Is there a formula for the perfect family unit? Well mum-of-two Gina Clarke certainly thinks so. Here's why she couldn't be happier being part of the 2/2/3 club...
My son, Benjamin, was born on a Friday. I remember taking him home over the weekend and marking the days off on the calendar; it was only another week before my three-year old daughter’s nursery stopped for Easter and then childcare would be free!
A few weeks later I was pushing him in his pram, waving goodbye to my oldest, Caitlin, at the nursery gates and mentally patting myself on the back as I imaged three precious hours of an empty house - which, of course, was always taken up with breastfeeding, cleaning, making lunch and so on, but hey, I was still one kid down!
Later, as my daughter looked inquisitively at how I would change his nappy, I would cajole her into bringing me whatever item I had forgotten – be it nappy cream or powder – as I wrestled a naked baby in to staying still without getting poo all over the carpet.
At three-years old my daughter was polite, helpful, and didn’t respond to my every request by whining “whyyyy?” - although it wasn’t long before this change occurred!
Not only was free childcare helping my purse during maternity leave, but I had a ready-made helper in my eldest, and time to myself to get things done.
Of course, children don’t always arrive exactly when you want them to, but as the youngest of four with a large age gap in between, I was keen for my children to become playmates yet still able to have their own time with mum and dad.
And right around the age of two - when my eldest was starting to talk in sentences but still asked for a cuddle on the sofa before her bedtime milk - I started thinking it was time to try again. Who wouldn’t want another bundle this cute after all?
Sleepless nights and breastfeeding on demand were enough to totally put me off the idea of expanding my brood in those first, troublesome 18-months. Just the thought of having multiples or ‘Irish twins’ – two under the age of two – would give me the shivers.
But as I settled into my new role as a mummy and went back full-time work, those cuddles on the sofa were all it took for me to start thinking ‘wouldn’t it be nice…’
And then, a year later, round two started!
My son – who is needy, stubborn and rip-roaring hilarious - is completely different from his sister in every possible way. He takes so much more of my energy that, as he approaches that magic age of two, there are no such thoughts of another baby appearing in my mind.
Instead, I am thankful that my children came exactly when they did, and I think the support network in the UK is ideally placed for having two children three years apart.
Modern cars are built to handle two toddler-sized car seats with all their bulk and padding, leaving room for snacks and teddies. Days out are planned around ‘two adults and two children’, whether it’s a family meal at the cinema, or tickets for the local zoo.
Meanwhile, the Government is encouraging a three-year gap, announcing that they will fund 30 hour’s free childcare a week from this September. This gives parents the income and stability to get back on the career ladder - something which babies can really put the scuppers on.
Of course, life is unpredictable and you may find yourself without much choice in the matter, but for those who do I really cannot do more to advocate the two parent, two children, three-year rule.
Blue Star Anthony Costa will be joining the 2/2/3 club when his new arrival with fiancé Rosanna Jasmin arrives later this year. The couple even enlisted their adorable daughter - two-year old Savannah - to break the news in a series of too cute snaps.
And although Sarah Redshaw, Managing Editor at BabyCentre.co.uk, agrees that there’s no perfect age gap, she thinks there is something to be said for having one out of nappies before the next one arrives.
“From Babycentre’s point of view, no one size fits all. But free childcare, whether it’s 15 hours or 30 hours, will certainly make a huge difference and hopefully the elder will be toilet trained by the time the new one arrives,” Sarah explained.
“Parents often learn from their own experience growing up so they may want their children together if they were close to their siblings or perhaps a larger age gap if it felt like you were always looking after the baby. And of course, there’s the cost of two in childcare.”
When the stars aligned and made me part of the 2,2,3 club I couldn’t have been happier. Precious time at home with both my babies, plus a helping hand from big sister when the little one came along, made me fulfilled as a parent.
If I had the choice again, I’d do it every time!