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There are lots of stereotypes out there on the middle child. Jan Brady ring a bell? “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” In The Birth Order Book, Leman states, “It is quite normal for middle children to feel left out, ignored, and even insulted” (page 149). It seems that many parents feel really bad for the middle child–so much so for some that they consider “middle child syndrome” as a factor when deciding if they should have another child or not. And some decide not because they don’t want to turn their baby into a middle child.
Middle children are mysterious. “…we psychologists don’t know that much about middle children” (page 150). This is because middle children are highly influenced by the sibling just older, and often feel some pressure from below. A middle child is too young to have the rights of the oldest but too old to get away with the things a middle child does. For a middle child, his personality “…is determined by his perception of his older sibling” (page 152).
The middle child is also a paradox. Common characteristics of middle children can be complete opposites. They are not as easy to predict as an oldest or youngest child.
Perhaps part of the difficulty lies in the birth order exceptions. Let’s look at my children, for example. We have Brayden, the oldest. We have McKenna, the youngest. We have Kaitlyn, who is in some ways a middle child. But she is also a functional first born in that she is the oldest girl. So not only will she have middle child characteristics, but she will have oldest child characteristics as well. So we have no true middle child.
Let’s travel hypothetically and say we had another child. That would throw McKenna into middle child positioning. If the fourth child were a girl, McKenna would most likely be a true middle child. If that fourth child were a boy, McKenna would stand a great chance at picking up some youngest child characteristics due to being the youngest girl and littlest princess.
So middle children are hard to peg in general because there are so many other variables that impact the middle child.
So they might feel left out as children. They are hard to figure out and are a paradox. We should all feel bad, right? Not really.
“All the research shows that middle borns do not have as many hang-ups or problems as first borns and only children” (page 163). Later in the book, Leman says the world needs more middle borns. Because of the nature of their place in the family, middle borns are good mediators. The learn to negotiate and compromise.
Leman states that he sees fewer middle borns in his office than any other birth order. Part of that, he claims, is because “…middle children tend to be mentally tough and independent” (page 161). When I think of my children, I can understand how this would happen. Kaitlyn has Brayden who is adept at getting attention. She has McKenna who needs constant care. So what does she do? She learns to do it herself. She has literally met many milestones the same time as Brayden–not same age, same day. She just figures she will do it herself. No sense in waiting around for help.
More good news for middle children. They tend to be “…the most monogamous of all birth orders” (page 161). They are very loyal, and again, used to compromise. The middle child is not in need of constant attention and praise like other birth orders. Kathy Nessel, a middle child and psychologist, says middle children have lower expectations and are more accepting in a relationship. She says they are used to things being unfair.
Leman state a good word for middle children is balanced.
With all of that said, let’s look at some of the common characteristics of the middle child:
- Loner, quiet, and shy, OR might be sociable, friendly, and outgoing
- Impatient and easily frustrated OR takes life in stride and laid-back
- Very competitive OR easygoing
- Rebel OR peacemaker and mediator
- Aggressive OR avoids conflict
- Hang out with peer group
- Leaves home as fast as possible
- A free spirit
- Great team players
- Often moves far from family as an adult
- Good at negotiation and compromise
- More of a closed book than an open one; secretive
- Do not confide in many people
- Mentally tough and independent
- Rebellious as far as convention is concerned
- Typically not spoiled–but you could have rebelled because you felt left out
- Reasonable expectations and realistic–but you could be suspicious, cynical, and bitter
- Social, you make friends and keep them–but this can also put you in a position of bending over backward to not offend friends
- Independent thinker, you are willing to take risks–but you can also appear to be bullheaded and stubborn
- Compromising and know how to get along with others–but others might take advantage of you
- Diplomatic–but you might hide your own feelings to avoid confrontations
- Secretive and able to be trusted with secrets–but you might avoid seeking help because it is embarrassing
So there you have it–the middle child. It isn’t such a bad place to be after all. Like Leman said, the world could use more of them.
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