An Emerging Trend: Moms with kids far apart in age

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Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH, is a split mom of a 28-year-old son, who’s married and has a two-year-old daughter and a seven-month-old son, also a mom of 15- and 16-year-old sons. Dr. McAllister is a family physician, cofounder of, and coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth. Here, she offers her thoughts on the best—and worst—parts about being a “split mom.”

Split Mom: the pros and consSplit moms have children who are 10 years or more apart. This can be an incredibly challenging parenting situation; it’s almost like having two families in one. Moms become split moms by various means. For example, a mom might have had a child or children early on, then divorced and remarried, or married for the first time, and then had another child or children. Divorce rates in the United States for first time marriages average 40 to 50 percent, providing plenty of opportunity for these second families. In fact, many split moms cite divorce and a new family as the reason for the gap between their children.

Last but not least, advances in medical technology make it possible for women to have children later in life. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in the 24 years between 1980 and 2004, the number of women giving birth at age 30 has doubled, at age 35 has tripled, and after age 40 has almost quadrupled. Forty is the new twenty!  A mom at age 30 or even 40 might suddenly find herself yearning to hold a baby in her arms again, and now, many mature women can turn this dream into a reality.

Five Great Things about Being a “Split Mom”

Because my sons are so different in ages, they have vastly different needs. I find I’m able to meet my kids’ needs independently, because they aren’t competing for the same attention in the way that three boys close in age would be. For example, my older son, Chad, most needs “been-there-done-that” advice and support in terms of his role as a new parent and spouse, balancing work and family, and planning for the future. But Oakley and Gatlin need me more for hands-on parenting and teaching them the skills they’ll need to be healthy, happy adults. This ranges from checking their homework, making sure they go to bed at a reasonable hour, and holding them accountable for their household chores.

When my older son, Chad, was born, there was no such thing as cord blood banking! But by the time I was pregnant with Oakley and Gatlin, the technology was really beginning to develop. I was glad to have a second chance to consider banking my babies’ cord blood.

I’ve enjoyed two very different parenting experiences! As a young mom with Chad, I had lots of extra energy to keep up with his little-boy antics and adventures. And now as a more mature mom with Oakley and Gatlin, I feel that I can draw on the greater perspective that time brings. I might not have quite as much energy, but I have tons more wisdom and patience!

Having raised one son to maturity and seeing what a wonderful, responsible person he’s become, I’m much more relaxed in my parenting style. I realize that I don’t have to micromanage my children. Being a good role model is one of the greatest gifts I can give to my children.

From a purely practical perspective, older kids can help out with younger ones!

Five Challenging Aspects of Being a “Split Mom”

Because my sons have so many different needs, I feel that I’m pulled in many directions at once. I try to cope with this by setting aside time to spend with each of my children individually at least once a week. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a having a phone conversation with my 28-year-old or taking my 16-year-old out to dinner after his football practice.

At times I wonder if maybe my sons aren’t as close as siblings nearer in age would be. Over the years, I’ve fostered their relationships by encouraging them to spend time together as brothers, and then by providing them with the means to make it happen. When Chad brings his new family to visit us, I send him out with Oakley and Gatlin to go bowling, while I take my daughter-in-law and my granddaughter shopping.

I had Chad when I was 21 and I had Oakley and Gatlin in my mid-30s. I’ve been raising children forever! It’s a great joy, of course, but it’s been challenging in terms of my career. At a time when many women my age are empty-nesters and making tremendous accomplishments in their careers, I’m still taxiing teenagers around town to football games and pizza parties. But really, I wouldn’t change a thing!

When Chad was growing up, I was a broke, starving medical student. Chad learned the value of hard work, and he learned how to live happily on a squeaky tight budget. Now that I’ve graduated from medical school and I’ve been working for decades, I’m much more comfortable financially, and I don’t work nearly as hard as I did when I was younger. I worry that my teenagers aren’t learning those same lessons about hard work and budgeting as well as Chad did.

As a more mature mom with Oakley and Gatlin, I find sometimes my energy wanes and it can be hard to keep up with them! This gives me a huge incentive to take better care of myself!

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