4+ years: Raising Two Onlies
What you'll love: With one child in school when the next arrives, you have the chance to savor the second's babyhood in a way that parents of more closely spaced kids do not. Your older child has a life of her own, with school and friends, which keeps her busy and lessens resentment. "Our daughter was 7 when her little brother was born," says Kelly Stettner, of Springfield, Vermont. "We had lots of time to talk with her about what was happening. The big age difference has also minimized the competition factor -- they each need our attention in different ways." Plus, you're less likely to fall into the comparison trap when kids are so far apart in age. And don't forget the financial advantage: having only one in college (or day care) at a time.
What you won't: "Siblings with this great an age difference may not play together much because they don't have a lot in common," Borba says. That doesn't mean the siblings won't eventually be close, but they may not truly appreciate each other until they're out of college. And while it's natural to rely on your older child to help out, he may resent being cast as the always-available babysitter. " "'Can you watch your brother for a few minutes while I'm on the phone?' gets really old," Borba points out.
Make it work for you: To help your kids form a closer relationship, plan family vacations, holiday traditions, and other bonding experiences that help build a sense of sibling identity. "Family rituals create closeness between kids who otherwise live in very different worlds," Braun says. "Driving around looking at Christmas lights is fun for everyone, and it's the type of thing that kids remember."
The most crucial piece of advice holds true whether nine months or nine years separate your kids. "The most important thing is not the time between the children," Braun says. "It's the relationship each one has with his or her parents. Sibling issues are almost always about each child fearing that the parent has enough room for only one." Give each kid the attention and caring he craves, and you can make the sibling thing work no matter what.