Endless discussions between mothers about ‘the gap’ between their children is just another way to put needless pressure on yourself and unleash insecurities and misunderstandings for everyone. The gap is often not something decided by dates and design, but by nature, and we should all be respectful of that, says Emma Johnson
Aside from the myriad of other parenting minefields you have to navigate on a daily basis, the one I have found hardest to rationalise and deal with recently is people’s constant discussion of, and obsession with, ‘the gap’. The number of months and years between your children seems to be the hottest topic around and – like so much else where parenting is concerned – it seems it is totally open to public scrutiny.
I currently have one daughter – a darling, smiley little blonde bundle of happiness who fills up my heart with joy. (Most of the time). She will be three at the end of June. She does not currently have a sibling, or one on the way. The reasons for that, are ours. But, since she was about a year old, I have been in constant discussions with everyone from my own mother to a stranger in the supermarket about when we shall be adding to our family.
I’ve been told I’m ‘not getting any younger’. I’ve been told that I ‘need to get on with it’. “Head down, keep going,” said someone else. I’ve been asked, deadly serious: “Do you not want any more children then?”. I’ve been accused of not getting pregnant yet because I wanted to get drunk at Christmas (yes, really). I’ve had someone say that I wasn’t getting pregnant again because I was ‘scared’ of having another small baby (well, yes, a bit actually, they’re bloody hard work). Pregnant friends have been indignant that I’m not yet pregnant and not pregnant friends have wondered out loud why I’m waiting…and on it goes.
Online there are pages and pages of articles discussing the pros and cons of gaps – some go into horrifying detail about the increased likelihood of everything from autism to preeclampsia, and whether your child’s ‘peaking aggression’ and ‘behavioural regression’ means they’re most likely to drop-kick the newborn before weeing on the floor in protest or whether they’ll simply ignore the whole thing and chain-eat Playdough in a corner. Everyone from Mumsnet to the Huffington Post has an opinion.
I am sure it’s lovely if they’re all close together and you’re just in this wonderful, crazy, chaotic baby fug for several years, spinning in circles but loving your growing family and being in the moment. I am also sure that it’s equally lovely if you have three to four years between your children, giving you a dedicated period of time for each one, allowing your bigger children to understand the birth of their younger siblings. However, I am also sure that both of these situations could be a total disaster too – the mad baby fug is so hard it becomes your total breaking point; or the large gap means you’re out of practice and resentful of ‘starting again’.
In truth, a gap just is what it is. It’s neither good nor bad, it’s not too long or too short. It’s just part of your family. And our obsession with the gap means we’re starting to rather miss the point about having more than one child. On either side of that much-discussed ‘gap’ are two (or three or four) little people who are part of your family, part of your world, with very different personalities. Their reactions to the world, their relationships with the people all around them will be different, not because of an arbitrary number of months, but because they are quite simply different people. How you deal with that gap, celebrate it and approach it has much more to do with how your family and sibling life will be, than how many months and days there are between everyone.
The thing is, the gap is also something you can’t often control. The gap between my first and second child at best will be over three years – but it might be more like four. I don’t know. I can’t say it’s what we especially had mind, but nature is a powerful force. She doesn’t read memos or follow schedules. Babies come when they’re good and ready. Not when you decide it’s a good idea.
I am also really, really aware that, for some families, one is all they can have. That the ‘gap’ will be an eternal, painful, open-ended thing that will never close. Having one is not a guarantee of having two or three or four. Each child is a miracle. When you consider this, it doesn’t really matter if it’s one year or ten years. And it certainly isn’t something you should be asking them to discuss openly at the checkout. There is no bad or good gap. No too long or too short. A child is a blessing, a miracle, a bloody revelation and a privilege. Should you be lucky enough to have more than one, then that’s just good, whenever it turns up – be it ten months or ten years.
For us, whether it is three, four, or more, years, it’s not something we created by design or plan. It just is what it is. And surely the best thing we can do, is to embrace what is and gently weave it into the story of our family.
A Guest Blog from Emma Johnson
Emma Johnson is a freelance editor and journalist. She lived in London for 12 years, where she was the managing editor of a luxury lifestyle magazine, before moving to the country in 2014 when she was pregnant. She lives in the Cotswolds, where she grew up, with her husband, daughter, cats and chickens, and writes about her experiences of making the shift from stilettos and Champagne to wellies and weaning on her blog (countrymunchkin.com). She also still writes about luxury brands, shopping, food, travel, style and motherhood, and her website is here. (emmajohnson.me)