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Today I am sharing a post written nearly four years ago (wow that makes me feel old!) which has been one of my most popular posts over the years. This one continues to get a lot of traffic because it seems people search the internet for information on “middle children” a lot. And for good reason: Being in the middle can be hard. Parenting the middles can be hard. But with some insight and encouragement, it can be done, and it can be done well. I hope this post offers some fresh ideas and helpful perspective. For other posts in the series, check out: What a first-born needs most, and What a youngest child needs most…
Enjoy, comment, share with a friend!? And I’ll be back here soon with a fresh, new post! —
I seem to have a pretty good sample for a study on birth order…
Josiah, 15 (below, left), Jonah (on the right, below,) 13, and Luke (center, below) almost 11.
Levi, who arrived six and half years later, throws me for a bit of a loop. I always say he must fall somewhere between a first born, and a baby. (And a Tasmanian devil, but that’s another story.)
But really, I have always been intrigued by the topic of birth order. Not only do I have a great sample to study in my home, but I was also raised in a three-kid family: Two older brothers, and then me...the “baby.”
(I’m sure you’re surprised.)
I know I’m not alone in finding this topic interesting, as well as a bit intimidating. Ever since I wrote my post What a Teenage Boy Needs Most from His Mom, I’ve received numerous requests for a specific post about those mysterious middle children, and what they might need the most.
We’ve all heard the term (or is a diagnosis?) “Middle-child syndrome,” and it seems that people often pity the middle child. But really, the more I study and observe, the more I think middle children have a lot of good going for them. Sure, there are a few pitfalls to be aware of, but the way I see it, middles might just do the best in the long run.
I’ve found Kevin Leman’s book, The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are to be quite helpful in this area. If you find this topic interesting, I highly recommend you read it.
Most experts seem to agree with a few things about middle children.
Most middles are: Flexible, good negotiators, and very social. They are more laid back than their often high-strung older siblings. They are also more drawn to relationships outside the family than their siblings, and more likely to move further away from home when they are grown. (boo.)
Middle children can present a paradox of personalities, because of the fact that they are very much influenced by the first born of the family. They might strive to be a lot like the older sibling, but more typically they go the opposite direction (often as far as possible!) Middle children are said to be careful who they open up to, often keeping their feelings to themselves. Middles might struggle with their sense of identity and belonging, which often leads them to run with the pack.
Middles have been known to experiment with riskier behaviors than other birth orders, possibly as part of their search for an identity. However, middles are known to grow up well–being creative problem solvers, and great negotiators. (Think Donald Trump.) Middles are also said to be the most loyal marriage partners of any birth position.
A short list of famous “middle children”: Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates, Jennifer Lopez, George Bush, and Donald Trump. If you have a middle, you can let them know: over half of the American Presidents have been middle children.
For those of us raising middle children, we should rest assured that they are very likely to grow up to be well adjusted adults, with a happy life. Heck, maybe they’ll be President one day. But we still worry, don’t we? If you have a middle child, then you might wonder if you are giving him or her enough attention. You might wonder what they’re thinking, because they aren’t so quick to share. You might see them getting squeezed between their siblings, and just hope that they are really doing ok.
So after a lot of study, experience, and observation, I have created a list of…
1. Unconditional Love and Attention
Middles often feel compared to their (typically over-achieving) older, and (often attention-seeking) younger siblings. Giving them your time and focused attention without any expectations is really important. They need to know that they are loved simply because they are.
2. A Listening Ear
Middle children are known to feel overlooked and ignored. Over time they often learn to just step back and let the older and younger sibling get all of the attention. Setting aside time to just listen to your middle child will meet them in a very special way.
If you have a more typical first-born, chances are that they have proven very capable. It is easy to let them own this role, while the middle and younger kids ride on the benefits. Don’t do it! Make sure that you are teaching that middle child to do just as much work and contribute to the home as much as the first born has done. (It may be different tasks or roles, but make sure they do something!) This will communicate to your middle that he or she is not only a part of the family, but that the family actually depends on them. It will also help your middle child to grow up managing responsibilities well, which is a character trait sometimes lacking in the more free-spirited middle child.
4. Some decent clothes
Middle children are typically the hand-me-down kids of the family. It goes like this; First borns take good care of things, so we think it only logical that the next in line gets them: But, by the time the second born has worn them, they’re too worn out for the
spoiled fortunate baby of the family, who then gets to start afresh with brand new clothes. There is nothing wrong with hand-me-downs–I’m a big fan. However, taking that middle child shopping for some of his or her very own (new!) clothes now and then is a really good idea.
If you do take that middle shopping, let them choose their own clothes. In fact, let them choose as many things as possible! Let them choose what movie the family will watch, what restaurant to go to, or any little thing possible. Middles need to know they have a voice.
6. Help Finding Good Friends/Direction in Life
If middles are going to find friends and work away from the family, then we are wise to offer plenty of counsel while they’re around. Talk to them often about friends, school, and job choices. Give loving counsel about their future careers. They will appreciate your interest in their life, and who knows–maybe they’ll feel so loved they’ll stick around after all! 🙂
Even in the healthiest family setting, a middle child will at some point wrestle with the role of being sandwiched in the middle. Talk about it! Personally, I talk openly to my middle son about his position, both light-heartedly, and more seriously. I tell him that I understand it is a tough position sometimes, but I also remind him of the benefits. Talking openly may allow the middles to understand their own feelings better, and to respond to those feelings wisely.
We should keep in mind that there are many factors that affect birth order: From the sex of each child, to how many years there are in-between, and other family dynamics. There are no hard-fast rules, but I do think that the information we have can help us apply it as we see fit in our parenting!
SO now I’d love to hear from you! Tell us about your experience if you have a middle child…Or are married to one? Or work with one? Or maybe you’re the middle child!? If so, what was it like growing up? I’m sure a few of you have some helpful experiences to share!
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PS I am an amazon affiliate so if you click over and order The Birth Order Book, I’ll get a few cents which will help support my blogging efforts! Thank you! 🙂