When does the age gap become too much?

We’ve talked a lot about age gaps on this site, but I have another question, when does the age gap become too much?
I was recently watching a TV show on Youtube, and the family had quite an interesting (though not uncommon) dynamic. The Mom and Dad were still together, though the Dad lived/worked in a different province, leaving the Mom with the kids. The eldest was a 11/12 year old boy, the middle was a 5 year old girl, and the youngest was a 1.5 year old boy. Because the Dad worked away from home and didn’t really live with them, the oldest son frequently had to help his mom out, almost acting like a father. Immediately noticing this dynamic I felt a little bad for the boy, but thought that he might actually enjoy it, until I found the next clip from the show where his parents took him to a psychologist, it was actually really interesting to watch the way the psychologist made the evaluation, as someone who likes that type of stuff.
He explained how he felt like he’d burden his mom if he said no when she asked for help with the kids, or if he were to say something like “oh this chair is uncomfortable”, so he’d never speak up about it unless it was unbearable.
Long story short, he was feeling very overloaded with everything he had to do in his day, saying that if he could be any animal for a day he’d pick a puppy because he could finally be the one being taken care of.
It made me wonder, is it inevitable for kids to feel like this in families with big age gaps? Is it just because of the amount of children? Is this an example of an age gap becoming “too much?”
If he were younger would less of the responsibility fall onto him as he wouldn’t be as capable taking care of the kids?
I know his dad working away from home is the major issue, but I also know this happens in families where everyone works and lives in the same place :blush: You hear a lot about oldest kids feeling like they lost their childhood having to act as a parernt, and that’s what I’m curious about!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this as parents or as children! This is just one situation with several factors at play, but I am curious about more personal experiences!

I actually think the boy’s feeling would be less due to the age gap and more due to the long absences of his father. I don’t think of the dad working away from home as background context so much as a pivotal central factor in this boy’s life. [name_m]Even[/name_m] without the baby, the mother would be under extra burden running the home mostly on her own, missing her husband’s help and companionship, and needing more help from her oldest.
Families work best together! It’s so hard on the whole family when the provider is taken away a lot. We have been through some tough seasons from that.

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[name_m]Just[/name_m] re reading your post again and seeing that this Dad lives apart from the rest of the family — yeah I’m doubling down on my above comment! :stuck_out_tongue: this is such a red flag for this whole family’s emotional health. If I knew this family, and if I had any trust from them; I would beg them to find a new work situation that lets the man be a present husband and father. I truly don’t think the age gap is tue issue here at all! The hardship is that this is a single parent household.

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I agree with this, though I do wonder if it would’ve been different if he was younger as well. Like maybe 7? He wouldn’t be as capable of taking care of his younger siblings, so the Mom couldn’t rely on him as much.

I should mention that he works in a job that he has to be away from the family, as the Mom works in the town with the kids as an actress, and the son has soccer in the town they live in! I myself thought it was quite a recipe for disaster though :rofl:

To me, that sounds more like an age gap mixed with an almost-entirely single-parent household. I’m sure it differs for every family, of course, so I don’t think there’s really a blanket answer for whether or when the age gap becomes too much. I know a friend from school who’s the youngest (by about 15 years) to his five siblings. He’s quite estranged from many of his siblings, but as he’s got two seemingly quite present parents who didn’t work far from home when he was growing up, they never had their older children helping to raise their youngest. All depends, I’d say!

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That’s true, maybe that would drive the parents toward finding a different method to cope both the situation— if not the Dad changing jobs or moving to his current job, perhaps moving closer to family or hiring a mothers helper.

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Yeah I understand work can be really demanding and you can’t always snap your fingers and find a different job. This is a situation I would avoid at all costs, but I understand that sometimes we have to go through crappy seasons. I would just hope this couple would work toward reuniting the family altogether and not think of this as a long term arrangement!

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That broke my heart to read :frowning: so much on that kid’s shoulders than he should ever have to worry about. I’ve seen this kind of thing referred to as parentification or spouseification. It is one factor in why my husband and I don’t want a large family. The babies I bring into this world are my responsibility, not their siblings’.
I experienced it to a small extent. I remember being 13, making dinner with a baby in my arm, using my chin to hold a bottle to her mouth, while my parents worked. I also had a lot of emotional and relationship things put on me that shouldn’t have been my business. I wouldn’t say it ruined my childhood but I just wanted to be a kid, you know?

I’ve seen it time and again though. [name_f]My[/name_f] mother was the oldest in her family and had to take care of the younger ones. It is also the norm in my “community” to have lots of children, so I’ve seen it happen to the eldest kids in those families, too. Think smaller scales of the Duggar family, where each older daughter had “buddy groups” of younger siblings to raise. That’s really unhealthy.

I don’t know if it stems from the age gap as much as it does the family dynamics. The parents working a lot, one parent being absent, the number of kids, etc I feel play a significant role.

That’s kind of rambling but yeah. Sad stuff.

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I feel so sorry for that boy. But I don’t think it’s the age gap that’s necessarily the problem here or in any other situation where a child feels this way, it’s so much more complex.
[name_m]Reading[/name_m] or hearing about situations like this always gets to me. From the moment our parents got divorced, my twin brother and I always felt we had to parent our mother while at the same time we were busy avoiding our stepfather’s abuse (which, as you can guess, didn’t work).

I don’t think there’s a definition for when an age gap is too much. For me personally, 6 years would have been the absolute maximum. But life doesn’t always go the way you want it to. Especially in blended families the age gap can be bigger, and sometimes that works out just fine. [name_f]My[/name_f] oldest son is 7 years old. His half-sister will be born next month. I don’t know how this will go. [name_f]My[/name_f] oldest is very mature for his age and feels responsible for others’ feelings easily. I’m very careful he doesn’t feel like he has to parent me, his dad, my husband, my brother or any of his half-siblings, but with some children it’s just so hard to avoid because of the way they are. I don’t know how things will work out with the age gap, but we’ll figure it out as we go along.

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I agree that had the age gap been smaller there might have been less pressure on him. But I think that’s an unusual situation in general.


[name_f]My[/name_f] best friend is the youngest of three. She’s fourteen and her older siblings are twenty-four and twenty-seven, I think, so about a ten year age gap. It’s created an interesting dynamic because the older siblings are so much closer in age, so they’re also much closer to each other than to their little sister. They’ve grown up together, always been at the same schools, done the same activities, reached the same milestones at similar times, so naturally they’re closer. And of course with her siblings leaving for college, my friend has basically been raised as an only child since she was eight.

I don’t think they were really expected to do much when my friend was little. I actually think her siblings are more involved in her life now, when they’re adults and she’s a teen, than when she was younger. They’re the ones she’ll stay with if her parents go on vacation, they’re the ones that will drive her to her friends’ houses when her parents can’t. They do have a really great relationship now, although it is more of an older cousin-younger cousin relationship than a sibling-sibling relationship, because they weren’t in her life for a large part of it. :slight_smile:

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