Middle Child Syndrome and How it Effects Parents
Most people have heard about "middle child syndrome," correct? It is a theory created by Alfred Adler back in the 1960s devoted to the study of how birth order directly affects the personality, development, and household dynamic of each child. When my husband and I had our first three girls, I did a plethora of study on this particular topic determined to parent my middle child in a way where she never felt less than.
In theory, middle children tend to be neglected being neither a first born who is the leader and way maker of the family. Nor are they the last born, the baby, the youngest, and more spoiled of the siblings. In essence, these children lean towards being more even tempered, less demanding, and unopinionated. They are not given the responsibility of the first nor are they doted upon like the last leaving them feeling "less than."
As a parent, I was highly influenced by this study in the way I parented my children. On the one hand, I was relieved to have a third child. I had been juggling two children for six years and the burden of having everything "equal" was suddenly shattered by the new mental thought, "the one who needs me the most will get me at the moment."
I had lived for six years trying to split my time, money, resources, food, etc. equally between two children. I felt free when having my third because I realized there was no way I could possibly split myself three ways. What I did not realize is that the middle child syndrome, despite all my planning to avoid the beast, could not be avoidable...at least for a stage. I found myself working with my first child on school work, projects, and all things "big kid" in the afternoons while doting on a newborn during the day. I fought hard to take time with the middle child who was not big enough for school, yet more independant than my baby. It was exhausting! I wanted to be a good mom. I was a good mom; but I lived in a constant state of second guessing of my time. I had to release...and I released to God. I found my groove. I realized my second child did not take on the personality characteristics of those written about by Adler; in fact, she was more like a first child with her demanding take charge personality. She became more like my first daughter, and I watched in awe as my family paved the way for a new dynamic. But God would have the last laugh...
Four years after my third baby, I was pregnant with a fourth. A fourth! How was this going to effect our perfect dynamic?! I was concerned. Having baby #4 definitely changed our dynamic once again, but for the better as usual. I struggled having such an age gap between baby three and baby four but our new normal adapted. I was secure with our four children and didn't think about the dreaded "middle child syndrome" I had researched so diligently years past. We were sailing.
Two years after having my fourth, I was hit. My third girlie was in first grade having a particularly hard time at school. I was struggling with the emotions and actions pouring from her each day. It was then I realized the middle child of our family had emerged. I had missed it! The dreaded parenting faux pas I had tried so diligently to overcome had silently hit our family, and I was devastated. You see, my first two kids are more like twins in more ways than one. They may be three years apart; however, #2 has typically acted more mature than her age. So when baby #4 showed up to our household, this made child #3 our third child. The characteristics were all there. Classic textbook easy to please, even tempered (most of the time), and less demanding. How could I have missed it?!
My Mommy brain kicked into high gear. I am now very aware of my third girlie. She has so many talents and abilities which set her apart from her siblings. We simply needed to showcase them. For one thing, she is a violinist. She is also creative beyond measure and loves tools. Her emotions tend to be well hidden until they are too much to bear (hence the meltdown about school at the two year mark) and then they explode like a dangerous rumbling volcano. She is compassionate, silly, and loves her little sister fiercly.
As parents of middle children, it is our job to make sure these children never feel "less than" their siblings nor "sandwiched" between the love/time their siblings receive from either parent. These children can be your middle, but they can be your third. For that matter, they can be your fifth! The characteristics are all the same: even tempered, non demanding, non opinionated, easy going, people pleaser. It is not easy to parent these children because they lean towards "going with the flow" and are happy to tag along. It means we must work hard to let them know how much we love them for their unique individualism. Any child puts pressure on a parent; however, this particular type of child can put extra pressure.
How does this effect parents? For those of us who are cognizant of birth order and the possible effects it has on development; to be honest, it make us better parents. Parents of middle children become more in tune with each child within the family in order to know each child on a deeper level. It can also have negative effects on parents. Parents can become so aware of their children's needs they second guess everything they do ending in a negative viewpoint of their parenting skills. Parents can create expectations for themselves they can never achieve nor be "good enough" to attain.
As a parent of a middle child, I am here to tell you; get to know your children, love them, help them, listen and coach them; however, the ultimate parent is our maker, Jesus Christ. The most important thing you can do for your children is pray for them. Prayer and the love of our Savior will more than cover the mistakes we make as human parents. So, while you may doubt your ability as a parent, as we all undoubtedly do, don't doubt the power of your prayers! I am a living testament to the power of prayer and the daily strength God gives me to pour into my children. Let Him be your testiment too!
*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor a behavioral therapist. I am a licensed teacher and mother of four children. The information given above is strictly my own opinions and life experiences. If you have questions and concerns about your child, their behaviors, or your parenting, you should address these with your child's pediatric doctor.