10 Pros and Cons of Having Close-in-Age Kids

I had 3 kids in under 4 years. My three kids were so close in age that I didn’t have a single menstrual cycle for 5 years (win!!) Of course, I also didn’t have a full REM sleep cycle for about that long. As with anything in life, there are pros and cons to having closely spaced pregnancies.

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1) Pro: Shared interests. Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol, Disney pricesses, kid concerts, indoor playgrounds… when your herd is close-in-age they share the same interests. Not only does this often make their bond stronger (at least in the young years), but this makes everything from playdates to day trips, birthday gifts to vacation planning a bit easier.

Con: Everyone’s a Spitfire. When your whole crew is in tantrum territory life is a minefield. Meals out are a gamble. Religious services are treacherous. Art museums are off limits. Grocery shopping is a three-ring circus. Travel is stressful. Needless to say, you quickly learn the law of 2/3: only 2/3 of your family will be happy at any given time. The extra fun part: the pleased vs. displeased campers can (and will) change without notice.

2) Pro: No Sleep. Once you get past the first indescribably torturous month of sheer sleepless exhaustion of your first baby, things get easier. You learn how to cope with less sleep than you ever imagined possible. (Seriously, you will laugh at how you could’ve ever claimed to feel “exhausted” pre-kids.) Once you get REM sleep it’s harder to live without it. This means it’s far easier to just be tired and stay tired than to taste the addictive drug of REM sleep only to have it ripped away from you. The sleeplessness of subsequent newborns isn’t nearly as painful as it was the first time around when you’re already running on empty.

Con: No Sleep. That’s right, it’s both a pro and a con! When all of your littles are little, so is your sleep accrual. Rising feeling well-rested is a thing of the past and (seemingly unforeseeable) distant future. You may go to bed early to make up for some of the lost Zs, but you have no control over your sleep pattern.

Pro: Diapers Days. When you’re already used to buying and changing diapers, adding another bundle’s bum to the mix isn’t a big deal. Same goes for scheduling around nap routines, carrying a hefty diaper bag, being accustomed to a easy-care-only wardrobe, having a baby-/toddler-proofed home, expecting tantrums, potty-training, and owning kid-safe dinnerware.  You’re already in that phase, so might as well keep it rolling.

Con: Diaper Debt. Diapers add up… and so do wipes. It gets pricey shielding the world (and your home) from multiple incontinent kiddos. Having multiple kids in the same helpless life stage can be challenging — buckling and unbuckling multiple car seats at every destination, putting on multiple tiny socks and shoes, putting on and taking off multiple coats, wiping multiple noses (and butts) all day every day, bringing EVERYONE into the public bathroom with you, bathing multiple kids, keeping multiple mini-humans safe in public — is exhausting and expensive. If you’re formula-feeding on top of all of this… OUCH! And if you’re shelling out for daycare… my deepest condolences to your wallet.

3) Pro: Gear Reuse. When you have your litter close together, the gear is easily reusable. And, if you do what we did and have your babies in just the right timeframe, you can even reuse the carseat and base for all of them before it expires. Win!

Con: Primary Color Pile-up. When all of your kids are young, the amount of toys and gear and primary colors overwhelms your home. Every corner houses kid items. Your bathroom is a bath toy menagerie. Your family room looks like a daycare center. To the minimalist, it’s unsettling at best, anxiety-inducing at worst. It’s a temporary phase but it’s a long one.

4) Pro: Nipples of Steel. Breastfeeding calluses the nipples. If you have your kids close in age, you can maintain that teat toughness much to your benefit. The more you pump and the longer you nurse, the easier it is adjusting to a subsequent newborn latch. Every nursing relationship is different and no matter how many kids you latch on, breastfeeding each baby has a learning curve. However, the soreness that you experienced with your first nursling is unlikely to happen if there’s little to no break between your weaned and breastfed babes.

Con: Milk Machine Malaise. After a while, you just want your body back. You want to be able to put on a shirt without considering boob accessibility.  You want to go out without considering nursing/pumping requirements or calculating engorgment. You want to sleep on your belly. You want to be able to take OTC medicine without worrying if it’s breastfeeding-compatible. Basically, as beautiful and beneficial and bonding as breastfeeding is, it gets old after a while (especially if you’ve been nursing a toddler.)

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5) Pro: Mom Identity. When you are in the trenches of motherhood, the role consumes you in the most rewarding, exhausting, fulfilling way. When you have raised baby after baby — one after the other — into toddlerhood and early childhood, you are unwaveringly secure in your maternal identity. Nothing else in your life — no other role, responsibility, title, or achievement — can come close to the one that demands every shred of you every waking and sleeping second of every day. When you have multiple wholly dependant offspring, your personal identity is: “Mom.”

Con: Lost in Mommyland. When you’ve been in the mommy trenches for years in a row, you forget who you were — who you are — beyond that role. Time simultaneously stands still and rushes by when you have baby after baby. You must focus moment-to-moment to survive but, once the babies all grow older and your focus can grow broader, you can feel lost.

6) Pro: Love Abounds. When you have multiple close-in-age kids, they often adore one another and you while they are young. Hugs, cuddles, kisses… every day is filled with genuine affection. Your arms, mind, washing machine, and life are full, but so is your heart.

Con: Marriage Bombardment. You and your children may share embraces and pledges of love daily, but you and your spouse will be permanently adrift if you don’t take heed. Each child demands attention. Each child deserves affection. Each child owns a piece of your heart. But your spouse does too. However, your significant other is further down the list than he/she used to be. Every additional child increases that distance between you in every conceivable way. Whereas it once was just the two of you bound to one another in love and fealty, now you’re bookends spaced further apart by each child you have together. If you are not careful to maintain your bond and make time, love, and space for each other, you won’t last. Children are a beautiful gift that can snuff out even the brightest marital flame, if you allow it.

7) Pro: Friend Finding. Mom friends for you, buddies for your babes… the (wholly necessary) search is an easier undertaking when your kids are closely spaced. It’s hard for moms with kids who are in vastly different age brackets to relate or spend time together. A 9-year-old doesn’t want to hang with a 6-month-old, so playdates are out. And no matter how exciting Baby’s first bite of solid food may be to the mom in the trenches, a middle school mom is going to have a hard time mustering passable enthusiasm when she’s eyeing tween social media melodrama and looming PSATs.

Con: Babies Steal Time. It wasn’t until I had my third child and had a brief moment of clarity that I realized babies don’t slow down or preserve time, they steal it. Your first baby seems to develop so slowly in comparison to your second and practically backwards in comparison to your third. Each subsequent child develops faster than the last but, what’s terrifying and sad: you lose 1-2 years of each pre-existing child’s childhood with each new baby. In other words, I “lost” 2-4 years of my first child’s toddlerhood and early childhood because of babies #2 and #3, and I lost 1-2 years of my middle child’s toddlerhood due to baby #3. Why? Because while you’re focusing on your newborn — as nature demands in order for the infant to survive — you lose sight of your older child(ren.) They seem automatically older and more capable to you in comparison to the newborn. As such, they require less of your mental attention. Not until the baby gains a bit of mobility are you able to return your focus to your other children. One day, you see your youngest at the same adorable age your older children once were and realize, with aching sadness, that you missed that stage… that those memories are faded in a hazy fog of newborn sleeplessness and rollercoaster hormones. That it was stolen time. Witnessing your youngest is your only window to what you missed.

8) Pro: On-trend Bump. If you have your kids close together, your maternity, postpartum, and nursing wardrobes won’t have a chance to go out of style. Sweet!

Con: Fashion Fatigue. By the time you pull that once-loved maternity top from the storage bin for the third time, it turns your stomach (not fun when you’re already fighting morning sickness.)

9) Pro: Pick-up Sync-up. When your kids are close-in-age, at some point their school schedules will sync beautifully. They’ll, for some time, attend the same school and have one another as a familiar in-school support too. Same pick-up and drop-off times = win!

Con: Sick Time Sinkhole. When your littles are all little at the same time, so are their immune systems. That means your paid-time-off pool is going to take a hit. Sharing is caring, and kids really like to share their germs (with one another and you.) If you and/or your significant other don’t have a rough plan for navigating repeated unexpected days off and midday pediatrician visits, get on it. Kids get sick and it’s generally at 2AM the night before a big meeting. It’s all about timing!

10) Pro: Rip off the Band-Aid. When you have your lot in a brief timeframe, you limit the pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding, naptimes, and tantrums stage to a single block of time. You don’t exit the life season just to re-enter it again with one foot in two worlds; you are simply in it (really in those trenches) until you’re not.

Con: When It’s over, It’s Over. One day you’ll realize you’re exiting the deep infant-toddler trench. You’ll recognize the lessening stress and the availability of both of your arms. You can breathe! You’ll also realize that it’s almost over and there’s no going back. No more parent-and-me classes. No more middle-of-the-night cuddles. No more blissful sleeping baby on your shoulder. No more library story times. No more preschool parties. The door has closed, another has opened. What is ahead is beautiful but so was what is behind.

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This list of pros and cons could go on infinitely. But what really matters is what feels right to you, handling what life has handed you, and finding genuine happiness in your own life. Because, after all, we can really control very little in life, but seeking to find joy in whatever our circumstances is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and others.

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Finding My Path: Learning to Say “YES!”

This year was the lull in my journey. The necessary resting phase before change rattled its way through my life. I knew that. I honored that. As a type-A planner, I had a hard time accepting that. Then I learned to say, “YES!”

As summer turned to fall and we bid the beach farewell, I felt a simultaneous sadness and trepidation. I was sad to see the chapter close; I knew this summer marked the end of not just an annual season but a life season. I felt in my core that I was entering a transition phase. But into what was I transitioning?

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Fall was busy with adjustment to the school year. I eventually settled into the pattern and, once comfortable, that’s when my mind began whirring. “What is my path?” “What should I be doing?” “When will I be able to pursue my lactation consultant goals?” In response, the wiser portion of my mind whispered, “Appreciate the lull.” I knew with absolute certainty that life would unfold in its own time, but — let’s be honest — waiting sucks. Especially when you’re a planner.

So I filled my time. Errands, yoga, volunteering at my kids’ schools, building deeper connections with friends, and eventually forming a bi-weekly mom meet-up group for my sons’ preschool.

A month went by. Sometimes I treasured my freedom. Sometimes I felt guilty… too free. Sometimes I felt I was just drifting. I was constantly eyeing path opportunities wondering, “Is that the one?” Then, one day as I readied my yoga nook for my morning practice, I realized I needed to just ask God/the universe/life to show me my path and to agree to just say, “YES!” So I did.

That day I took a walk alone in my neighborhood. As I strolled, I felt compelled to head down to a little creek. I often avoid going to the creek alone because of anxious “what ifs?” But that day it was as if I was pulled by a string to the bank of the creek. There I stood, watching the frigid water, listening to the soothing trickle.

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The chilly air biting my reddening cheeks, I shifted my gaze up creek. I noted how the water changed as it travelled. It began its journey racing, moving quickly around bends and turns, over sticks and rocks. Then there was a lull. The creek grew wide and the current slowed. Just before the water reached the stepping stones, twigs, leaves, and debris filtered out of the flow and rose to the top, creating obstacles and dams for the water. The filtered water gathered speed past the stepping stones, racing in a straight channel towards a small waterfall of rocks. Again, more debris was pulled from the water. Gradually the current smoothed and the creek was clean, free of the muck the previous lulls and obstacles withdrew. The creek ambled on in twists and turns out of sight.

Seeing this I knew somehow this was representative of my life. A reminder for me to cling to when uncertain. But I wasn’t sure how or really even why.

The next morning I met with my favorite yoga teacher turned friend. She strongly encouraged me to pursue yoga teacher training. “You’re already teaching yoga,” she said of my present lifestyle, “even if you’re not teaching the asanas.” (Asanas are the yoga poses. Yoga is more than just stretching and breathing, but the practice of mindfulness, kindness, nonviolence, giving, letting go, and more.) She told me I should connect with a woman at her yoga studio. I agreed, because why not? I left the chat smiling, feeling honored that a woman I held in such high esteem considered me worthy of walking along her own path.

I awoke the next morning to find I was copied on an email from my teacher-turned-friend to the woman she had mentioned. In the email she asked the woman to make me a yoga ambassador. I. Was. Shocked. My mind started rattling off roadblocks, doubts, and a million reasons why I shouldn’t or couldn’t pursue this. I was in panic mode all due to mom guilt, self-doubt, and fear of failure. Then I took a breath. I remembered my yoga practice. “You asked for your path”, my heart told me. I knew I had to say “YES!” So I did.

The woman contacted me asking to talk with me to go over yoga ambassador details. I agreed. We clicked immediately. She told me I could not have received a better referral than the one I had from my teacher-turned-friend. I felt deeply honored.

“I’ll need you to come in for three hours once a week,” she explained. “There’s no contract, but I’ll ask you to commit for three months.” I looked at the calendar and realized that three months from my starting date would have my shift agreement end the last week of my sons’ preschool school year. Perfect!

I spoke with my daughter and husband about possible shift times. I didn’t want to inconvenience or slight anyone. I wanted to be able to do pick-ups and drop-offs, volunteer, keep up with friends, do errands, take the kids on playdates, spend time with my husband. EVERYTHING. Like every mom, I wanted to do, be, have, and give it all.

“How about Thursday mornings?” The Hubs suggested. That was my only option for a shift that wouldn’t interfere with others. I realized I’d need to ask my husband to do preschool drop-off and a fellow preschool mom to cover the Thursday meet-up. I had to trust it would work if it was intended. I emailed the woman my one and only shift option and sighed, knowing if this didn’t work it wasn’t meant to be.

Hours later, the woman called me thanking me for choosing that shift. She had been stressing because no one had that timeslot available. My jaw dropped. Question answered: THIS was meant to be.

My husband willingly took on Thursday drop-off duty and, when I asked a fellow preschool mom to cover the Thursday morning meet-up, she happily obliged. It all went smoothly. Because it was meant to be.

From that point on, I surrendered. Everything came happily, easily, beautifully, organically. I had learned to not stand in my own way.

I learned to say, “YES!”

 

 

Cocoons for Babies: That’s a Thing?

I’ve recently encountered a trend: cocoons for babies. Who knew? The practice recommends that parents create a quiet, soothing womb-like environment for their newborns in order to offer a smoother adjustment for Baby into the world and provide a safe haven from the daily din.

Dimmed lights, calm energy, cozy decor, serenity, hush. A baby cocoon. How precious! How loving! How utterly unattainable for any child but a firstborn in an affluent home.

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Now, I love the concept of preparing a loving, welcoming, unobtrusive environment for the baby-to-be. The neutral decor, the soft fabrics, the gentle atmosphere… how sweet! The planner in me adores the meticulous research and purchasing, arranging and staging that would be entailed. The 6-years ago first-time parent in me sees the beauty and seeming prospect, the adoration- and protection-based desire and demand to create such a space for the anticipated bundle. The mother-of-three in me shudders at the thought of feeling pressured to somehow maintain any sense of zen tranquility in my bustling abode of child chaos. I can only imagine the effort it’d take to silence my entire herd for one morning. It’d be more feasible to ship them off for the baby’s infancy.

Then, I think of myself and my friends with multiple children. Their youngest child — like my own third child — entered into a world of noisy siblings, bright lights, and pinging toys. Yet that youngest child (barring any special needs) is the happiest, most well-adjusted, and adaptable of the bunch!

Babies are precious and beautiful. Babies are noisy and exhausting, messy and stressful, demanding and resilient. As any pediatrician will tell you, babies are tougher than we think. (Have you ever seen an Apgar test conducted or seen a baby birthed vaginally? Then you know they’re sturdy buggers.)

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Do I think putting effort into spinning a warm environment for your cherished offspring is ill-advised? Not entirely. Placing love and excitement, care and appreciation into your baby preparation does nothing but positive things for all involved. If it feels right to you, do it! However, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the task, don’t do it. Eventually your child will regularly be present in the world and, well, the world is not womb-like.

Do I think everyone has the means to create this soothing space? Even with upcycling hacks and thrift store finds, no. Not everyone has the economic, spatial, environmental, or emotional ability to create a womb-like home. Some can, and that’s wonderful, but it in no way puts those children raised outside of the cocoon at a disadvantage.

Do I think creating a quiet, serene home gives the child a leg up? If anything, I’d argue the opposite. I know far more children raised in noisy, stimulus-filled homes who are happier and better adapted to the outside world than those who easily adjusted from quiet, low-stimulus homes to the chattering world. A cocoon is not the only way to ensure a baby feels loved and secure. And, heck, the womb is not silent. There are plenty of stimuli — from stomach churning and inhalation, mom’s road rage shouting and shower singing, Dad’s yelling at the TV and sibling tantruming. Baby has already heard the outside world before ever entering it. Life is loud, inside and out.

Do I think it’s feasible to maintain such an environment? As a mom of three close-in-age children, my response: hahahahahahahahaha… no. Absolutely not. Not in any way. Nope. It’s a lovely gesture rooted in the best and purest intentions of sheltering one’s cherished child from the overwhelming world. The desire, effort, and act are nothing but sweet and commendable. However, making a womb-like home for your child is not the only way to create a safe space for your little one. Your loving arms and healing kisses, you’ll soon find, will serve as such. You needn’t paint the walls “Morning Mist” and hush everyone in your home to make Baby feel loved. Just love Baby, that’s all.

Do I think feeling compelled to maintain a hushed, serene cocoon is problematic? Somewhat. If the endeavor is to envelope the child in love and comfort, beautiful! However, any parent is soon to discover that babies are not quiet or serene… and neither is the world. Does that mean the child should fall asleep to prerecorded audio of Tokyo Street sounds or NYC at rush hour? No. I simply think the pressure to create unnatural, inorganic sensory white space in a bright and loud world is an unattainable goal for parents — especially first-time parents — who are about to enter the wholly noisy, exhausting, stressful, life-upending, relationship-testing, goal-shifting, painful, emotional, rewarding, confusing, ego-obliterating, priceless gift of parenthood. Yet, if the womb-like space — either in creation or practice — enables the parents to better cope with the monumental shift of parenthood, proves agreeable to the baby, and is easily and stresslessly maintained, by all means do it! Just don’t stress yourself — or those dwelling with you — trying to make your home, your life, your world something that it’s not.

You are your child’s sanctuary. Your arms are her safe place. Your breath and heartbeat are his lullabye. You are all the comfort your child needs.

Love your baby. Forget the rest.

Next Year will be Entirely Different

“This year will be tough,” I thought to myself, anticipating the summer beach trips at my mom’s beloved but entirely toddler-unfriendly beach house, “but next year… just wait until next year!” The glass-topped tables, the readily accessible stairs, the breakable lamps attached to tuggable cords, the vulnerable trinkets, the vertical blinds, the unlatched cabinets, the massive canvas painting hung within swatting distance above the sofa, the media console with an array of enticing buttons… so much to safeguard from my bumbling tike. But being at the beach makes it all worthwhile.

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Summer 2016

I envisioned my long, memory-filled, sand-dusted, sun-soaked days wrangling my kindergartener and preschooler while simultaneously chasing my toddler on the beach, at the pool, on the playground, and then at the beach house. I recounted the strain of having no childproofed place I can safely place my littlest so that I can cook dinner, pack the beach cooler, make snacks, go to the bathroom, or just sit for a beat. I remembered how I woke up every day at 6AM on vacation and popped him — wailing — into the pack-and-play so that I could wearily pump, set out breakfasts, and pack for the day’s beach excursion before the rest of the house awoke. I remembered the sinking dread I felt at the prediction of a rainstorm that would keep us trapped inside.

This year, I’ll have to wean from pumping before we take our trips and I’ll have to wear him whenever we’re in the house, because a pack-and-play will no longer stand as an impeding obstacle to my athletic tot. I will be on duty from wake-up to bedtime. I will enjoy it. I will treasure it. I will end the season with a multitude of photos and a plethora of cherished memories. I will be exhausted in the best and most depleting way. “Just push through this year,” I reassured myself, “next year will be entirely different.”

Then it struck me: next year will be entirely different. It will be easier, but next year they’ll all be older. My herd will be 7, 5, and 3. 7… 7-years old! The better part of a decade? And my middle son a burgeoning kindergartener?? No more baby? No more toddler? Tears welled. My throat grew tight. They’re growing too fast! Make it stop!

Sure, life will still be loud and chaotic, because that is our familial heartbeat. Vacations will still be life relocated. I will still fight the descent into anarchy by planning and packing, scheduling and routine. My “vacation” will happen each night during the two hours between the kids’ bedtime and my own. I will, no doubt, still referee and soothe, corral and amuse, but I won’t be needed in that primal way. That exhausting, rewarding, wholly taxing manner that both fills the soul and drains all mental capacity.

And with that I stopped coaching myself to “just push through this year” but, instead, to savor it. Because next year will be entirely different.