My wife and I have three boys. Their ages are fourteen, twelve and four. Yes, that is a pretty good spread between the last two. In case you were wondering, no, it was not an accident (you would be surprised how often I get asked that). This year, all at the same time, we were able to experience one son starting high school, another starting middle school and the third going to preschool. The range of experiences around our house is amazing.
Having such a large spread in the age of our children has its advantages. First, we have an automatic babysitter for short-term needs. Second, some of the competition for items around the house is less severe since they each are at different points in their lives and have different interests. Third, we as parents are older and wiser than we were when our first two boys were young so maybe we can actually get the third one right.
There also some disadvantages. First, as a parent we have become older which makes keeping up with a four-year old a little more difficult. Second, we have ventured back into the toddler stage, which is not always a fun stage. Remember all those difficult times you had with the first two boys? Yeah, you get to do that all over again. Third, we now have even more years before they all move out.
Eight years is a long period of time and so much can change in that period. For our family, very significant changes have occurred in our lives during that time. We now live in a completely different state. My wife and I are both natives Texas, born and raised, and only moved to North Carolina a few years ago. From a financial perspective, I have completely changed careers which has proven to be financially beneficial. We are able to provide for our family in a completely different manner. Plus, we have significantly matured as people and parents and handle family situations completely different from what we have done in the past. All of these changes mean that our family has changed from the things we buy to the ways we spend time together. Most of these changes I would say have been very beneficial but there is this sense of inequality that I cannot seem to shake from the back of my mind.
As people, we like things to be equal. Whatever someone else is receiving, it is our nature to feel that we should be receiving something comparable. This happens in our work environment, where we feel that we should be receiving comparable compensation to our coworkers. It also occurs in retail. Remember how you feel when you see your cell phone provided promote a new product at a discounted price which you are not eligible for since you are an existing customer.
When there is a perceived inequality, conflict often occurs. All you need to do is watch the news to see this happen on a daily basis. This happens within our families as well. When one child senses other siblings might be receiving more than they are, whether that be toys or love, they often express that emotion in various ways. Sometimes it is simply through a vocal protest, other times in may manifest itself in all-out rebellion.
As parents, we strive to keep all things equal among our children when we are able. When Christmas time rolls around, we plan on spending an equal amount of money on each child when purchasing presents. Throughout the week, we look at which child is receiving the most attention from us and then try to find ways to spend an equal amount of time with the other two in order to equal out our attention among the three. Sometimes it is necessary to give more attention to one child depending on the circumstance. This is often the case with our special needs son who requires more attention due to his autism. When this happens, we try to find ways to spend special time with our other boys to make them feel equally loved.
Even though we work hard to make things as equal as possible, the large age gap between our children creates automatic inequalities which is what I struggle with the most.
The first gap is simply caused by the fact that our financial situation has changed so dramatically in eight years. We are able to provide more for our youngest son now than we were ever able to provide for our older two when they were a similar age. You might say that it is an advantage to be in a better financial position, and in many ways it is, but for me it also brings about a tremendous amount of guilt. There is guilt that I was not able to provide opportunities for my oldest two that I am now able to provide now for my youngest and I worry about what my oldest son will think as he continues to grow and begins to take notice of the differences.
Aside from financial differences, for me there is also a second gap which is knowledge. In eight years of raising two boys I have learned the good and the bad of being a parent. There are so many things I wish I could go back and correct in the way I raised my first two sons when they were younger but unfortunately I cannot. The only think I can do is change what I do going forward, which definitely benefits my youngest son but not necessarily my oldest boys. As a parent you worry that you are going to do something wrong and mess up your child’s life. When you have a child like I do which is much younger than the others, it is almost as if you get a second chance to do things correctly. Knowing that you can make changes now just reminds you daily of the mistakes you have made in the past.
These inequalities I cannot change. The fact remains that as we move through time, our lives change. All we can do is live with what we are given today. When it comes to our children, we have to try to do the best with what we have at that moment. Yes, things change and our children might have significantly different childhood experiences. I could dwell on how I wish things should have been but to me it is more important to focus on the time I have remaining with each of them.