3-4 Years Between Kids
Cost-cutting: This spacing generally produces less chaos in the home than a two-year gap, because the older child is gaining self-sufficiency and may even be helpful when the baby arrives. Many of the same financial benefits of the two-year difference still apply here, like reduced costs for both kids in childcare, schools and college. Similarly, you already have most of the gear you’ll need. The financial drawbacks aren’t huge compared to the two year gap—you may pay more for individual kid activities since your children won’t share the same skill sets until late elementary school.
Career: Working moms generally find this spacing easier to handle, both in terms of managing maternity leave and advancing in their careers, since they have a few years to learn how to manage work and family responsibilities, in addition to possibly accumulating more savings.
Effort: It’s not huge, but there may be more years when your kids attend separate schools, increasing your time commuting, planning, volunteering, etc. This may be balanced by the fact that one kid is already a little older by the time you have a crying baby again.
Overall: This plan may cost you a little more than spacing your kids out by only two years, but if you use the time to work on your career, the job boon may balance out the extra expenses like sending them to two separate schools or paying for different extracurricular activities. The difference between these two plans may come down to your priorities, and your rationale for wanting to wait a little longer between kids.
Of course, depending on your age, one factor you’ll want to consider is your biological clock. Do you have the time to wait—or could delaying trying to get pregnant mean you would need fertility help, which can get costly? As we all know, not all pregnancies can be planned down to the minute.
5 or More Years Between Kids
Cost-cutting: You have to start from scratch with a lot of baby preparation: re-proofing your house, updating car seats, replacing lost infant items, re-schooling yourself about birth and early childhood. All of this has a financial cost. You’re also unlikely to get any discounts for multiple kids in childcare or college down the line, though you may save on babysitting when your oldest matures and can watch the younger one.
Career: This age gap prolongs the total amount of time that a mom may stay out of the workforce, but for working moms this spacing provides similar benefits as the 3-4 year gap. Younger child may benefit from the parents’ increased income as they advance in their careers.
Effort: With an extended age gap between children, each child benefits from more individual attention from the parents, and the older child is usually helpful when the baby comes along.
Overall: A long spacing between children may come with a significantly larger financial toll in terms of baby gear, general preparedness and sibling discounts. All the same, if you want the time to really focus on each child separately, having a long gap between them may provide more of a sense of starting from scratch and enjoying the child-rearing experience all over again.
What We Decided, in the End
Of course having another child isn’t a wholly rational decision—the parents’ age, birth control methods and fertility also play a huge role.
For my family, we were lucky to be able to weigh the benefits of each spacing arrangement, and have arrived at a decision: Baby #2 is due late spring 2013, when our daughter will be exactly three and a half.
Jessica Carew Kraft is an independent journalist in San Francisco and a recovering anthropologist. She has written about cultural trends for The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle and other publications.