03 May 2012

Pros and Cons

An old friend from college wrote me with this question: "What are some of the challenges of having your boys so close together, and what are some of the advantages? We are thinking about when to try for a 2nd, and I"m a little nervous about having kids so close in age, but at the same time want to try for that. Guess I"m looking for feedback from moms out there that know!"  

I wrote her back a rather lengthy response, and thought that since I'd taken the time to sit down and write down all my thoughts about this, I might as well add them to our blog.  So, here they are:

Having had all 5 boys so close together, I've thought a lot about the spacing of kids, and the pros and cons of having them so close together. 

I didn't grow up thinking I wanted to have 5 kids in 5 years.  When Michael and I got married, we said we wanted to have 5 or 6 kids (there were 5 in my family, and 6 in his growing up).  When I was pregnant with Kolby (my first), I said 5 was good.  And Michael was good with that too.  He would have been up for having one or two more than that, but he always said it was me that had to be pregnant and have the kids, so it was up to me. 

And near the end of my pregnancy with Kolby, I had this feeling that I wanted to have another baby, which sounds really strange since I was about to have our first.  But Michael seemed to really like that idea of having our first two close together.  At that point we were both at BYU and he was planning on going to medical school, so we knew we’d be moving lots of places for school in the future, and he thought it was a great idea to have the kids be close together so they’d have a friend no matter where we went.  For me, it was an idea I had about avoiding jealousy between the siblings.  I’m the oldest in my family, and my sister who is 2 years younger than me and I always had a hard time getting along, and regrettably our relationship is still strained even now that we are adults.  My dad once told me that he thought I was always jealous of my sister, from the time that I was 2 and she was a newborn baby.  And I know that personalities have a lot more to do with sibling relationships than the spacing of the kids, but I had this idea that if the older child was too young enough to remember not having a younger sibling, then maybe jealousy could be avoided.  So, we decided to try to have the first two close together. 

I know that for some women it doesn’t matter if you are nursing or not, you can get pregnant any time.  But for me it turns out that I don’t get pregnant while I’m nursing.  So it’s interesting to me to look back and see that after we decided to have all our kids close together, that nursing didn’t work out for me as I had originally thought it would – some of the kids nursed a few months, and others had medical issues that made it so they refused or were unable to nurse and switched to formula after just a few weeks.  So even though we never intentionally stopped nursing a baby early for the purpose of being able to get pregnant again, it often ended up working itself out like that. 

Anyway, we got pregnant with Lijah when Kolby was 6 months old (so they ended up being 15 months apart).  I was never really nervous about having Kolby because every first time mom has one baby and gets through it, but I was nervous about Eli just because not everyone has a newborn and a 1 year old at the same time.  My big thing was that my toddler needed to be walking well enough to get from the apartment to the car, for example, when I would need to be carrying the baby in an infant car seat – carrying them both would have been a big pain.  Luckily I had early walkers (Kolby walked at 10 months, and Lijah at 9, and the others all started walking around 11 months or so).  For me, each time I’ve had a baby, the first 3 months is the hardest – like I feel like I can hardly catch my breath.  But after about 3 months things start to feel kind of “normal” again, so it does get better.  And it’s really interesting, because when you have your first baby it is a lot of work – takes up all your time and effort.  But when you have a one year old running around and tearing the house apart, then the second baby seems so easy (relatively) – when you set him on the bed, he doesn’t go anywhere, he doesn’t make a mess, he doesn’t throw a tantrum.  And after you have 3 kids, it doesn’t really seem to matter how many more you add, it’s all about the same amount of work (like when I babysit a few more kids, it’s usually really not a lot more effort because they all just run around playing and entertaining each other). 

Something that was fun with Kolby and Lijah is how early they really started playing with each other.  I thought Lijah would be at least a year old before they really, really started playing together, but there was a noticeable change when Lijah turned 7 months old and the boys started playing together.  They would roll around and wrestle with each other and just laugh and laugh, it was really fun for us to see them being good friends so young.  And Kolby and Lijah have always been good friends.  (I mean, they fight like any kids would, all the boys do, but I don’t think they fight any more than any other average group of siblings do.  And over all I think they all get along really well).

I am a planner – ok, maybe a bit of a control freak.  I like to make my plans, and carry them out.  Especially when it comes to major things in our lives (for example, it bugged me to death all those years that we wouldn’t know where we’d be moving next for medical school, internship, residency, etc. – I wanted to be able to make plans, but had to just wait and find out where we’d be going each time.  Patience was never my strong suit).  So, we knew how many kids we wanted.  And once we had the first two close together and it seemed to be working out well, I said let’s just have them all close together.  Michael thought that sounded like a good idea too.  I think that’s key – if one spouse wanted to have kids close together and the other didn’t (or even if the other was just hesitant about the idea) I would think good and long before making that decision.  Because on days where the kids are terribly behaved and it seems like every single thing goes wrong, if you felt even a little bit like having them close together in the first place wasn’t what you wanted, I think you could end up really resenting your spouse.  So I think that both of you being on board 100% before deciding to have them close together is a big deal. 

So, all the boys ended up being close.  Kolby and Lijah are 15 months apart, Lijah and Camden are 20, Camden and Isaac are 13 months apart (I always thought it’d be kind of cool to have kids 12 months or closer, but I suppose it wasn’t meant to be), and Isaac and Courtland are 15 months apart. 

For a while Kolby and Lijah were very close friends, and Camden just kind of followed them around or did his own thing, and we sometimes wondered if he wouldn’t be as close with them.  But once he got old enough to keep up and play pretend with them, that was never a concern again.  All of the kids get along well with each other, as the younger ones have each gotten old enough to keep up with the older ones, and although Kolby and Lijah are quite close, none of them seem to prefer the company of one sibling over another, or not do well with a certain brother.  They all get along, and it’s fun to see the dynamic change each time one of them goes to school and a little brother is moved into the position of big brother during the day.  And the idea of having them close to avoid jealousy seems to have worked, or who knows, maybe it would have been the same if they were each years apart, but we never saw any signs of jealousy with any of the kids when a new baby came, which was a relief.

So, let me think of the pros and cons of having the kids close together that we’ve encountered so far:

  • They are really great friends.
  • They will grow up all being together.
  • We don’t have to get done with the difficult parts of baby/toddlerhood (sleepless nights, changing diapers, potty training, etc.)  Only to start all over again in a few years.  (This could be seen as a con too – having to do those things straight for several years is far from easy, but I think I prefer to get it all done with at once rather than going back to it over and over for years down the road).
  • Each year seems to get easier.  This is probably the same with kids spaced further apart too, but it’s really noticeable for me when the kids start to be able to do certain things, with so many of them, it really makes a difference for me.  So, once they could all dress themselves, that made it easier.  Once they could feed themselves (and the older ones could help prepare food for the younger ones), that was easier.  Once they could all walk, that was easier.  So, on days when it’s hard I think about that, and how overall it just keeps getting easier and better.
  • We can do activities all together as a family – we’re seeing this more and more as they get older.  Things like hiking, swimming, skiing, etc.  Yeah, you could do that stuff with a teenager, a 5 yr old, and a newborn, but it’s easier to gear the activity to a group of kids who are in a similar age range.
  • We just love having our big pack of rowdy boys.
  • They share clothes, and since they all ended up being boys clothes don’t get wasted around our house.  We have some outfits that actually lasted through all 5 of them, but most don’t quite wear that well.
  • We don’t have to juggle high school sports schedules with naptime and early bedtimes.
  • I’m younger.  I don’t think this is a reason to have kids close together, but it’s kind of an added benefit – I have more energy now while the kids are more active.  I was 27 when Courtland was born.  That means I’ll be about 46 when he goes on a mission.  Michael and I want to serve a mission when we get older, probably more than one mission, and we won’t have to worry about being too old to do that.  Also, I believe that early menopause may run in my family and I wouldn’t want to get to a certain point in my life where I wanted to have more kids but wasn’t able to do so because of my age, so I guess having them close together made it so that wasn’t an issue either.

  • It can be really hard sometimes.  And I do admit that if our babies had really bad colic or our children had lasting medical problems or disabilities, I don’t think we would have ended up having them so close together, and maybe wouldn’t have had as many as we did.  Luckily, our babies were relatively good sleepers, and the few serious health problems they’ve experienced have been temporary things. 
  • Having 2 kids in diapers at once is no fun.  Having 3 kids in diapers at once (at two different times) is really no fun.  I never stressed a ton about the cost of diapers like some moms seem to do (you just have to get them, so why worry about it?), but the changing of the diapers just isn’t very fun (and when you get the cheap store brand diapers like we always have, they don’t work as well).  But you would be amazed how easy it seems now to have only one child in diapers!
  • The comments.  We get a lot of comment, and part of that is because we have all boys, of course.  But I think you would still get a lot of comments if you had boys and girls all close together.  At first, when we had the first two kids so close, the comments seemed to be suggesting (or flat out saying) that we were ignorant about birth control (because who would actually do that on purpose?)  Later the comments were the most annoying to me: A stranger at a store would look at me, with my 3 or 4 boys and my big belly, and ask if it was another boy, then when I said it was they would say something like, “Oh that sucks” or possibly, “So are you going to keep on trying for that girl?”  Once you already have all the kids and are past the pregnancy stage I guess people figure you’re already stuck with the kids, so the comments aren’t quite as bad.  Just get used to hearing “You’ve got your hands full!” 5 million times a day.  I mostly just give a little smile and nod, not even responding to these comments anymore, I’m so used to it.  The funny thing is, now with my oldest 2 at school, I go out with my youngest 3 and people still constantly tell me I’ve got my hands full, then Camden or Isaac will inform them, “we have two more at school!”  On the nicer side, though, is I do get a lot of positive comments too – people saying “God bless you” or something similar.
  • Finances.  It’s not terrible, but having lived on student loans or low incomes with kids at different times as my husband has gone through school and training, it mostly worked out ok, but there have been some months when we didn’t know how it was going to work out.  Make sure you always pay tithing and a generous fast offering though, and it always works out ok in the end.  I do buy a lot of kids clothes at garage sales and thrift stores, which helps because they go through a lot of clothes and we couldn’t afford them at full price.  And we can’t do everything we’d like to – we did swim lessons for the oldest boys all the time when they were little, and now the idea of one session of swim lessons at $60 times 5 kids is just not even a consideration.  But then again, will a kid even remember the swim lessons he had when he was 3 or 4 years old?  Oh, and we’ll just have to see how things go with finances in the future: 5 kids one overlapping mission, college, the cost of high school sports and other activities, the cost of feeding 5 teenagers at the same time.  All I can say is it’s good we’ll have a real job soon.  :)
  • It can get wild sometimes – I probably have a higher tolerance for noise than lots of people after living with all these boys.  And they’re active.  And sometimes they’re wild (they take after their mom as a kid).  And sometimes they’re rough.  There seems to be some kind of pack mentality sometimes, where they kind of feed off of each other and get loud, or get into mischief.  But that occurs less as the oldest ones are getting older.  When they were little, if I left the room I would often return to find a big mess, but that doesn’t happen as much anymore either.

I’m sure there are lots more pros and cons than that, but it’s after midnight and my brain is starting to fall asleep.

I also do know that having kids further spaced out definitely works better for some people.  My mom had 3 girls each 2 years apart and then there was a 4 year gap before my brother, and another 4 years before my youngest brother.  And she says that she loved raising her boys because she had real one on one time with them, and they turned out to be such good, respectful, fun teenagers/young men.  (The girls turned out just fine too, but I think we were harder for my parents when we were children -- I know I was a super hyper little kid). 

. . . Good luck with everything.  I’m sure that whatever you decide it’ll turn out for the best. 

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