The epiphany of our altered family reality came into sharp focus last month, when our oldest graduated high school just as I was pre-registering our youngest for kindergarten in the fall. We laughed about the dichotomy of those two school milestones. “We’re starting all over again!” exclaimed John.
But after talking with neighbors, some parents of my boys’ friends, and even members of my own family, I learned we weren't alone; all had added bonus babies to their families.
I first turned to my brother and his wife, Gaius and Maria Robinson. They have a bonus baby, although I had no idea we spurred them on. “When we saw Bliss and how precious she was, that’s when I realized I really wanted another baby,” says Maria. They now have Marissa, who recently turned 4. She joined their first three children, born during the more traditional baby-making years, when couples are in their mid-to-late 20s.Their daughter Alexandria is now 19 and about to start her sophomore year in college, while Victoria and Isaiah, 17- and 16-years-old respectively, are close to finishing high school. As experienced parents, the Robinsons were pretty confident, but Marissa has also thrown them some curve balls.
“I’ve built upon the knowledge from raising my other three children,” Maria says, but jokingly adds, “One of the secrets that I used to know that I don’t seem to know how to do anymore is sleep training. We’re still figuring out how to get her to sleep in her own bed.”
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Portia and Daniel Harvey with Kamyle, Daniel, & Krysten
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The Robinson children: (l to r) Victoria, Marissa, Alexandria, and Isaia
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Leanne and Kamran Ince with Arin
Big kids weigh in
One afternoon, Bliss and another little boy, Arin, were playing with some neighborhood friends. His mom, Leanne Ince, and I were having typical “mom talk” when she mentioned how her older children liked to tell her how to parent her 4-year-old son. Amused, I asked how much could they know as kids. With a wink and a smile, she said they were big kids so she would cut them some slack. Her oldest Connor is 23, Meredith is 22, Abby is 16, and Arin is the child she shares from her second marriage with husband, Kamran.
“With my older kids, Arin is definitely the glue that connects us. They all adore him and play with him. My older son said he was glad the baby was a ‘dude’ so he could have a brother. It definitely added an element of a traditional family to our blended family.”
Even juggling the proverbial work-life balance seems to shift with bonus babies.
“I’m definitely better with quality time over quantity time,” says Leanne, who works in pharmaceutical sales. “I’m much more relaxed and enjoy my job more as opposed to when I was a younger parent and I had more guilt about working.”
Maria agrees. “I’m a more relaxed parent now,” she says. “The pace seems different with Marissa. Before, I was tired a lot because I had three together and seemed to be constantly giving baths when I got home from work.”
Being more relaxed is an attribute the bonus baby parents I spoke with seem to share.
“People talk about a gap year in college. We took several gap years with our youngest child, but it’s such a blessing,” says Portia Harvey, referring to her 13-year-old son, Daniel. She and her husband, Daniel, also have two daughters who attend Vanderbilt University.
“The dynamic is definitely different having a third child several years later and then having a boy. I had to learn things that he liked to do,” Harvey says. But it was a wonderful learning experience for the entire family. “My daughters had to shift to learn how to take care of one another and their brother.”
considering a Bonus?
At whattoexpect.com, experts say if you’re mulling whether to have children with a big age gap, the only right answer is the one that suits your family. But there are factors to weigh:
“You’ll want to consider space, career factors, and finances. If your biggest worry is that your kids won’t be close, know that there are many ways to foster a friendship between sibs, no matter how large the age difference between children.”
Whether a bonus baby is intentional or a bit of a surprise — as it was with my family — you can make it work if that’s what you all desire. Our boys love their little sister, and she adores them.
And my husband and I will be just as pleased dropping off our oldest son for his freshman year at Yale University in the fall as we will be walking our daughter into her first day of kindergarten at Downtown Elementary.
We wouldn’t have it any other way.