Total Chaos Or A Genius Plan? The Pros And Cons Of Having Two Under Two

This week Kara Tointon revealed that she and her fiancee her expecting their second child - but when is the best time to think about expanding your family?

Best time to have a second baby

by Rebecca Holman |
Updated on

This week Kara Tointon announced that she and her fiancee Marius Jensen are expecting their second child, another boy, due later this year. Their eldest son Frey was born in November 2018, which means there will be just over a two-year gap between the brothers.In an interview with Hello! magazine, Tointon admitted that this pregnancy happened quicker than she expected. "We really wanted a sibling for Frey. So we said: 'If it happens, it happens; let's go with the flow,' and it happened much quicker than we expected. I did the test in May. We weren't shocked but it was a surprise, and we feel so lucky…"

‘It happened much quicker than we expected’ is a phrase I have heard uttered numerous times by the mothers of young children who have just realised that they are about to parent two under two, or a couple of times, two under 18 months. Before I had my son I always greeted the second child revelations with excitement - after all if you’ve already got a child, one more can’t be that much more work, right? Now I’m in possession of my own 13-month old, who doesn't quite sleep through the night and gets a new cold every fortnight, I always wait slightly too long before chiming in with my congratulations - pausing to check that is actually excitement in her eyes and not abject fear, and that ‘it happened much quicker than we expected’ isn’t actually code for ‘we did it bloody once when we were drunk, how is this happening???’

I feel like even the pregnancy announcements are more downbeat - the friend who shared her first 12-week scan, resplendent with confetti emojis, with your friendship WhatsApp group the minute she left the hospital the first time round might curtly say ‘I’m not drinking I’m afraid, I’m pregnant’ the second time round, when you finally manage your quarterly catch up, two months late. It's only when she takes her coat do you realise that she’s already six months pregnant and didn’t bother telling anyone. A quick trip around parenting forums reveal discussion topics including: 'Two under two: how hard is it really?' ’Terrified of having two under two,’ and ‘Is it really that bad having two children under two?’ Some of the most popular searches on google around two under two include, 'two under two tips,' 'two under two schedule,' 'how to cope with two under two,' and the kicker: 'two under two: when does it get easier?'

But has having two children under two got an unfairly bad rep, perpetuated by parents of one like me, who simply can’t imagine dividing the time and attention they spend on their one child in half? Speaking to different women with two children, I realise it might be. For every freaked-out parent considering hurtling back into the dark days of constant night feeds and explosive nappies, there are many more who are simply thrilled to be adding to or completing their family.

Helen Ochyra, a freelance journalist and her husband Doug are expecting their second daughter in March - 18 months after their eldest daughter Scarlett was born. 'Our gap will be almost exactly 18 months and I see this as a major positive. For our children, because they will have more in common and be potentially more likely to get along but also for me, because it condenses the early/baby years by overlapping some of them! I believe I'll be able to get back to work in a more meaningful (and full time) sense quicker because my youngest child will start school more quickly after my eldest. The time I'll have preschool children at home will be shorter, essentially.

'The other main thing for us is our age. I was 37 when I had Scarlett so I don't feel like I have the luxury of waiting, even if I wanted to. There is a sort of alarm in my head that says I really should be done having babies by 40(ish).’

And although having two under two isn’t a concern for Helen, she’s found that other people aren’t quite as sanguine about it. 'I do feel like there's some negativity around having "two under two". Not in a harsh way, more just people saying things like "wow, you'll have your hands full" and things like that. There's an idea that having two under two is slightly insane, which also feeds into the idea that we "should" or are "meant to" wait until we have a two year old to conceive again.’

Asking a couple more friends who are considering when to have a second child what the key factors are, age comes up a lot. ‘I think if I’d started a bit younger I’d definitely leave at least two years between them, if not more, so that at least one is sleeping and can be vaguely independent,’ one said. 'But in reality it’ll probably be a mad dash to have another one next year and just muddle through the best we can.’ She also noted that there are 2.5 years between her and her sister, and although they ‘fought like wild cats’ as children, they’re really close now.

As any woman who’s heard the phrase ‘biological clock’ uttered in her presence will know, it’s difficult to make a decision about the age gap between any children you’ll have without considering your own age, and the average age of first time parents creeping up (the average age at which a woman has her first child in the UK was 30.6 in 2018, whereas a generation previously it was 24, you can see where the desire to complete your family while you know you can comes from.

And in fact, while the age of first-time mothers is increasing, the age gap between first and second siblings is shrinking, with theOffice for National Statistics revealing that the average gap had dropped from 2.6 years in 1998 to 2.3 years in 2018.

When a lot of the parents I spoke to were considering the ‘best’ age gap between their children, making sure they were close enough in age to enjoy the same things was a key consideration. One friend with two children 21 months apart, who are now three and five noted that although he last three years have been hard work, ‘it’s paying off now, as the children are close in age and have similar interests. I was also keen to get the baby years out of the way quickly rather than spread them out.’ The idea of getting the baby years 'out of the way' as quickly as possible was another recurrent theme.

But for some people, the decision to have another child, and all that entails, isn’t as easy to make. Anna, a 39-year-old journalist living in Hertfordshire wasn’t sure if the three-and-a-half-year age gap between her son and daughter would prove to be too big when her daughter was born last year. But her son was a difficult baby and she and her husband were unsure if they could cope with a second at all. ‘But then we came round to the idea as he got easier and older. I wished initially that we had our daughter sooner as I wanted them to be closer in age so they’d be closer friends. But in hindsight it’s worked well for us now that our daughter is older and able to ‘play’ with our son a bit more.’

'He did find it hard at first being big brother, which perhaps you don’t get as much when there is a far smaller age gap. But he’s helpful and I trust him to watch her while I’m in the shower, or in the house when I’m getting shopping from the car.’ Although she also admits that it might have been harder to ‘crank up’ again into the baby zone once they were just getting used to having a bit more independence back.

Ultimately, Anna’s philosophical about her choice, pointing out that every situation is different. ‘Every child is different, and every dynamic too, so in reality there is no perfect time to have a second.’ And of course this is only one side of the coin - as much as the age gaps between siblings is shrinking, the same ONS data revealed that the average number of children a woman had in 2018 1.89 - the lowest number since records began, and brought down by the higher number of women having one or no children.

And these are very modern dilemmas, that come from a place of incredible privilege. The pressures of modern life are what make the idea of having two under two seem so tricky. My gran had six kids in seven years, which makes two under two seem positively tame, but every time I’ve asked her in wonder how she coped, she pointed out that although she had plenty to do and was always busy her entire focus was in one place, on the household and her family. Trying to balance the competing needs of a baby and a toddler, along with the competing needs of your boss, your elderly parent, your partner and your friends? You can see why some people baulk. And the idea that you can pick and choose when and how you grow your family, without having to worry too much about fertility, health, finances or other practical issues is a huge privilege that simply isn’t afforded to some people.

Ultimately it’s horses for courses - the 11 month age-gap that one parent thrives on would make someone else (me) take to the spare room with some smelling salts and a glass of wine. But also, it’s a huge leap of faith - that you won’t have to split all the love and attention you give to your oldest child in half, but you’ll find twice as much from somewhere, and still have enough time and love for yourself, and the relationships that are most important to you.

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