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The Madness of Parenting Toddlers and Teens at the Same Time

My youngest child – nine years younger than her closest sibling – is that kid with whom I would have NEVER let my oldest children play.


By age two, she was singing inappropriate song lyrics. Her older brother thought it was really funny to teach her the words to Kesha’s “Tik Tok.” By five, she had some familiarity with the main plot points of the “Walking Dead” (although she’d NEVER seen an episode, I SWEAR). By six, she was pretending a 19-year-old was her boyfriend (said boy was actually her sister’s boyfriend).

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Vital Statistics Report, the birth rate in women aged 40-49 has risen over the past decade. Sociology-types list things such as education, career, finances, and a desire to travel as a few of the reasons that women are having kids later in life. 

Aida Vazin, MA, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Newport Beach, California, says blended families are adding to the trend of having older children and younger children in the same household.

“I have noticed a larger population of blended families and a new budding trend of a large age gap between siblings – however, not as high as blended families,” she says.

My youngest, Ginger, was born when I was 40 and my older kids were nine and 12.  She was not an “oops” or the result of a second marriage, but a planned baby that I decided I wanted because I felt older and wiser and wanted to do the baby thing one more time. I tell people she was my 40th birthday present to myself. (How I got my husband on board with this is the topic of another post).

However, regardless of the reason for having a child later in life, raising siblings with large age gaps between them, while full of joys, also has its own unique set of challenges.

Culture

By the time Ginger was hitting her stride with language and beginning to look at the world around her for social cues, I also had a teen and a pre-teen. And they shared – sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally – all kinds of things from their teenage culture with their baby sister.

Conversations around the dinner table about things like relationships, drugs, teenage pregnancy, alcohol, were providing an education for the baby that we didn’t necessarily want her to have. Even though we tried to be careful about what was said in front of her, it quickly became evident that she was more worldly than her older siblings had been when they were her age.

Wendy O’Connor, a licensed marriage and family therapist and relationship coach in Brentwood and Encino, California, says that’s a natural phenomenon. Her words helped me stop beating myself up over the fact that Ginger was so culturally savvy at such a young age.

“At some point children have to grow up. Kids will be exposed to older teens/young adults and inappropriate topics,” Dr. O’Connor says. “Often they bump into inappropriate, damaging, and traumatic topics through technology and especially from the news via television and radio. The coping strategy for parents is to not avoid but to educate.”

Christina DiBartolo, LMSW, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, agrees but suggests setting aside one-on-one time with older kids to reduce the exposure.

“As long as there have been siblings, there has been a transfer of information from the older to the younger child,” she says. “And the maturity level of the information increases as children age. 

“Parents can set up . . . time with their older children to discuss matters on their adolescents’ minds without interference from younger siblings. That way, when older siblings introduce a mature topic of conversation during family time, parents can ask them to defer until the pre-determined discussion.”

DiBartolo also recommends that people who are simultaneously parenting older and younger children, “Take advantage of technology and insist that older kids use ear buds to listen to music that has more mature content.”

Also, set parameters about adult language that has begun to creep into adolescent vocabulary.  “When younger children overhear their older siblings using language you don’t approve of, handle it just as you would if your child overheard it on the street. Explain that while some people sometimes use those words, you expect members in your family to find different words to express themselves,” DiBartolo says.

Fairness

Another difficulty is the idea of fairness, according to DiBartolo. “Parenting different ages has inequality built in,” she says. “Of course your five-year-old does not have a 10 p.m. curfew, just as you wouldn’t tell a 16-year-old to just have one more bite of broccoli.” Older siblings also can resent that younger siblings get away with behaviors while they have higher expectations placed on them.

Embrace the inconsistencies,” DiBartolo says. “Your children are different; you are right to treat them differently. Hear your kids out if they have complaints. That doesn’t necessarily mean changing what you’re doing.” She adds that encouraging discussion models good interpersonal communication skills that children can use for the rest of their lives.

Roles and relationships

Siblings who are far apart in age are not immune to sibling rivalry, but the age gap can make it hard to address, according to Vazin. “There will be a clear sense of differential treatment between siblings with big age gaps, which may result in acting out behavior from either sibling.”

Additionally, older siblings may at times may feel the burden of having to co-parent the child, according to Vazin. “And a younger sibling may feel too controlled because of having to answer to too many authority figures.”

Again, open and honest communication is key. “It’s best to discuss the expectations and role of each family member in the home,” she says. “It’s important to set activities that may be more inclusive and can bring more connection and bonding between different age groups.”

The joys and benefits

DiBartolo emphasizes that a large age gap also brings some big benefits. “Anytime children are exposed to a variety of experiences, it’s an opportunity for learning,” she says. “As for older children, younger siblings can provide them with the excuse to let themselves relax and play.”

Thankfully, for me, the joys of having Ginger at age 40 far outweighed the challenges, even the embarrassment of her singing about brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack. Now that I’m just months from my 50th birthday, most of my friends are already empty-nesting or preparing to do so. 

I, on the other hand, got one more “at bat” with “Goodnight Moon,” Santa Claus, and trips to the zoo. And DiBartolo added, that a “later in life” baby who follows older siblings gets to enjoy parents who have more perspective.

That was certainly true for our family. While we weren’t perfect and had many moments that we failed to embrace, we sometimes managed to enjoy her in a way that many parents don’t experience until they are grandparents.

One memory stands out for me: When Ginger had croup for what seemed like the fifth time, I was sitting in the bathroom, cradling her sweaty, feverish body against me. While a hot shower filled the room with steam to give her some relief, I realized I was actually enjoying the moment – not her being sick, but the privilege of holding her – thinking, “Before I know it, this will pass.”

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Parents in New Jersey will soon get more money and more time for parental leave after welcoming a baby.

This week New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed off on legislation that extends New Jersey's paid family leave from six weeks to 12.

It also increases the benefit cap from 53% of the average weekly wage to 70%, meaning the maximum benefit for a parent on family leave will be $860 a week, up from $650.

It might not seem like a huge difference, but by raising the benefit from two-thirds of a parent's pay to 85%, lawmakers in New Jersey are hoping to encourage more parents to actually take leave, which is good for the parents, their baby and their family. "Especially for that new mom and dad, we know that more time spent bonding with a child can lead to a better long-term outcome for that child," Murphy said at a press conference this week.

The law will also make it easier for people to take time off when a family member is sick.

Because NJ's paid leave is funded through payroll deductions, workers could see an increase in those deductions, but Murphy is betting that workers and businesses will see the benefits in increasing paid leave benefits. "Morale goes up, productivity goes up, and more money goes into the system," Murphy said. "And increasingly, companies big and small realize that a happy workforce and a secure workforce is a key ingredient to their success."

The new benefits will go into effect in July 2020 (making next Halloween a good time to get pregnant in the Garden State).

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Whether you just need to stock up on diapers or you've had your eye on a specific piece of baby gear, you might want to swing by your local Walmart this Saturday, February 23rd.

Walmart's big "Baby Savings Day" is happening from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at participating Walmarts (but more deals can be found online at Walmart.com already and the website deals are happening for the rest of the month).

About 3,000 of the 3,570 Supercenter locations are participating in the sale (check here to see if your local Walmart is).

The deals vary, but in general you can expect up to 30% off on items like cribs, strollers, car seats, wipes, diapers and formula.

Some items, like this Graco Modes 3 Lite Travel System have been marked down by more than $100. Other hot items include this Lille Baby Complete Carrier (It's usually $119, going for $99 during the sale) and the Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat (for as low as $199).

So if you're in need of baby gear, you should check out this sale. Travel gear isn't the only category that's been marked down, there are some steep discounts on breast pumps, too.

Many of the Walmart locations will also be offering samples and expert demos of certain products on Saturday so it's worth checking out!

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Any Schumer has not had an easy pregnancy. She intended to keep working, but if you follow her on social media you know she's been very sick through each trimester.

And now in her final trimester she's had to cancel her tour due to hyperemesis gravidarum, also known as HG. It's a rare but very serious form of extreme morning sickness, and on Friday evening Schumer announced she is canceling the rest of her tour because of it.

“I vomit every time [I] ride in a car even for 5 minutes," Schumer explained in an Instagram post.

Due to the constant vomiting she's not cleared to fly and just can't continue to the tour.

This is not the first time Schumer has had to make an announcement about HG. Back in November, just weeks after announcing her pregnancy, she had to cancel shows and again broke the news via Instagram.

She posted a photo of herself in a hospital bed with her little dog Tati, and spelled out the details of her health issues in the caption. "I have hyperemesis and it blows," Schumer wrote.

Poor Amy. Hyperemesis gravidarum is really tough.

Kate Middleton, Ayesha Curry and Motherly co-founder Elizabeth Tenety are among those who, like Schumer, have suffered from this form of severe morning sickness that can be totally debilitating.

As she previously wrote for Motherly, Tenety remembers becoming desperately ill, being confined to her apartment (mostly her bed) and never being far from a trash can, "I lost 10% of my body weight. I became severely dehydrated. I couldn't work. I couldn't even get out of bed. I could barely talk on the phone to tell my doctor how sick I was—begging them to please give me something, anything—to help."

Thankfully, she found relief through a prescription for Zofran, an anti-nausea drug.


Schumer probably knows all about that drug. It looks she is getting the medical help she obviously needs, and she was totally right to cancel the tour in order to stay as healthy as possible.

We're glad to see Schumer is getting help, and totally understand why she would have to cancel her shows. Any mama who has been through HG will tell you, that wouldn't be a show you'd want front row seats for anyway.

Get well soon, Amy!

[A version of this post was published November 15, 2018. It has been updated.]

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As a military spouse, Cydney Cooper is used to doing things alone. But when she delivered her twin daughters early after complications due to Influenza A, she was missing her husband Skylar more than ever.

Recovering from the flu and an emergency C-section, and trying to parent the couple's two older boys and be with her new infant daughters in the NICU, Cydney was exhausted and scared and just wanted her husband who was deployed in Kuwait with the Army and wasn't expected home for weeks.

Alone in the NICU 12 days after giving birth, Cydney was texting an update on the twins to her husband when he walked through the door to shoulder some of the massive burden this mama was carrying.

"I was typing up their summary as best I could and trying to remember every detail to tell him when I looked up and saw him standing there. Shock, relief, and the feeling that everything was just alright hit me at once. I just finally let go," she explains in a statement to Motherly.

The moment was captured on video thanks to a family member who was in on Skylar's surprise and the reunion has now gone viral, having been viewed millions of times. It's an incredible moment for the couple who hadn't seen each other since Skylar had a three-day pass in seven months earlier.

Cydney had been caring for the couple's two boys and progressing in her pregnancy when, just over a week before the viral video was taken, she tested positive for Influenza A and went into preterm labor. "My husband was gone, my babies were early, I had the flu, and I was terrified," she tells Motherly.

"Over the next 48 hours they were able to stop my labor and I was discharged from the hospital. It only lasted two days and I went right back up and was in full on labor that was too far to stop."

Cydney needed an emergency C-section due to the babies' positioning, and her medical team could not allow anyone who had previously been around her into the operating room because anyone close to Cydney had been exposed to the flu.

"So I went in alone. The nurses and doctors were wonderful and held my hand through the entire thing but at the same time, I felt very very alone and scared. [Skylar] had been present for our first two and he was my rock and I didn't have him when I wanted him the most. But I did it! He was messaging me the second they wheeled me to recovery. Little did I know he was already working on being on his way."

When he found out his baby girls were coming early Skylar did everything he could to get home, and seeing him walk into the NICU is a moment Cydney will hold in her heart and her memory forever. "I had been having to hop back and forth from our sons to our daughters and felt guilty constantly because I couldn't be with all of them especially with their dad gone. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life and I won't be forgetting it."

It's so hard for a military spouse to do everything alone after a baby comes, and the military does recognize this. Just last month the Army doubled the amount of leave qualifying secondary caregivers (most often dads) can take after a birth or adoption, from 10 days to 21 so that moms like Cydney don't have to do it all alone.

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