After breaking free from a 13-year conservatorship that allegedly controlled even her reproductive rights, Britney is celebrating the big news, as are her fans.
While I’d be hard-pressed to find much in common with a mega-talented superstar, when Britney’s baby is born, we will both have children with a large age gap between them. Britney’s sons, Sean and Jayden, are 16 and 15, and my youngest was almost 15 when I had my third child at age 46.
Whether due to divorce and subsequent relationships or, in my case, the surprising last gasp of a geriatric egg, large age gaps aren’t all that rare, despite the median interval between siblings being 24-29 months, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Age gaps present unique challenges and gifts.
So what do I have to offer by way of advice to Britney as she starts over, a decade and a half after the birth of her last child?
You’ve got this
It may seem hard to imagine bathing a tiny baby again, schlepping all that gear around, and giving up one-on-one time with your partner. However, like muscle memory, you will know what to do. Also, you are stronger. You are wiser. You have more stability than you did as a young woman. You know how to ask for help and advocate for yourself and your baby. Most importantly, you have been around long enough to understand that each child is different, and that a lot of the small stuff parents fret about is, well, just small stuff.
You will be pulled in two directions
Much as you would like to cocoon with your new baby and your fiancé, you know that your older boys need you. Your ability to maintain a relationship with them during years of personal turmoil was a hard-fought victory, and you will continue to cultivate it. You will accept being pulled in two directions. I remember climbing the bleachers at a cold lacrosse game four days after giving birth, in order to support my daughter. Let’s just say my baby wasn’t the only one wearing a diaper. Being a mom of teens and a baby will require flexibility and generosity on everyone’s part, and you’ll learn to live in the messy midst of it.
Don’t expect the kids to be besties — yet
We picture our older children and new baby hanging out, making a perfect family. There will be sweet moments. However, teens are focused on peer relationships, and a baby brother or sister, while cute, doesn’t have much to offer. Teens need to know you value them for who they are, not for how they interact with the baby. Their emotions may range from excitement to resentment.
People said to me, “Oh, you’ll have a built-in babysitter!” assuming my teen daughter would want to help with the baby. In those early months and years, she was more like a wealthy "Downton Abbey" parent, content to give her brother a pat on the head once a day, as long as he didn’t mess up her clothes or impact her schedule. As the baby grew, there have been many opportunities for them to bond, without being forced.
I would suggest mandating photos in matching pajamas, though. There’s nothing cuter.
You get to enjoy the fun parts of parenting again
Teens are awesome, but sometimes a closed bedroom door or a grunt is all you get. You’re dealing with big people, and big issues. You’ve gone from Mommy to Mom to Bruh. B.O. and body spray are a far cry from that new baby smell. Not only does a baby adore you and want to be with you, everything is new to them. No holiday or milestone is too small to celebrate, and your older boys will probably enjoy them, too. First laugh, first steps, first words. A baby brings wonder back into your home as you see things through a child’s eyes. By the way, I need to break it to you that leprechaun traps are now a thing.
You may parent differently
You are not the same person who parented your first two. Keep what worked and rethink the rest. While your mental health struggles tragically played out in public, every mom struggles in some way. Show compassion by thanking and forgiving your former self, acknowledging mistakes you may have made and giving yourself permission to keep growing and changing.
Let go of the pressure to “enjoy every minute”
Parenting is hard, whether you are 25 or 40. Just as the world rejoiced when you became pregnant, my friends and community celebrated with me when I became pregnant in my forties. It was five years after my oldest child died in an accident, and my pregnancy felt like a miracle — a way to redeem what had been broken.
You have been through so much. Like me, you have the perspective of knowing how special this is, and just how fast this baby will become a teen. But even that realization doesn’t mean you will cherish every minute. Those celebrating with us don’t have to get up in the night to feed the baby, or make hard decisions for our child.
Observers see pregnancy as a happy ending, tying up your difficult story and mine with a tidy bow.
You’ve seen enough to know that it’s a beginning, just one more part of a brave and complex life.