I’m a middle child. I had no say-so in the matter. Someone’s birth pushed me into the position.
How do middle children happen?
A couple produces child #1, The First Born, and revels in the novelty of watching that baby progress from a non-stop poop factory to a slobbering noise-maker. Joy abounds once the tyke learns to sleep through the night, and each day dawns with the kid’s new and increasingly complex abilities.
“Oh, look. He stuck a Cheerio on his nose.”
“Honey, today the baby smiled and broke wind at the same time.”
“He’s talking! He said, ‘Ogh ama wappa.’ I know that means ‘Momma!’”
Based on the high levels of giddiness and with two parents tag-teaming against one baby, having multiple children seems like a good idea. The parents opt to create another. Or more likely, child #2 was a late night accident.
“Hurry, before he wakes up!”
For a short time child #2 is the new puppy everyone wants to pet, and the one who steals parental attention market share from the heir-apparent. An older sibling can demonstrate vicious ingenuity in attempting to restore the pre-second-child conditions. Like the three-year-old who rolled her baby brother out the door onto the porch, and then shut and locked the door. The mom heard muffled screams but search and rescue was hampered by her unawareness of how desperately child #1 wanted child #2 gone and how far child #1 could go to achieve that goal.
The position of being the baby is short-lived for a middle child, though, a couple of years at most. After the novelty has worn off and child #2 seems not to be the stellar product that was expected, parents return to the uncertain world of baby-making for a third attempt. Nine months later out pops perfection in the flesh, child #3, The Baby.
By now child #1 has tried every possible solution for removing child #2 from the house and has mellowed to the idea of siblings. In a gesture of goodwill child #1 embraces The Baby as he would a new toy. Child #1 is immediately promoted to Mommy’s little helper and the household settles into tranquility. Child #1 and child #3 have symbiotic purpose.
What happens to child #2, the newly crowned Middle Child? He’s left to forage for crumbs under the table in a world that seems to have little need for his existence. And that is the moment when a middle child steps into the closest phone booth and transforms. Horizons of hope and opportunity sprawl before him.
As the years pass the Middle Child discovers the benefits of “parental exhaustion limbo”. Mom and Dad are too tired from shaping child #1 and too busy from watching child #3. Middle Child enjoys a free-range existence as long as he does not make too many waves.
Middle Child is comfortable alone or with others. He entertains himself with games only he understands. Chances are good he will be a reader and possibly the one who discovers some new thing civilization has unknowingly limped along without for thousands of years.
Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. were middle children. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are middle children. Psychology Today reports that fifty-two percent of our Presidents have been middle children.
Middle Child works hard to excel at any task, and he strives to please parents, teachers, and other authority figures. He’s thirsty for a mumbled “good job” or an unassigned “attaboy”. Sometimes just having an adult who can remember his name first try is enough.
Middle Child thinks outside the box and depends on his wits. He’s a survivor who can serve as a peacemaker, even a mediator if the situation demands one. He learns early to sacrifice in favor of the bigger picture, a needed quality of leaders.
In the world of Middle Child hand-me-downs are the norm. He wears the same clothes child #1 once owned and suffers through being compared to that child at home and school. Middle Child watches as child #1 pushes the boundaries of acceptable behavior and then remains invisible just under that line. Middle Child hates being spotlighted for rule infractions.
Middle Child endures with the patience of an Old Testament prophet. He learns quickly from observation, and develops a long-term outlook. Good citizenship and shouldering responsibility come easily for him.
Here’s a shout-out to all the Middle Children out there. The world is a better place because of you. Hold your chin up, and be proud.
(Author’s note: As a middle child married to a middle child I can share that we get along just fine.)