Two Moms Juggle the Challenges and Joys of Raising Kids With Big Age Gaps
Kristen Allsop and Tara Bone, contributing writers
Kristen Allsop balances life in Amalga with her husband Ken, seven children ranging in age from 3 to almost 18 years, and her career as a realtor with Dwell Realty. She won’t say this, but her ability to make anyone laugh at any time and her generous heart make her everyone’s favorite friend.
Tara is a contributing writer for Cache Valley Family Magazine and mom to four sons, ranging in age from 2 to 18. Kristen and Tara became fast friends while herding chickens and surviving the Cache County Fair with three lambs, eight kids, and too many farm animals to count. Yes, herding chickens is a thing … or at least it was that summer. Tara and Kristen put their heads together to share some things they’ve learned on their parenting journey. Although they both feel the older they get, the less they know.
WHY WRITE THIS?
Last year I spent a lot of time preparing my 18-year-old son to leave the nest. We did typical campus visits and shopping trips, but what wasn’t typical is 1-year-old baby brother came along on all our adventures. We had so much fun on our outings, and we never knew what questions we’d get … “yes they’re brothers,” and my favorite “yes, I’m the mom and not grandma.”
We love our family dynamic and wouldn’t have it any other way; we waited 10 years for our miracle caboose. But there are unique challenges and hard moments that parents of kids with large age gaps hesitate to discuss because they’re oh so grateful, but also oh so tired!
The Bone brothers, ages 18, 2, 12, and 16 years old. Photo credit: Heather Palmer Photography
Kristen and I want parents in this situation to know they’re not alone. It’s hard to be the oldest parent on the playground who doesn’t quite fit in, or to navigate a tantrum during a teenage child’s very public event. We also want to offer tips we’ve learned and give a glimpse into this parenting world.
LOWER ENERGY AND LESS TIME
Takeaway: Don’t focus on what you can’t give; focus on what you can and be happy to be there. Really … it’s OK if their clothes don’t match (because you didn’t have energy to outsmart the tantrum) and you haven’t had makeup on for days. If you fall asleep reading bedtime stories, at least you got a page in.
When I go places with my younger children, I definitely am the oldest parent in the room. I see myself 15 years ago in those mothers’ eyes. Like them, I was very engaged in my child’s development. I feel as if my focus is very different now. As an older mom, I still want this, but my energy and time must be spread further. My mind feels encumbered by all the tasks and worries of motherhood. Hence, I’m just grateful I’m at an activity with my child and simply hope they have fun and I enjoy doing something with them.
My little kids don’t participate in as many activities as my oldest daughter did. Which is sad for me, but I can’t let that sadness overwhelm me. I must see that my younger children have something I couldn’t give my oldest — an older sibling.
Kristen and Ken Allsop at their Amalga home with their children, ages 3 to almost 18.
Takeaway: Think outside the box when juggling very different schedules. You’ll need to be flexible. Remember to make time for self care; take care of your mental, emotional, and physical needs.
Maybe car time isn’t the best naptime, but if that’s what you’ve got, use it and don’t feel guilty. If you’re driving in the car for the older kids’ activities, put on an age-appropriate educational (or not) movie and keep a rotating bag of toys in the car. Our favorites are Signing Time or Letter Factory. Speaking of driving: Look for carpools.
If you need a nap because you waited up for your teen whose curfew is midnight and then the baby is up during the night, it’s OK. Remember: Self-care is not selfish. Ask a trusted friend or neighbor for help.
My younger kids have later bedtimes at their ages than my older kids did. If the younger kids sense one ounce of fun, they are quick to jump out of bed and join in! Sometimes it’s OK to let a little one be part of the “big kids.”
TIME FOR OLDER KIDS
Takeaway: Be diligent with younger kids during the day when older kids are at school, so they won’t “fight” older siblings for attention at night.
When older kids need help with homework, a practice, or just a listening ear, sometimes it’s hard to balance these needs with a toddler’s wants. Things that help are engaging with the little one during the day. Also communicate clearly. Even though they’re little, tell them, “your brother needs mom’s help now, but I will play when we’re done.”
HOW TO CHOOSE FAMILY ACTIVITIES
Takeaway: Evaluate the pros and cons of family activities for different age groups. Do activities targeted for each age group at different times and help older children have patience and help with younger children. For younger children, anticipate snacks, or needed breaks. Each group can learn important lessons and experience new things.
My younger kids are content to stay home, have a picnic on the floor, color a picture, but my older kids want more. They want adventure and excitement. The little ones usually are OK to tag along, but they get tired easily. Lots of time these activities cost more money, and I want my money’s worth. I usually weigh the costs of all these things and this helps me choose activities.
PROTECT THINGS THAT MATTER MOST
Takeaway: Things are just things … right? Accept that there will be damaged stuff and teach older kids to take care of their belongings and be patient.
Older children (and parents) have “special things” they don’t want ruined by little hands. As hard as I try, protecting my older child’s property seems to be a futile effort. In our house it’s up to the older child to keep it out of reach. I keep telling myself and my family, “Our family relationships are more important than our things.”
WHERE DO I FIT?
Takeaway: Form friendships with others who are in the same stage of life. Join play groups, attend story time. Try to maintain friendships with those who aren’t in the same stage when possible. Ask your partner or family to help so you can invest in relationships, take classes, or learn a new skill.
When you have a little one, you’re balancing their needs, your family’s needs, and work demands. You’re in a different stage from friends your age whose kids are older. They may be meeting for lunch appointments, taking girls trips, or making career moves that don’t fit with your family — and that’s OK. Be proactive in developing relationships and learning or continuing hobbies.
ENJOY THE MOMENTS
Parenting littles and bigs simultaneously presents unique challenges but also amazing joys. When big brother teaches little brother to tenderly hold a family pet softly, or how to button up their jammies, there’s nothing sweeter. Hold on to those moments, because before you know it you’ll be preparing another one to leave the nest.
Photo credit: Heather Palmer Photography