I was reading my nightly three pages of Guns, Germs & Steel yesterday when I happened to come across this statement:
“In practice, nomadic hunter-gatherers space their children about four years apart by means of lactational amenorrhea (when breastfeeding temporarily stops you conceiving), sexual abstinence, infanticide and abortion.”
People constantly on the move while they’re foraging for food can only afford to have one baby on their hip and the other child must be old enough to walk on their own (i.e four years old). In contrast Jared Diamond goes on to say that for sedentary people the age gap is usually half of that: two years.
This got me thinking about age gaps between siblings in our more modern society and what the accepted norms are. I am six years younger than my brother and five years older than my sister and these big age gaps are not common among the people I know. These gaps weren’t planned at all, my folks struggled to have us three and we arrived when we arrived, not in any orchestrated fashion. I’ve never seen it as a disadvantage though, because I got the benefit of wonderful siblings but I also got my parents’ focussed attention.
But I’ve noticed that amongst my peers we’re all in much more of a rush – and the most popular age gap seems to be about two years. This is understandable as we’re having kids much later in life so we don’t have time to diddle-daddle. Plus there are the even braver people who have smaller gaps between their children, but I was never going to be one of those.
I spoke to a psychologist about this once and she said that the “ideal” age gap between siblings was actually closer to 3-4 years. I didn’t get as far as asking her why, but I can guess that it had something to do with their development. This contrasts with the socially accepted opinion that if you leave it any longer than 2 years between the two, then they won’t be friends. I think this is rubbish. You can have siblings 18 months apart but if they’re not going to be close, they’re not going to be close.
It’s all good and well thinking about the kids, but what about the parents? What would really suit us? I know that when it came to our family, I just wasn’t ready to fall pregnant any sooner. I’d been through a lot and I needed to reclaim some of myself before I began the selfless journey that is motherhood all over again.
And that’s why our age gap is exactly 2 years and 10 months, and for no other reason really. I just wanted to feel ready and I guess many other people feel ready earlier and some even later. Plus there are a whole lot of other factors at play: not every couple is lucky enough to be able to plan it down to the month.
As with many aspects of parenting, I think the whole age gap debate comes down to what suits your family and your circumstances. Some people want to get the more difficult early years over quicker and some people prefer to space it out. Ultimately whether the gap is six years or 16 months, I think the relationship between siblings is all about personality and not at all about age – because there is no “perfect” age gap.
P.S. Sorry to anyone who’s been trying to comment on posts and hasn’t been able to…I’ve been fiddling around trying to fix it so let me know if you still have problems.