When it comes to age gaps between children, everyone has an opinion on what the best period in between kids might be. And while the common trend is around a two-year space between offspring, what isn't so often lauded is the large age gap.
We opted for a four-and-a-half-year gap between our first and second born. "Won’t it be just like having only one child?" people asked, or worse: "Why even bother having another one at all?”
But what I (and others in the same situation) have come to learn is that there's actually a lot to love - and only one thing I loathe - about having a large age gap between children.
The economic advantage
According to the 2013 AMP NATSEM Income and Wealth Report, it was estimated that raising two children will cost approximately $812,000. Therefore it can make great financial sense to spread out the timeframe in which you add to your brood.
This certainly rings true with childcare and education, some of the largest strains on a family's cashflow. With such a sizeable gap between our kids, we can look at putting them through a private high school education, as we’ll only face two years of paying concurrent fees. Similarly, we've saved by never having to shell out for two sets of day-care fees at once.
Karen, mum to Billy, who is almost 17, and Connor, aged 11, has also successfully avoided the dual fees scenario by having five years and seven months between her boys.
"Being on maternity leave when Billy started kindergarten was an enormous saver. Before and after school care is a huge strain on finances, so to have the first 12 months without that expense helped save thousands of dollars," says Karen.
The opportunity to replenish the bank balance is also an attractive bonus to choosing to have a generous gap between babies. Mother of three, Theresa, found having four-and-a-half-years between her six-year-old son Isaiah and 18-month-old twins Luka and Sienna was a blessing for this very reason.
"By having the large gap I was able to go back into the work force for a few years to get financially back on track before having more children,” she says.
Let's not forget the economic advantage that comes with only having one child in nappies, or there being no need to buy an extra car seat or cot when baby number two arrives before the first has outgrown theirs. And all that surplus money saved can mean a longer maternity leave the second time around.
The built-in babysitter
There would hardly be a parent alive who hasn't reached for a baby wipe, only to suddenly remember the last one was used hours before. "How awesome is it when you can send one of your older kids to get you another one without you having to drag the baby across the room, chancing poo dripping all over the floor!" says Michelle, a mum of three who has four-and-a-half-years between her youngest two children.
On countless occasions, I too have been relieved to have had my little quasi parent on hand to help out. What's more, it helped my son thrive in his newly appointed role of "big brother", and banished any jealousy he may have felt having to suddenly share the spotlight that had been solely his for so long.
And the best bit about this large age gap benefit, as Karen has found out? "As Billy became a teenager," says Karen, "he was old enough to be an actual baby sitter."
There is no more willing student than a younger sibling, who either wants to emulate the older child they so adore, or simply act as a sponge, copying their every action. Whether it's wanting to do the same work, listening as they learn to read, or simply start to string sentences together sooner because of the constant chatter from an older child, there is fertile ground for a fast-tracked education.
For Michelle, it was her older sons who diffused the battleground that can be the dining room table.
"Isobel wants to be like the boys so she has mastered eating with cutlery and all manner of foods much earlier than the other two," she says.
And let's not forget one of the toughest teaching challenges every parent faces: toilet training.
In a story my mother often tells, my sister, who was five years older than our little brother, managed to train him easily - and early on - simply because he wanted to copy his beloved bigger sister. Surely many parents would happily accept help from any avenue if it meant being on the rapid road to toilet training success!
All that one-on-one attention I was able to lavish on my first born, and all the special moments I soaked up because he was my sole focus, can be emulated with my second because my son is at school during the week.
It's something Michelle understands well. "Between 9 and 2.30 I am all Isobel's, which I love," she says. "I don’t feel guilty spending time on homework or other after-school activities as I know I’ve spent so much time with the little one during the day."
And the large gap also means much less chance of sibling rivalry. "Oliver has always seen Isobel as a baby and has never seen her as a threat to his position in the family," Michelle explains."The boys dote on their ‘baby’ sister and really look after her, as big brothers should."
Hello square one, we meet again
Just like Newton's Third Law of Motion, for every action there has to be an equal and opposite reaction. Meaning, as great as it has been having a large age gap between my children, it can't all be rainbows - there must also be something to loathe.
And I’ve realised that having a large age gap is like playing the parenting version of Snakes and Ladders. After steadily climbing upwards towards some semblance of independence, where days are no longer governed by strict routines and we don’t need to be home for nap times, suddenly we slipped back down to square one. We were back to starting from scratch - but with an older sibling who was in a very different stage of childhood.
Michelle wholeheartedly identifies with this feeling. "We had to curtail a lot of our fun weekend things as Isobel needs to sleep, or my husband and I have to divide and conquer so the boys don’t feel like they are missing out,” she says.
So, yes, it can be tricky to manage, and yes, that tantalising taste of independence becomes but mirage in your mind. But there is no correct answer to the perfect age gap equation – I just know that our gap has helped me be the very best parent I can be, and that’s good enough for me.