How to Create a Bond Between Siblings With a Large Age Gap
When I discovered I was pregnant at age 42, my two older daughters were 13 and 11. In addition to all the other aspects of a surprise pregnancy I had to navigate, I dreaded telling them.
I was so overcome with emotion the day I planned to tell them, I had to pull over while driving to catch my breath. I think it’s the closest in my life I’ve ever come to hyperventilating and passing out from anxiety.
When I had the girls with me later that day, I just cut right to the chase. “I’m going to have a baby,” I said. My oldest daughter instantly blurted out, “I don’t want a baby.” I responded, “I didn’t want one either, but we’ve got one on the way and we’ll figure this out.”
From that auspicious beginning to now, my three girls have progressed in their sibling journeys between all of them. But with such a large age gap, it’s not always easy to build a close relationship. The older two are 22 months apart, so they read the same books, played with the same toys and watched the same shows.
Not so much for them with a younger sister so many years apart.
In addition to the age gap, the older two spent half their time at their dad’s house so the three of them weren’t together all the time and this made building their closeness even more complicated.
Looking back, I can see the things I did well in helping them become close and others that would have made it easier. From those years of experience, here are tips on ways you can help siblings with a large age gap build a closer relationship.
HOW TO BUILD A CLOSER RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SIBLINGS WITH A LARGE AGE DIFFERENCE
WELCOMING THE NEW BABY
Include Older Children in Important Appointments
One of the most special moments of my pregnancy was when we all went to the sonogram where we found out the baby’s gender.
I have only one sister and she has two daughters. Even though we only had girls in our family, my older two daughters were still hoping for another one. Having them at the appointment when the ultrasound technician said, “It’s a girl” was priceless. We all went to dinner afterward, shared our excitement, talked about baby names and called my parents to let them know they’d be having another granddaughter.
By including older siblings in these types of appointments, you can begin to build their anticipation of the baby’s arrival and make them a part of the preparations and planning.
Let Them Help with Name Ideas
Okay, I’ll be honest that the ideas my older girls came up with for names were mostly ones I wasn’t interested in. They suggested the trendy names shared by a lot of their friends, while my husband and I were looking for something more traditional.
But we humored them and kept a running list until we narrowed it down and made our choice. They did, however, come up with her middle name.
Allowing older children to participate in preparing for who this new sibling will be is part of the fun for them in starting to build their bond.
So even though you may not use a name they suggest, it’s more about the process than the actual final name choice.
Have Them Present at the Birth
I know I’m probably in the minority, but I pretty much welcomed anyone and everyone to the birth of my babies, especially the last one. When she was born, I think there were ten family and friends there, in addition to my husband and all the medical personnel
My philosophy is that most people have very few opportunities in life to watch the breathtaking process of a baby’s arrival into the world, so I was happy to share mine with them.
I know not everyone feels that way about making this event so public, but if there are no medical complications and you feel comfortable, allow your older children to be there with you when the baby arrives. At the least, have them come into the room as soon as possible after birth to give them an opportunity to meet the new little human who will be sharing life with them.
These early moments can never be recreated and science consistently tells us how important early bonding is, so include this time to connect all your children.
WAYS TO AVOID RESENTMENTS
Don’t Miss Older Children’s Events
Having a much younger child brings a lot of care-taking responsibilities that can conflict with the activities of your older kids. Whether it’s a softball game or an orchestra concert, don’t miss these events because of the youngest child in the household.
It’s easy to be exhausted, especially if you’re an older mom, and think it won’t be that big of a deal to miss something here and there.
But no matter how understanding your older child seems to be about you missing an event, this can lead to resentment if it happens with regularity.
If you’re not attending their activities, they may consciously or unconsciously blame their young sibling for taking you away from them.
So enlist grandparents, friends or anyone you can find to help out or drag the baby along. I attended many dusty, hot softball games with a toddler who ended up filthy after playing in dirt at the stadium, but I was there.
Parent Your Adolescents Intensely, Even With the Distraction of a Young Child
If the spacing of your children gives you an adolescent while you have a young child who needs a lot of attention, you’re in for a few years of intense demands on you.
You absolutely must stay involved with your adolescent age kids during these years.
No matter how exhausted you are from teething, potty training, preschool tantrums or whatever phase your youngest child is in, you have to find ways to focus on the needs of your children who are facing some of their toughest developmental years.
If you’re not actively engaging with them during these tumultuous years, the risks are so great.
Though your youngest child needs you physically, your older kids need you emotionally. There’s nothing about this phase that’s easy in the first place, so adding in a young child to care for can make it seem almost impossible.
But whatever it takes for you to find time in your schedule and routine for your adolescent child, make it happen. Don’t let them struggle through these years without you.
Don’t Make Them Babysit
I can’t tell you how many times people would comment on the ages of my children and say, “Well, you have built-in babysitters.”
Nope, I didn’t.
I can count on one hand the number of times I asked my older daughters to watch their youngest sister during their prime “babysitting” years. And these were usually something extraordinary where there was no other option.
Now I know there are situations where you may be facing job demands where you absolutely financially must work during times you need older children to watch their sibling and this contributes to the well-being of the entire household. These are difficult circumstances for everyone and the normal guidelines may not apply.
Or if you’re blessed with an older child who dreams of running her own preschool or just enjoys children so much that she’s more than happy to babysit for you, by all means let them.
What I’m talking about is forcing older children into child care roles they don’t want and that interfere with the life they would be enjoying if there weren’t a younger child in the household.
This is another way of causing resentment toward both you and their siblings, so avoid this at all costs.
WAYS TO STRENGTHEN THE BOND
Create Opportunities for Special Time Together
I’ll admit my favorite way to do this was sometimes selfishly motivated. All three of my girls love ice cream, so I would give the older girls money to take their little sister out for a treat together. They’d get some time to build memories and I’d get some peace and quiet.
Now that the older two are out of the house at college, I wish I’d done it more often. Not for the quiet for me (okay, maybe for that!), but to have given them more time together, whether for ice cream, a meal, a day at a museum, or anything else that would have given them opportunities to spend more time together.
So find ways to help them have fun together. Make this happen as much as possible when you can because one day those older children will be gone and these memories will be the basis for building on relationships as they age.
Have the Older Ones Give “Advice”
Need to get your youngest to brush her teeth regularly? Have older kids help her set up a fun song system to keep her brushing long enough.
Have a picky eater? Send older and younger siblings to the store together to plan a meal they both like.
These types of activities give the youngest another way to look up to the older siblings and also help the messages get through easier than when it comes from you.
Now I’m not saying turn over difficult parenting conversations to your older kids, but if they’re willing to help out, it may not be challenging for them at all. It’s entirely different when a cool older brother tells you to clean up your mess and lends a hand to getting you into a routine of hanging up your clothes than when mom is nagging you about it.
So give that a try and see how much easier your younger child responds and wants to please their older sibling and how this dynamic contributes to them passing milestones together.
Take the Youngest to Visit Older Children When They Leave Home
It may not be easy to work out the logistics for this one, but taking your youngest child to see their older siblings who’ve moved out of the house helps keep their bond in place during long absences.
My youngest misses her big sisters bunches when they’re off at college. She was four when my oldest daughter left to go to school and had no real understanding of what we meant by the word “college.”
So I took her for visits. It wasn’t pleasant to make a six hour round trip drive, but she could see the room where her sister lived, understand the idea of a campus and have the excitement of the visit.
Last year, she and I took a weekend trip to the college her other sister attends about six hours away. I stocked up with travel supplies from the Dollar Tree to keep her busy along the way. She rose to the occasion and we had a great time.
Without these intermittent visits, there would be extra-long stretches between these wide age gap siblings having any time together. And the younger the child, the easier it is to let those times get to be too long.
So, even though it might sound tough, give it a try. Take your young ones to colleges to visit their siblings. They’ll get re-connected and you might have more fun than you expect.
Picking out colleges for a high school senior while Disney Channel plays in the background for a preschooler may not have been the way you envisioned these watershed moments, but they can be managed. Plan ahead and find your strategies that allow you to be the best parent possible for all your children, no matter what their ages.
You may take your multitasking parenting skills to entirely new levels, but you can do it.
You can navigate back and forth between ages and stages, even if it exhausts you.
Because, let’s face it, being an older mom is exhausting in all its capacities. Add strengthening sibling relationships between children with wide age ranges to the mix and it may seem overwhelming.
But with some strategic thinking and awareness of each individual child’s needs, you can help your kids develop relationships that will, hopefully, grow closer as they age.
If you have any ideas that have helped you or that you know have been beneficial to others, please share. This Older Mom parenting gig is a journey where we need as much help as we can get.