Middle Children have a harsh reputation we do not deserve.
As middle children we are either ridiculed for our supposed “attention seeking” behavior, or pitied for being less-important than our older and younger siblings. Personally, I find this all ridiculous. I am the 4th of 6 children, meaning that I am a middle child of a large family. From my own experience I’ve found that being a middle child comes with it’s own set of pros and cons, that often overlap.
Of course my personal experience is going to be very different from the experiences of other people, so there is no single “middle child” story. That being said, here’s my take on being a middle child.
- You are literally in the middle of everything.
In addition to being the middle of pack when it comes to sibling birth order, you often find that you are in the middle of the family drama. When siblings fight, you are usually playing referee. When you pile into the car, or sit at the table, guess who’s in the middle? You get used to having all your space (literal and metaphorically) squeezed out between other people, and that is extremely stressful.
While it sucks to feel like you don’t have a space of your own in a literal (and often metaphorical) sense, there is an upside to shared space as well. In addition to learning excellent mediation skills, you always know there’s someone around. From an older sibling to turn to for advice, to a younger sibling to share in trouble, being in the middle means you get the benefits of sharing your childhood on both sides.
2. You are often overlooked.
This is where “middle child syndrome” rears it’s ugly head; the lack of individualized attention. The oldest child is usually the long-awaited “first born”, who had no need to fight for attention. The youngest child is the baby, who gets all the attention once their siblings leave the nest. Middle children? We are competing from the moment the younger children exit the womb.
On one hand, not feeling loved or appreciated as an individual it hard on a young mind. Feeling like no one cares whether you are around or not can lead to depression, feelings of inadequacy, and resentment. On the other hand, it’s can also lead to a sense of freedom that older and younger siblings may not have. You can often get away with more mischief without fear of being caught, and form an identity without worrying about parents (Who are occupied with your other siblings) may think. Like with most things, being overlooked is both a blesssing and a curse.
3. Expectations are a mixed bag.
The weird thing about being a middle child is the expectation that we somehow manage to live-up to the accomplishment of our older siblings, while simultaneously being our own person. We are supposed to be a distinct and separate individual, but at the same time, be recognizable as “so-and-so’s little sibling”. Anyone who’s had a “perfect” older sibling can probably relate to the catch 22 this creates. If we fail to live up to their legacy, we are the “other” kid. However, if we do manage to match their accomplishments, it’s not considered a win because our sibling already did it before us. If we have the same interests as the older sibling, we appear to be copying them. If we don’t, it’s just to “prove we aren’t the same”. There is no winning either way! The only way we can win is if we are “better” than the oldest, which is a recipe for resentment on both sides. While the youngest child also has this issue to some degree, they have less to worry about if the middle child already broke the cycle. Basically, the oldest child gets to set the tone, and it’s up to each kid in turn to fall in line. Once one child breaks the pattern, the rest are free.
Once again, there is an up-side to this too. It’s true that as a middle child my accomplishments mean less because one of my older siblings (probably) already met that goal. However, it also means my failures aren’t as drastic either. Whatever mistakes I make, someone else already made as well, allowing me to slip under the radar (as mentioned in point 2).
No matter where you fall in the family lineup, there are pros and cons. While we can’t change which order we are born into, we can make the best of the situation you are in. We all have our own temperaments, personalities, and experiences that are going to shape who we become, but there are some things that tend to be true. From other middle siblings I’ve talked to, these seem to be shared truths that we’ve learned to live with. Let me know what being a middle child was like for you.