I am a Proud Middle Child
How being a middle child shaped who I am.
August 12th is National Middle Child Day. Perhaps it’s meant to take place when people are so absorbed in their summer plans that like the middle child, the day goes unnoticed.
The theory that birth order affects one’s personality dates back to notable psychiatrist, Alfred Adler. But there’s much controversy surrounding the science of The Middle Child and the associated syndrome. For years, researchers have attempted to study “The Middle Child,” yielding some pretty disturbing results; numerous claims have even suggested that a middle child has an increased risk of delinquency and manipulative behavior.
A fellow middle child told me that growing up, she was savvy about leveraging her position in the family. If the older children were granted a privilege, she’d insist that she be included in it, because she was “one of the older ones.” When younger children were being treated to something, she insisted that she was “one of the younger ones.”
I’d hardly call this manipulative; it’s just a talent for bargaining!
In honor of this special day, I celebrate how being a middle child has fostered my own growth, especially when it comes to interpersonal skills.
1. I’ve learned to bail everyone out of trouble
Life is messy and people face challenges. As the middle child, no one is afraid to approach me for help because I’m not the strong-willed oldest, nor the youngest, who’s busy trying to keep up with everyone.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the tribe of Dan, descending from one of Jacob’s honorary middle children (due to complicated maternal dynamics, he’s traditionally listed as a middle child), was relegated to the back of the moving desert encampment; the tribe of Dan was characteristically tasked with the responsibility of making sure that no one was left behind. Similarly, I’ve been the one to gather any laggers. If a family member is stranded, or misses the bus, you’ll see my blue minivan coming to the rescue (even if it might not seem like the most heroic vehicle).
2. I’ve internalized the art of empathy
As the Chips Ahoy! commercial used to sing, “I’m squeezed in the middle…” I support the load of my older sibling on one shoulder, and that of my younger siblings on the other. With weight on both sides, I often find myself genuinely suffering for others.
And while many mothers have likely locked themselves in a room to cry to “Surface Pressure,” from the movie Encanto, as a middle child, the song strikes me on a second level. Luisa Madrigal, a fellow middle child, sings, “Give it to your sister and never wonder, if the same pressure would’ve pulled you under…”
Yes, Luisa, I feel the pressure too! As the empathetic middle children of our respective families, we carry great responsibility.
Remarkably, even when someone is unkind to me, I can’t bear to see him suffer. And I often marvel at what happens when our empathetic 5-year-old’s siblings are in “time-out” for being mean to him. You’d expect him to smile smugly, but instead, as our original middle child, he begs us to set them free.
3. Family members come to me for advice
As the invisible passenger who quietly surveys the scene, I’ve gained much wisdom. My older sibling who is tasked with trailblazing has come to me when unsure how to climb. Younger siblings have looked to me for advice, because of my unique position of learning from my older sibling’s mistakes.
Knowing that I have a scenic vantage point, along with empathy, my parents have come to me as well.
4. I’ve uncovered how to live without recognition
Because I am so used to being an observer who guides others, I don’t expect people to focus on me. I remember wondering before my wedding, how will I handle so much attention?
Similarly, our son’s pre-school teacher quickly learned not to make him “Star of the Week” because he got upset from the acknowledgement. As parents, it’s been difficult to no longer see him celebrated this way, but I must say that as a fellow middle child, I totally understand him.
5. I’ve developed into the “Peacemaker”
The quintessential peacemaker and middle child is Moses’ brother, Aaron who was a lover and pursuer of peace. When Aaron died, the entire nation wept due to the loss of their family mediator.
Why does being the middle child hone such skills? Perhaps it’s because no one views us as intimidating. Without the attention reserved for the eldest and youngest children, we are the invisible force that quietly draws people back together. We are the bridge between the older and the younger, which places us in an invaluable position.
To all my fellow Middle Children out there, I empower you to try to reach inside and see how your place in the family has positively shaped you. Despite the challenges you’ve faced, you have persevered. Even if no one else celebrates, I’ll be thinking of you on August 12th.