x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

The dilemma of age gap facing the Beckhams and families

Harper Seven, the latest addition to the Beckham clan, is six years younger than her nearest sibling, Cruz. We talk to some UAE residents and how siblings adapt to their situations.

From left, Isabel, 11, Millie, eight, and Beatrice Pearson, 10, play with their younger brother Horace, 18 months, at their villa.
From left, Isabel, 11, Millie, eight, and Beatrice Pearson, 10, play with their younger brother Horace, 18 months, at their villa.

She's a blessed child, this Harper Seven Beckham - that much is sure. But there is one snag: the infant, born last week to parents David and Victoria, is a full six years younger than her closest sibling, Cruz.

That is quite a baby gap - one that those who have been there say creates all kinds of family tensions on a number of fronts.

This is something that Nicola Ure, an arts administrator who lives in Abu Dhabi and is six years older than her sister Romy, knows all too well.

"I was super excited when Romy was born," she says. "It was like getting a new toy. I would make my bed up next to her Moses basket so I could sleep next to her."

Things changed as they got older, though. "In Spain, where I grew up, the routine in the summer was to go with a gang of friends to the community pool. I had to take my sister with me every day, and when I was 14 and she was eight I used to hate that, having a little child with me."

In the long term, she says, it can be hard to have a close relationship with a sibling who is that much younger.

"We were always at totally different stages. I was a teenager and she was this annoying eight-year-old."

And what about Harper's parents? Six years is long enough to forget the strain of disrupted sleep, the intensity of this screaming bundle that requires attention 24/7.

"I'd forgotten how much hard work it is," says Gertrude Pearson, who lives in Abu Dhabi and has three daughters - Isabel, 12, Beatrice, 10 and Amelia, eight - and an 18-month-old son, Horace. "I don't know if it's because I'm older. I had my first three in my early 20s and then I had Horace at 30. Even with that age gap, I found it tiring."

Pearson comes from a large family herself, so it made sense, once they had moved to the UAE and were enjoying an easier life, to have another baby. "It wasn't necessarily to try to have a boy," she says. "I just wanted another baby. My parents had us four girls and then they had my brother 14 years later."

Had she forgotten everything?

"I'm not as structured so I suppose I haven't remembered it all," she says, "but I'm much more relaxed. The fourth child just has to kind of get on with it."

Crucially, she adds, she has her little helpers.

"The girls are amazing. They love Horace. I was worried there might be a little bit of jealousy because obviously a baby needs so much more attention, but the girls just loved it. They help out a lot. When Isabel's going for a shower, she'll just take Horace with her and he'll sit in the bottom splashing around. They bath him, they rough-and-tumble with him. They just love him."

She has no regrets about adding another baby to the brood at this stage.

"Horace has been a fabulous addition to the family. With your first child you're a bit nervous. My girls were relatively close together so I didn't get to appreciate it. In England I didn't have any help. It was lovely but I can't remember it. This time I've been able to step back and really enjoy it."

Pearson has toyed with the idea of having yet another baby, to keep Horace company since, in a few years' time, the girls will leave home.

"I feel sad that once he's 10 he'll essentially be an only child," she says. "But I won't be doing it. It's too expensive. I'll just have to make sure he has a large social life."

There is also, she says, an element of sadness about what Horace has missed out on.

"I do have a slight pang sometimes that he hasn't shared in all the girls' early memories," she says. "When we talk about holidays we've done I'm very aware that it's all without him."

As much as their age gap mattered when she was young, says Ure, it became irrelevant as she and her sister got older. "When I got back from university, it was different," she says. "I could relate to my sister in a different way. And it's nice to be able to give her advice on things like degrees and jobs, because you're that bit further ahead."

Perhaps it's not Harper we should be worrying about.

Spare a thought, instead, for a certain young man who, about 16 years from now, will have to be grilled by a room full of Beckham boys before he can take his date to the prom.