We all know one.
That friend-of-a-friend, or weird Uncle Josh, or your sister.
Well-enough-adjusted adults, successful careers, tons of fun at parties.
But something is awkward, you can’t put your finger on until it all clicks – Ohhhhh, they’re a middle child! It’s a thing, there’s even a name for it: “Middle Child Syndrome”. Seriously, super creative. Maybe it’s your son’s friend, who is so quiet and sweet and never asks for a thing when he’s over to play.
Middle children supposedly have it the roughest, especially in a family with a nice odd number of 3 children. Hey wait, I have 3 children! Oh, crap. So in addition to making sure they are fed, happy, healthy, and educated with lots of friends and activities, I have to worry about raising a stigma-prone “middle child”? I do! Do you know why? Because it’s actually a thing! Whether it’s nature or nurture, I’m not entirely sure. I’m banking on nurture so I’m really doing my best to NOT contribute to the middle-ness of my smart, funny, beautiful middle child.
Considering I’m the one that put her there in the first place, I owe it to her to at least make an effort. Poor girl lived a solid 7 years of her life at the coveted “baby” position in birth order folklore, only to be banished to middle child status by that cute new baby. I actually took this into consideration when we contemplated having a third. Did we really want to turn our socially amazing, thoughtful, sympathetic child into a (horror music) “middle child”?!
Middle children feel neglected and unimportant. They aren’t the responsible first born or the over-indulged last born. They struggle to be noticed. I didn’t want that for her, she didn’t deserve that. But she did have a good 7 years of training in the baby spot, so hopefully those were critical formative years and she could beat this “syndrome”. So clearly we took our chances.
My daughter has always amazed me, but even as a middle child she has flourished and remained true to her personality. Now, this is how I know it must be more nurture than nature. I used to catch myself and our family in moments that absolutely could mess this girl up. For example, we’re scrambling to get her brother ready for a baseball game while packing up the baby and all her stuff – and all my middle wants is to tell me about this awesome slime recipe she just saw on YouTube. She gets 2 sentences into it and I yell something over her to my son about needing to put on sunscreen. She follows me around still talking to me as I “uh huh” and “oooo, cool” at her. I am completely not hearing a thing she is saying but as she finishes her story I say, “That’s awesome, sweetie – now get in the car!”
This or some variation of this happens over and over for I don’t even know how long before one day I notice it’s finally wearing her down. My kind-hearted, la-la type of girl is defeated. She would no longer continue with her stories, she would realize no one was listening and just walk away. She began to notice that I had no idea what she was talking about when she would ask me a question about something she had told me just 10 minutes ago. I could see it, and it broke my heart. I noticed.
No way was I going to take this child’s sparkle away! So from then on, I made conscious efforts in those situations to make sure she felt important. I have to really be in the moment and pay attention and engage with her – I have to make sure she doesn’t get lost in the middle. Because it really was so easy to do! Not on purpose, obviously. But yeah, my older child plays a ton of sports and the baby only wants mama so inevitably my middle wasn’t as much of a “squeaky wheel” as they were – and still are!
These days we’re all living a much more healthy family dynamic. I gave away the baby. Ok, no I didn’t. BUT, we have found our groove and although those situations still present themselves constantly, I now catch us being so much better at them. I haven’t ruined my girl. Or even turned her stereotypically “middle”. Although, I can see just how easily that could have happened if I wasn’t paying attention. And if I slip up or let my guard down, I can take comfort in knowing that middle children actually tend to grow up into fun, creative and successful adults!