Nine years and two weeks separate my children. People often look at me sideways when they find out the age difference. Sometimes, it works out in my favor. Other times, the gap isn’t great.
There are days when I don’t know who needs more parenting and who is higher on the emotional meltdown scale. And then are times when I say the same thing to them both. Who knew that a four-year old boy and 14-year-old girl would have so much in common?
I make no qualms about the fact that I was in the weeds in the early days of parenting two kids. Managing the moods of a nine-year old while learning the cues of a newborn made me think that perhaps I was in over my head. I had no idea how women with two (or more) under age two were able to manage. Sleep deprivation nearly killed me. But as they both grew in that first year as a family of four, we a; somehow figured out ways to get through together.
My kids are drastically different people, but it’s actually funny how often I have to employ some of the same parenting tactics for both kids. I ask a lot of the same questions because apparently the emotional ranges of a toddler are also similar to those of a teenager.
“Why are you crying?”
“Did someone hurt your feelings?”
“Can you use your words?”
These are just some of the things I ask daily. They both have a lot feelings but don’t always have the words to help them express what they’re experiencing. Being the youngest person in the house can be hard – and so can being the only teenager. They both feel isolated at times and like we’re giving one more attention than the other. The fact that this is something they are both dealing with simultaneously has been interesting.
The age gap has also been a fascinating experiment as I’ve observed when they each hit particular milestones, how they have handled new skills and adapted to new ways of moving through their worlds.
It’s hard not to compare them and to take note of their distinct development. She started talking and walking earlier than he did, but he’s much more fearless in some ways than she was. She’s not going anywhere near the Shark Encounter at Sea World, but even as a toddler, he’s all in. But then, he wants no part of a fireworks show while she loves them.
Naturally they bump heads when she needs her space and we insist that he respects her privacy and boundaries. He gets upset, because what are boundaries to a toddler? Toddlers have no personal space and zero concern for anyone else’s boundaries, so why should his sister be so different? You try explaining to a kid who desperately just wants someone to play with him that he can’t go barging her room. That struggle is real.
And yet, they have moments of absolute love and genuine friendship. They look out for each other and can be really sweet when they think no one is paying attention. They find connection over LEGO, which happen to be the universal toy that allows them to be creative and imaginative together, and that makes my mama heart happy and swell up with love. While having a teenager at home is not all sunshine, shopping and rainbows, toddlers have their own challenges, too. For every exasperated moment, though, there is good stuff and the joy of watching them grow up – both together and apart.
Nine years is a long gap between kids. While some shake their heads in awe and wonder how I manage a teenager and a toddler, I look back and boldly say the one thing that makes all parents smile: free- babysitting. I win.