Managing Big Age Gaps in a Family

We have a question from our private Facebook group, Five Minute Fatherhood. Go ahead and search it on Facebook or the link is in both audio and video descriptions. We’d love to hear from you and walk with you in there. But Tony from that group asked a great question and Jeremy, I really can’t, I can’t relate to this because we’re not in this stage yet, so I’ll just kind of play dumb, pass it to you and I’d love to hear your wisdom and maybe I’ll talk about the toddler side.

But he said, how do you kind of navigate split age groups in bigger families? He says, I have teenagers and toddlers who at very different stages in life with very different needs. Amen, I can imagine. We do everything together, which many times makes me feel as if we’re neglecting the key individual needs that cater to appropriate age groups. How do you balance that? So what would you say to that, Jeremy?

Yeah, that’s a good question. Not a lot of people have this specific dynamic. I think it’s great by the way, Tony, it’s awesome I think, that you have this dynamic in your home. I wish this were more common. We had to stop having kids after five for medical reasons, but man, I love it when I see families with the whole spread. I think that’s incredible. But I do think it provides some unique challenges, a unique opportunity. The way that I think about how to split or think about this is that toddlers need a ton of physical attention and presence and physical affection and teens need a lot of heart to heart time, conversation, lengthy conversation. And so the way that, you have to be careful I think, when you have this split dynamic that there is a lot of time that you’re spending with the older kids one-on-one, that you’re really dialing into their hearts, that you’re protecting that time and that you’re not allowing the family culture to sort of descend to the toddler level all the time.

And that can be really challenging to do. One of the things I would always call your older children to do is to bear some of that physical burden of the little kids in order to give you more energy to really invest in them. And obviously you need to be there for the toddlers and be present and be interacting with them as well. But I would really think a lot about how do you have open-ended, uninterrupted heart connection with your teens? And so the way, I know that when I’ve talked to a lot of different dads, oftentimes the two most common ways I’ve seen people do this is either they use the evenings for this and so they put the little ones down and then there’s this kind of like uninterrupted hang out 9:00 at night to 11:00 time where you bond and talk and hang out with your teens.

Another way to do this is, and the way we often do this is through actually scheduled one on one times. I love taking my kids out for like an hour or two hours uninterrupted, open-ended, what’s going on, regular basis. Me keeping those accounts super, super short with teens I think is critical. And if you’re overwhelmed and exhausted by the physical demands of toddlers, you might end up neglecting what that needs or letting the culture of the family descend into that. We’re all exhausted, let’s not worry about what that sort of uninterrupted, open-ended maybe evening or one-on-one time looks like.

So those are some thoughts, but yeah, I’d love to hear Jeff, what you think about like when you, because you’ve thought I know a lot about, you guys are in the toddler stage, you understand a lot about the teen stage and what it means to dial into somebody’s heart. And so how would you think about the distinction there?

Yeah, I mean I don’t have much more to add except the fact that I would just, I can imagine that the 90% of the slip up would happen because toddlers are the most ever present needs. And what I mean by that is that the toddlers would win. And so I think I don’t see a situation where because of inertia or momentum or the teens needs would win. It’s way easier for the teen to be self sustaining, leave the house, go do their thing, or oh they’ll just take care of themselves while I change a diaper, do potty training, do the things that take five seconds, every single day, every five seconds. And so I would just be mindful of that is what I would say. I can imagine how that’s where it would always skew. So I think just being really sensitive, like you said, to actually share the burden with the team of the older ones.

Because I grew up with a sister who’s 10 years older than me and yeah, there’s actually a level there which that is a big enough gap where it does feel almost like a pseudo parent in a cool way. They can do things that I can’t do and the toddler looks at him like that. And so I think, yeah, kind of enabling the teen to kind of help and serve and be part of the team for the younger kids. That sort of frees then you up to have the emotional capacity to serve the teen. And I think if that dance is happening in like a circle, I think that would, everything would flourish really, really well. So great question, Tony.

Yeah, so the other thing to think about you guys is in a family team, I know a lot of times people feel guilty putting any kind of parenting responsibilities on their teens to their younger siblings because again, they may be thinking about things from that individual lens like, Oh man, they didn’t choose to have kids. And so why should I put this on them? They’re an individual, the little ones are individuals. That’s not the way that we believe family was designed. Family was designed to be a team. And so it’s totally appropriate to ask your older children to level up and be a really dynamic, contributing member of the family team, which includes them really engaging and helping with whatever the family needs. That’s OK to do. And it’s important to obviously be careful of their hearts and make sure they’re not resenting any of those things you’re asking them to do.

But in a family team, if you’re coaching well and leading well, then your kids should feel comfortable really sacrificing and giving a lot and not looking around at their friends and saying, well, they don’t have to worry about little kids. That kind of conversation needs to be really redirected to this framework of, hey guys, we’re a team and we’re trying to do this stuff together and we need your help. And so I think this dynamic’s awesome. Tony, best of luck as you guys try to navigate that. I think that’s an awesome challenge and opportunity for you guys.

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