I got pregnant with our second child when our first one could barely walk. It was by choice — my husband and I wanted our kids to be closer in age than we were with our siblings — but it was not a particularly informed decision.
I remember one of many conversations I had with my mom about what to expect. A retired early childhood educator, she knew better than anyone the chaos of managing children close in age.
“Just remember," she said as my second due date neared. "With kids, one plus one does not equal two."
My initial response was something like, “Huh?”
Turns out she was right. From differing diaper sizes to spoon-fed versus solid diets, we had our hands full. And don't even get me started on sleep cycles. On more than one occasion the first year, I wondered what my husband and I were thinking when we decided to have a second child so close in age to the first.
The Middle Years
Thankfully, the early years in which we could not leave the kids alone for fear of hurting themselves or each other passed quickly. There was so much to learn, so much to do — not just for them, but for us, too. We discovered potty training was easier with both kids learning together, and we allowed them to share a room for a while, which helped ease the sleep cycle discrepancies.
We recycled items like high chairs, car seats, and toys because of their closeness in age. Even getting acclimated to school seemed simpler because they were only one grade apart. The kids had similar interests, too, both growing up about the time technology exploded. This made birthday and Christmas shopping easy, as they often shared whatever toys or games they received as gifts. Overall, this part of their development progressed with little fanfare.
The Teenage Years
But now… Well, now we are past the halfway point of the teenage years, our oldest an adult even though he has not yet left for college. Both kids are old enough to drive, but only one seems to care that this is an option. Discussions about the need to work and become more independent finally resulted in one of them securing a part-time job. The other is anxious about anything even remotely connected to the concept of growing up, but we're making headway there, too. Both kids learned to do laundry around the same time, and both learned how to help around the house and take care of the pets. We enrolled both in college-level courses this year, and both take part in extracurricular sports.
I will say that trying to prepare them for college at the same time is taxing. Not that long ago, I sat with each child, looking over course requirements so I could help plan their schedules. One was excited, asking questions and picking out courses for this semester and next. The other, not so much. For our oldest, going to college means getting older, and getting older equals that dreaded word — responsibility.
How our children can be so close in age, yet so different in their willingness to be independent and to challenge themselves, has as much to do with their temperaments as it does birth order. And, while they still have a love of technology and sports in common, that is where the similarities end. I suppose I can’t complain, though. They are individuals, unique in their perspectives despite their closeness in age. They will each need to seek their own path to adulthood, although this is where one commonality exists. Neither of them wants Mom or Dad to dictate what that path should be.
Supporting Individual Growth
As parents, it is natural to recognize our children's individual strengths and weaknesses. We know the unique challenges they will face as they venture into the “real world.” But our overall concern is the same for both kids, regardless. How can we help them learn to become more independent? What support can we provide as they explore their own career paths and lifestyles? And, of course, have we done right by them up to now?
I don’t have the answers, but I recall my mom’s wisdom whenever I see a pregnant mom with a little one in tow. Would my husband and I choose to have our kids so close together if we had it to do all over again? I can’t say. Having an older sibling worked well for me, as I felt protected and even special when teachers recognized me as his “little sister.” I learned from his experiences — visiting him at college, experiencing the joy of his first new car, taking part in his wedding, being there when his first child was born. Each event gave me a sense of what was to come in my journey to independence, even though my path differed dramatically from his.
But did this really impact my childhood? I don't know. As the baby of the family, I grew up with different expectations and the need to prove myself. (I couldn’t let all those teachers down, after all.) And when I went to college, my brother still checked in on me from time to time and was more than willing to offer guidance when I needed it. We are closer today than we were living under the same roof.
What the Future Holds
Like my relationship with my brother, I hope our kids keep in touch as they get older, supporting each other as no one else can. They’ve endured more relocations than I care to count, forced to start over in several new schools and just as many new homes. My favorite memory of them comes from their first year in school when they got separated in the car rider line. Our oldest hugged our youngest tight when they reunited, assuring her everything was okay. Their bond is established, even though they see the world differently and strive for different things. I cannot predict their future, nor can I guarantee they will maintain their connection as the years go by, but this is one benefit of having them so close together I hope remains.