We’re not what you would call a typical family.
My husband and I have three daughters with a wide age gap between them: ages 18, 9, and 2. We didn’t plan it that way. I was an unwed mother when I birthed my oldest, and I didn’t meet my husband until seven years later. Pregnancy came easily with our middle child, not so much with the third. After years of mind-numbing fertility treatments and repeated setbacks, we finally welcomed her into the world—a little later than we wanted, but she’s here.
In a family with such wide age gaps, parenting can feel a little . . . all over the place.
I’ll go from changing a diaper to ordering graduation announcements to braiding hair, all within a matter of minutes. It takes energy to switch gears from counseling my high schooler to consoling my toddler. Every phase is so completely different and comes with its own set of challenges, and navigating all three phases at once can be equally exhausting and exhilarating.
There are times when their age gap makes me sad and self-conscious. My kids will never know the blessing of having siblings close in age. When looking at other families, the blended nature of ours seems to stand out like a sore thumb. I worry about how the girls will interact when they’re adults. Will they be close? If not, will they blame me?
Mostly, though, I know there is a gift in the years that separate them.
Their relationship with each other is precious and rare. My oldest daughter is like another mama to my youngest. My middle child is halfway between little kid and pre-teen, so she looks to her big sister for advice on friendship and fashion, but still happily plays dolls with her little sis. The toddler shrieks at the sight of either of her sisters walking through the door. She loves them big, and they delight in her every squeak and squabble.
The distance in their ages has allowed me to mature slowly and earnestly as a mother. I notice with each child that the small things bother me less and less. What was once irritating to me (“You’re wearing sweatpants to school?!?”) now simply causes me to shrug and go about my day. I recognize better when a certain behavior is typical for that age or if it’s something unique to that particular child. While my energy for parenting a toddler at age 41 is significantly less than it was at age 22, I find I’m slightly more patient and a little more endeared to small-child quirks than I was the first time around.
This is perhaps the greatest gift of all. When your first child is nearing adulthood, not only do you treasure every moment you have left with her, but you also cherish your other children’s childhood all the more. You rock your baby a little longer at night. You laugh a little harder at your 9-year-old’s bathroom jokes. You record their little voices, knowing just how quickly their vocabulary will grow and their cadences will change. You hold on tightly to their innocence because before you know it, you’ll be sending them off to college, and their tiny hands and belly laughs and big, curious eyes will no longer be a fixture in your household.
You cling to every precious moment as if it will be the last. Because eventually, it will be the last.
So while I do wonder what our family would look like if our kids’ ages were more traditional, I try not to get caught up in the what-ifs.
Because there is beauty in the space between.
There is beauty in the gap.