by sohalt at 2:00 PM on April 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

The real answer is of course, that it depends but my BFF has two children who are 15 months apart and she says that it was pretty tricky for a little while (hard to explain to a two year old about the new baby) but now (They are 3 and 4) they are able to really play together and occupy one another. Which is coming in pretty darn handy right now. My kids are 3 years apart and while that has benefits too, I certainly don't see them playing independently together the way my friend's children who are closer in age do. Wishing you all the very best!
posted by jeszac at 2:01 PM on April 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

Historically speaking, two years is an incredibly common spacing between siblings. But the relationship will depend hugely on the personalities, which could of course be anything. Closer ages means they're more likely to perceive themselves as peers, which could mean more closeness or more competitiveness (or both!). I think it's more efficient for parents--hand-me-downs pass from child to child relatively quickly, rules and expectations don't have to be drastically different, more activities can be done together, the older child is likely to be available to teach skills and ease transitions into new schools/programs/whatever. The older child will have less ability to mind the younger, but I feel like upper middle class and above parents have totally lost that concept, anyway. I have n siblings, where n>3, and our relationships vary substantially, but the only one whose relationships seem qualitatively different to me from the outside is the one with several years between them and the next oldest.
posted by praemunire at 2:30 PM on April 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is a standard spacing of kids - you're in a really big club.

There are some distinct advantages two.

If #2 is a girl there's a good chance your daughter just got her best friend for life, as in the person closest to her in the world (her own spouse and kids possibly excepted) between six months from now and say the year 2110.

It's SUPER convenient for kids to be two grades apart. For example, assume K-5 elementary school, 6-8 middle school and 9-12 high school, they'll be in the same schools for seven of 15 years one or both is in school, rather than four of 16 years if three grades apart, with six consecutive years they're in different schools, or two of 17 years if four grades apart (just #2s first two years in school).
posted by MattD at 2:33 PM on April 19, 2020 [5 favorites]

If it is any comfort, barring unusual circumstances, going from 1 to 2 felt a lot easier than transition from childless to the first one. You are already used to being tired, so the sleep deprivation isn't as much of a shock to the system. :)
posted by hankscorpio83 at 2:41 PM on April 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have a sister who is 15 months younger than me. She and I fought a lot, but we also were each other's best friend. We did EVERYTHING together. I tell people she's the best thing my parents ever gave me (and I have two other siblings). She and I are still super close and I feel so grateful to have someone that gets the full me because she shared a nearly identical childhood.

My brother, who is 8 years younger than me, decided to space his kids close together too (18 months apart) because even from the outside he could see the bond I had with my sister was really something.

One con: I wish people didn't *always* treat us like a inseparable pair. It would have been nice to get individual time with an adult or be involved in activities that were mine alone. My identity was a little too tangled up with my sister's.

One pro: I learned conflict resolution early. If you get in enough disagreements, you learn to fix them and mend the relationship. A conflict with a peer is going to feel a lot different than a conflict with a parent. There is no power differential. It also helped me be aware of how my actions would affect someone else.
posted by pdxhiker at 2:45 PM on April 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

One thing to keep in mind for later: it’s pretty cool to be in high school together. My siblings are 22 months younger than me (they’re twins), and I was a senior in HS when they were freshmen. They got the benefit of having someone who could show them around, and I got extra privileges (by which I mostly mean a car) because I would do things like drive them to and from school with me.

My own children are 2.5 years apart and that’s something I’m looking forward to.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:50 PM on April 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Our kids are 18 months apart and they get along fine despite big difference in emotional maturity (12 y old boy and almost 14 y old girl). I haven't much to add, but 1) support from your partner will be doubly important for your mental well-being particularly in the first months, discuss it beforehand, 2) make sure to make as many photos of the second child as you have of the first one, at least for the first year, you'll probably fail, but hopefully not as badly as we did, 3) yes, n-thing the recommendation to prepare your daughter for the arrival of the sibling, it worked out great in our case.
posted by hat_eater at 3:06 PM on April 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice above. When we get through this covid insanity make sure if at all possible that your daughter is around little babies and can see what they're like, can be taught to pat the baby gently, give the baby toys, whatever. A sudden squalling baby when she's never been around any could be upsetting. If there are any close family members who can help be sure they give much more attention to your older child than to the baby when they visit, that and cooking, cleaning, etc. are much more important than cooing at the new baby.
posted by mareli at 4:18 PM on April 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

My daughter was 23 months old when her brother was born. She wanted nothing to do with him at the hospital (or us, she took one look at us and the baby and said she was going back to grampa’s truck) but was totally fine with him once we got home. As far as she knows she’s always had a brother so it’s not an issue.

They are... too happy to play together. It’s both amazing and a little overwhelming just how much they love each other and want to be together, because they have zero concept of personal space and the only way they know how to play is roughhousing. It’ll be interesting when they’re older (they are 6 and 4 right now) but they are the bestest of friends even when they throw sticks at each other, like today.

Second baby was super easy because I felt like I had all the XP from the first. I knew what to DO so the only problem was the general exhaustion. Our son started sleeping through the night at 6 weeks though, so we hit the sleep jackpot.
posted by lydhre at 5:35 PM on April 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

You really can't prepare the older one enough but definitely try to.

How do you guys sleep? For us sleep was the hardest because I mainly put the older one to sleep by lying down with him, which became very difficult with a newborn who wanted to nurse.

Try to really put yourself in his shoes and imagine what it would be like, and make time for some alone time with him (with another adult's help).

I did not find it to be easy. I found babycare for #2 to be easy, but the sibling dynamic to be the hardest part.
posted by slidell at 5:46 PM on April 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm the elder one, my sibling was born on my 2nd birthday.

Give your elder child some elder child privileges. It'll save lots of resentment in the long run. Once we got passed the baby years we were basically raised as if we were twins i.e. same bedtimes. I actually got sent to bed earlier sometimes because I'd rant about the unfairness of it all and be thus punished. Sigh.

As adults it's all great. But being 11 and having to go to bed at the same time as a 9 year old? Oooh, that hurt.
posted by kitten magic at 6:39 PM on April 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Mark the photos. Mark the photos. Mark the photos.
Seriously, babies and toddlers do look alike. You're welcome.
Other than that, I find it hilarious to hear my daughters interact (30 and 33). They are still friends, but with their own lives and interests.
And each child rewrites the book, so don't get hung up on "Casey slept all night at three months and started teething at seven months, so I have a rest period." Nope, not only will Chris have their own schedule, but you will be doing catch-up with what Casey is now doing. It's an endless cycle, but not an identical one.

The pros: you still have all the clothes, toys, car seats, etc. as long as they have not worn out. Your pediatrician is still giving the same advice (for the most part). Your circle of friends is also on the same groove of child rearing (you will find new peers at Parent 'N' Me classes and preschool). You recognize the teachers. You can take both children to the playground, zoo, amusement park, swimming pool, library, etc. and usually have both doing the same things (less jealousy and stress if only one child is allowed on a ride or an area of the park).

The cons: you know that buzz in the back of your head when you think, "I can't hear Casey playing in the kid's room -- better check"? Now you have that instinct for two, and while one is playing with cars and Legos, the other is quietly taking apart your spouse's laptop. Just sayin'. Check on them both.
They may not get along. And then they are inseparable. It comes in waves.

Just because one likes the violin, does not mean the other has to take up piano. Sports, social activities, educational achievements, and personalities are not exclusive to one child or must be explored by both. Maybe one will go to college and the other hop a plane and travel the world. Who knows? There is no telling until they grow up and tell you, so do avoid setting expectations early.
Do I have to mention the boy/girl gap of child rearing expectations? Yes, boys can nurture and girls can dream big.

Major co-parenting benefit: I still have fond memories of weekends when my husband would take the first baby/toddler shopping or to the park while I slept in. We continued this by having regular one-on-one time with each child. Libraries and playgrounds are great ways to explore or just sit quietly and enjoy each other's company.

Earlier tonight our youngest was playing 7 Days to Die with her dad from their living rooms. I sent a hello and I love you past the headphones.
Both girls have been by the house this week to check on us and do taxes. They have been shopping for each other this winter and spring. They still take care of each other, and I'm happy about that.
So it does get better, down the road. Tie a knot in your patience and hang on. And remember the Red and Blue Rule: if no one is bleeding or turning blue, it ain't a crisis. Good luck!
posted by TrishaU at 7:41 PM on April 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

My brother and I are exactly 2 years apart. Same birthday and everything.

Our children are 27 months apart (currently 5 & 7)

Very much in general, the baby is FASCINATING until it is old enough to start touching your stuff and have a personality, then there will be squabbles, but until then they're mostly an awesome pet.

In both cases, they will be best friends and most annoying frenemies in varying degrees, with everything jolting around when the first one is in school and the younger one isn't. Once they're old enough to play with each other it is AWESOME, both for your time and to watch them.

Actual logistics for the near future: let her know about the baby, don't expect her to understand too much. As mentioned above, the baby is a fascinating pet to her more than a real (breakable) human. She will probably be much more gentle and respectful than you would expect of a toddler. She will probably be much better than you expect about sharing you with the baby, as long as the baby interests her, but night time will be a bitch.

Aspirational thoughts from my mother-in-law: try not to have two in diapers at the same time. I didn't pull it off either, but it's not a bad idea to have her practice just sitting on the potty now. We didn't even make it that far.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 8:41 PM on April 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

TBH, I feel like when I was a kid it was sort of unusual to have siblings this close (my bestie and her sister were 16 months apart and I remember it being remarked on often), but nowadays as people have waited longer to start families it's gotten much more common; if you have your first at 36 you basically want to start trying straightaway for a second if a second is what you want. So while you may be feeling overwhelmed, I have kids with three and three-and-a-half year intervals between them and I feel like these days people are like "Wow, what big gaps! How is *that* going??" and wonder aloud how it'll be to have my oldest and youngest be six and a half years apart. As someone who was six years older than my youngest sister I'm like "uh, familiar" but most modern parents I know with three have a smaller gap between the oldest and youngest, for sure. You're in good company.

What people say about the sub-two-year age gap is that they barely remember #2's first year because things were so nuts, but that after the first is potty trained and more or less sleeping through the night, things get a lot easier, and it's nice as childhood progresses that the kids are so developmentally close. They like the same sorts of activities, they are on pretty similar levels in terms of communication, humor, the sort of entertainment they like, etc. I mean, even now with the oldest at 7 we're thinking with despair about what a drag it'll be to come up with family trips where all three kids have fun, age-appropriate stuff to do. People also rave about how nice it is to basically get the super-dependent baby years out of the way all at once, whereas with a bigger gap you get used to having "big kids" and being able to kinda depend on a normal amount of sleep in normal-size chunks, then get plunged back in the baby pool again.
posted by potrzebie at 9:49 PM on April 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Our daughter was born 22 months after our son. They are 3 1/4 and almost 1 1/2 now. The transition from one kid to two was in general a lot easier than none to one.

The biggest issue we had was really with sharing. They’re both great, sweet kids, but they were just at ages where if she comes up and grabs what he’s playing with then he’s frustrated, but if she plays with something else then he’s jealous and now wants that. We can try to patiently explain to him about sharing, taking turns, and that we don’t want to teach her that it’s ok to just grab something, but she is/was young to understand all this yet. It’s getting better but it was a real problem for a while.

They are just so different. He was extremely verbal and just wanted to sit and read and talk. He was a late walker. She on the other hand is running before he even took his first steps. She just wants to climb on everything which makes it require constant vigilance to watch both. It seems like it would have been a lot easier if their personalities were switched, but she was always going to walk earlier because she sees him do it.

I do hope you hit the sleep jackpot. For the first six months or so she was a TERRIBLE sleeper and that was really difficult. Thankfully he has always been a deep sleeper so she was never really waking him up.

He never really had any issues with her arrival. We told him he was going to have a sister who was in mommy’s belly, and at the hospital we gave him a present “from her” and it was all fine.

Good luck!
posted by cali59 at 4:31 AM on April 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Parenting kid #2 is usually way less fraught with anxiety than kid #1, so if you're anticipating the same level of stress about every little thing that you felt with kid #1, you can take a deep breath and know that many baby things will be easier!
I have two kids who are further apart than I wanted (4 calendar years apart), and here's what I found helpful with kid #2: You know how to do a lot of baby things now, and have a tried & tested bag of tricks to get you through fussiness, crying jags and feeding issues. Sure, you don't know if they're going to work for the new baby yet, but at least you know they "work" for you (ie, you're physically and situationally capable of trying them).
It will be very difficult at the start while they're both very small. However, they aren't very small forever. They will get bigger and your window of high intensity parenting will start to sunset (or at least this phase of high intensity parenting, my kids are 7 and 4). I feel like I'm just now graduating from that phase, and it's lasted for the full 7 years that my first kid has been alive.
posted by dotparker at 7:14 AM on April 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

My kids are exactly two years apart (to within a week), and it was fine. Taking care of your second infant is wildly easier than taking care of your first (all other things being equal) because you already have the baby-care skills and it's not terrifying any more, which means that interacting with your toddler while you have your infant in one arm or in a carrier is very doable.

Something I haven't seen anyone else bring up is older-sibling on younger sibling attempted violence. This is super, super common and does not mean your older kid is a bad seed or that there's anything terribly weird going on between them; if your toddler/preschooler hits the baby, that's completely a thing that happens. You stop it, and prevent it, but don't worry about it unless it's happening a lot.

And I think being that close in age is great for making siblings close. Mine are 20 and 18, and they're very very important to each other.
posted by LizardBreath at 8:46 AM on April 20, 2020

Best answer: I've said this before: mine are 2,5 years apart and the hands down most difficult time was when Little was 1 (starting to walk, always interfering with Big's stuff, easy to knock over) and Big was 3,5 with a massive temper and little self control. We ended up in the ER with a bleeding head wound on two consecutive weekends because Big had pushed Little over in anger.

(Now they are 6 and 9, and Big begs Little to be allowed to share her bed at night.)

Mine have bouts of arguing every day but are also closest of friends. I feel like my most successful move was to reassure them both, often, that yes, having a big/little sibling is sometimes REALLY ANNOYING. I have always told them, when they didn't want to be sisters anymore, that they will always be sisters, but they don't have to be friends. It's ok to just go and do things separately. Every time I've said this, I felt the tension go down a few notches. And 15 minutes later, they were playing together again. I got this approach from "Siblings Without Rivalry", which I heartily recommend, particularly for siblings close in age.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:15 PM on April 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

We had our three (girl boy boy) within a span of 32 months. #1 and #2 were born on consecutive Thanksgivings. We were lucky in that, after #2 was born, my wife was a SAHM. So financially it was very tough but she was so great with them and looking back now it was worth it. The first 4 years were a blur. My wife and I took turns on weekends caregiving and, you know, napping. At one point all 3 were in diapers (the oldest at night). But they started out super close and are to this day. We went through every phase pretty much all at once. People tsk tsked and said we’d be sorry. I never felt that way. I’m proud of the raising they had as a team of three. Don’t fret it. You’ll be fine. Even if for fleeting moments it doesn’t seem that way, trust me — you will be fine.
posted by charris5005 at 5:07 PM on April 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Hard to mark best answers but everything was valuable. Def going to get Siblings Without Rivalry. I'm an only child so I am really in the dark about this sort of thing. I appreciate the reminder that at least I have gone through the whole newborn baby thing once already, so I won't have that fear of the unknown hanging over me (even though, duly noted, #2 will be their own person with their own quirks). Current toddler is going through a rough sleep patch (we think it's the 18 month sleep regression and separation anxiety) which has been hard on us all. It was actually useful to hear that this sleep depravation thing is The Thing for the longer haul so best be prepared, forewarned is forearmed and all that. Although, I do take comfort in the fact that we're going to blitz through all the milestones consecutively. I can work with "quick and painful"!
posted by like_neon at 2:59 AM on April 21, 2020

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