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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Middle Child Syndrome

It was a cold, icy, nearly-winter night in December of 2007 when we arrived at my good friend's annual Christmas bash. I was round and glowing and crippled with heartburn - all signs I was in my eighth month of pregnancy (with our now-walking-everywhere Thing 3). I gazed around the room at all my non-pregnant friends looking fabulous and glamorous and sipping wine or martinis or other fun drinks from beautiful cocktail glasses. Things 1 and 2 were home in bed, sleeping soundly while our babysitter watched cable galore on our TV and ate the snacks we left her. It was the perfect holiday evening.


Some of the people at this party I didn't see on a regular basis. I mean, let's face it. Many of us are parents now and are overly absorbed and immersed in our kids' lives, activities, and the whole mommy gig. I knew there would be people who didn't know I was pregnant. I was accustomed to the standard, "woah - you're pregnant *again*?" and didn't even flinch at "have you heard of condoms, sweetie?". I was armed with a retort for "how many more do you think you'll have?" and kept my emotionless face on hand for "I bet you hope they won't all go to college".

What I was not, in any shape or form, ready for was what was thrown my way by my friend M's husband.

He and his wife have two children. We chatted briefly about having two children versus having three children. I should mention at this point that it had literally been two nights prior to the party that I had stopped having debilitating panic attacks in the middle of the night and had assured myself that, yes, I could potentially handle being a parent to three children.

"I would never have a third child."

My eyes began to expand, in that way they do when panic seeps into them, and then kind of explodes inside my head. My jaw hit the floor like a Mack truck as I used my calm voice to ask him what his reasons were. Knowing intuitively that I didn't want to hear them.

"Because I wouldn't want to subject the second kid to middle child syndrome."

Being an utterly clueless sibling to only one, I thought to myself, "what the hell is this guy talking about?".

Fast forward to today. I am completely stricken with guilt for having had the nerve to have three children, one of which at some point in the distant future may require lengthy therapy sessions to deal with the repercussions and effects of middle child syndrome. I mean, seriously, this stuff is well documented out there. I had no idea. Until I started having some issues with Thing 2 and I found my fingers suddenly googling "middle child" and "middle child syndrome".

While not particularly comforting, I did find this article informative and frighteningly accurate. And as I stumbled upon references to the middle child "having the sense of not belonging", and "fighting to receive attention from parents because they feel they are being ignored", I wondered if I had sealed Thing 2's fate the day Thing 3 was conceived.

Before delving into my search for information, answers, and a shred of hope for the "middle child syndrome", I had suffered several stressful weeks trying to decide how to deal with Thing 2's horrendous behaviour. He has been beyond out of control lately. I found myself saying things like, "he seems lost . . . like he doesn't know where his place is", and "where is this attention-seeking behaviour coming from?", not knowing these were apparently catch phrases applicable to any middle child.

Obviously, I jest. I realize you can't dole out a cookie cutter label to your child because you read it on the Internet, but some of the similarities between what I have read and what is going on here, is uncanny.

In the short term, I am working hard to focus on Thing 2's strengths, like his fireball personality and his *passion* for life. And when the full-fledged screaming, kicking, defiant, out-of-control Thing 2 rears his ugly head, I find solace in this.

You may be driving me completely batty, oh middle child of mine, but I still love you forever.

Any words of wisdom for those who have experience with a middle child?


Gennyfer said...

I am a middle child. Let me assure you that as annoying as she could be I wouldn't trade my little sister to get rid of that status.

I'm also the mother to depending on how you calculate it either 1 middle child or 3 (I have 5 all together). What is the most important thing we have has humans is a wealth of diversity in our experiences. If we all made the same choices in family size we would lose some of this diversity and that would be a true shame.

You can not make the world fair for yourself nor can you make it fair for any of your children. Your children are already ahead of the game just because you are actually thinking about this. The life skills the middle child learns facing not being as capable as the oldest and not being as babied as the baby have served me well. I think in many ways I'm better of than my siblings when it comes to adaptability.

What I do, is try to make sure I do one-on-one things with my middlest child. Mommy dates are great for letting them know they are important and equally loved.

Sandra said...

Shannon- I am the middle child, and my older sister has special needs so that meant even less attention for me. There are a lot of great qualities middle children seem to share- they like to keep the peace and are empathic. My parents noticed my unique qualities and abilities and encouraged me to be myself. So my advice is to specifically compliment him, encourage him, and provide opportunities for your middle child to be himself.

Donna M said...

Love him. He will be fine. He has great parents and that's what he needs!

Kelly Deneen Raymond said...

Just keep loving him and supporting him, and things will be fine. You are too cute. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Shannon
I heard the same kind of stuff about an 'only child' and I really beleive after all my research that, the parenting has more to do with how a child turns out then when he was born. Both my mother and Richard's mother come from families of 8 kids- talk about being in the middle then.
In addition I know many 3 child families where the middle child was the only successful one of the whole lot -so while place in family does to some extent determine certain inevitables, there is no such thing as bad kids, just bad parents, so David and the other two things are in wonderful hands. ;-)

The Mom Jen said...

My middle is the only boy with two sisters. He gets a ton of special time with dad as they male bond, play baseball, and have similar likes. We have a special bond as my only boy and he has a dear heart. I try and make one-on-one time with him, I fear for my spoiled 3rd child. It's so difficult to make it all work out. I'm one of 2 and hubby is oldest of 4, so we don't understand so much the middle child syndrome and do hope to avoid it. HUGS and good luck.

amanda said...

i wish i had wise words friend.

instead i send hugs. lots of em :)

Jen said...

I'm the oldest and I only have two children so I really can't offer you any help. I remember reading that you were doing one-on-one dates with each kid. I think I would keep doing that and just make sure that you are giving your middle child special attention every day (w/o the others thinking you are playing favorites).

Btw, the whole time I was reading this post I kept hearing Jan Brady's voice in my head saying, "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia." :)

McMommy said...

Is anyone concerned about the Octuplet mom and her "middle children" syndrome for children 2-13??? No? Just me??


Patrice said...

We only have 2 of us in my family, so I don't have much experience with the whole middle child thing. I've heard of it, though. Thinking about families I have known with 3 kids, I don't really see it as a problem, but who knows what happens behind closed doors.
Love your blog, though! You are too funny!

Anonymous said...

I'm a middle child. Man, does it ever suck sometimes. (Not to pile on the guilt, because I love my sisters and would not trade them for anything).

What always helped me was special days out with my mom - just the two of us. She made a point to do this with me, and I plan to do it with my children regardless of how many we have.

tiarastantrums said...

I don't agree with any of that middle- child "stuff" I really don't - I refuse to buy in to any of it. I just won't. Yes, we are busy with three children - yes, the time each child gets with us is limited - BUT think of all the wonderful things that come with 3 children - 3 siblings as well.

Carrin said...

My middle child is the only boy so I hope this little diference keeps him out of the middle child syndrome.
I have not words of wisdom for you. I know with love the middle child will find their own way.

Anonymous said...

I have yet to actually see a "middle child" act as one. I know a couple of adult middle children and you would never be the wiser. It all works out in the end. I think the thing I would get sick of hearing (as I already do since I want 3) is "you HAVE to have an even number. Or else someone will be left out." According to who? And how insecure are you that you feel like someone will always be alone? If you're talking about carnival rides, then consider me be left out because A)someone has to take the pictures and B)I hate rides. What's that old saying "All kids are different." I wouldn't worry too much about it. I'm sure he's just learning to find his way on his own.
Stopped by from McMommy's POW!

Anonymous said...

from what i hear, middle children become the rocks of their families. can't think of a nicer fate.

Loukia said...

Hey! Great blog! I found you through danigirl... ;) Hmm and I really, really want to have a 3rd child... ahh, I think I still will! My problem is: how do I convince my husband who is happy with the 2 boys we have?

Anti-Supermom said...

First - I can't believe someone would just say to you, very pregnant - 'I'd never have a third.' Yucky.

Second - pretty much knowing that we will attempt to have a third, thank you for the links.

Every child is a blessing, every child will find their way, every child is different.

I too, try not to 'peg' them just because it 'fits' them on this particular time or day.

Hug from me too :)

Anonymous said...

As I'm about to celebrate (tomorrow) my third and last baby turning 1, I found myself googling "difficult middle child" and, like you, found out is horror that I might have sabotaged my #2sweet daughter by sticking her in the middle. I had no clue! Except that she has been very very difficult since her sister was born. Was it just because she was 2y.o. or a true realisation of the power of the middle... I'll never know. I have been so stunned by how more difficult she has been compared to her older sister. My new resolution, 1:1 dates with the girl in the middle. I have read great ideas and refreshing comments on your blog. Bravo.

Anonymous said...


firstly I would like to thank you on behalf of your middle child that u r actually ADMITTING and BELIEVING that MCS exists, and are working to alleviate him or her from this lifelong emotionally scarring condition, which is not at all the middle child's own fault. I am a midddle child too, and the sadness and unhappiness caused my academic downfall at school and also two suicide attempts. I only regained full control of my life upon leaving for college, far from family and comparisons, and made new friends. Till today, my mum refuses to admit mcs exists, and is too cowardly to admit that she did a rubbish job parenting a middle child to the extent of almost losing her altogether. This is why I appreciate you admitting it, though, like your friend at the party, I too would never ever get pregnant with a third child. Take care of ur middle child, he or she is an angel in disguise God has sent you, unlike ur other two kids. Realize this early else it may be too late; and you will have alienated urself from your child forever, as my mum has done with me.


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