Middle Child Syndrome: Stuck in the Middle

https://thepeoplestherapist.com/2018/03/28/stuck-in-the-middle-with-you/

This is a shout out to all my fellow midkids. How are you feeling? How is your self-esteem?

I ask this question because almost all studies of middle children conclude that we kids stuck in the middle are almost certain to have low self-esteem due to our birth order.

This is also a reminder to parents to pay more attention to your middle child. They need to feel special and noticed. It’s easy for them to be overlooked.

Recently, some new studies suggest that birth order has no effect on one’s personality. I suggest otherwise. It’s not so much birth order, but the way the middle child experiences life differently than firstborns, the baby of the family, and so on.

Multiple psychologists argue that middle children have low self-esteem. Psychology researcher Louise Henshaw says it another way: middle children “feel that they are not unique or special in any way.” In the studies I have read, the scholars have not really focused on why this is the case; rather, they seek to establish that it is so. Well, they don’t have to tell us middle children something we already know. Is this because middle children do not get their parents’ attention or the affection the same as their siblings?

Poet Michelle Komis explains the feeling in a poem titled “Middle Child Syndrome:”

I get so damn angry with all of you,

Treating me like shit, and why?

Precious oldest needs the attention, baby youngest can do no wrong, …

Precious oldest needs the help,

Baby youngest always praised.

Cruel middle child shunned forever.

My perception of my situation as a child was not this severe. Perhaps, I expected this was just the way things were. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t feel I could say or do anything about it — I guess, that was because of my low self-esteem.

As a very young child, I can recall two times when I strongly felt I did not get the praise or attention that I wanted. My sister was in first grade and had just learned how to write. She showed my parents how she could write her name and I recall my parents giving her lots of praise. I immediately wanted to learn how to write, too, but when I mastered writing, there was no fanfare, no praise; it had already been done by my sister so I was just doing what I was supposed to do. Yet, recently, some new studies suggest that birth order has no effect on one’s personality. I suggest otherwise. It’s not so much birth order, but the way the middle child experiences life differently than firstborns, the baby of the family, and so on.

Multiple psychologists argue that middle children have low self-esteem. Psychology researcher Louise Henshaw says it another way: middle children “feel that they are not unique or special in any way.” In the studies I have read, the scholars conducting the studies have not really focused on why this is the case; rather, they seek to establish that it is so. Well, they don’t have to tell us middle children something we already know. Is this because middle children do not get their parents’ attention or the affection the same as their siblings? Or is it that a second child is harder to pay attention to when there’s another child there first?

Poet Michelle Komis explains the feeling in a poem titled “Middle Child Syndrome:”

I get so damn angry with all of you,

Treating me like shit, and why?

Precious oldest needs the attention, baby youngest can do no wrong,…

Precious oldest needs the help,

Baby youngest always praised.

Cruel middle child shunned forever.

My perception of my situation as a child was not this severe. Perhaps I expected this was just the way things were. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t feel I could say or do anything about it — I guess that was because of my low self-esteem.

As a very young child, I can recall two times when I really felt I did not get the praise or attention that I wanted. When my sister was in first grade and learned how to write, she showed my parents how she could write her name and I recall my parents giving her lots of praise. I immediately wanted to learn how to write, too.

When I did finally learn how to write when I was in first grade, I did not get the resounding praise my sister did when I showed my parents I could write. I think my parents said something like, “That’s nice.” No fanfare. No parade. I believed this was because my sister did it first, so now it was no big deal. Our memories are not perfect so there’s a chance I got praise, but I don’t know. The feeling is there that I didn’t, but that may be because of my low self-esteem.

I also believed fate had dealt me a low blow in the equality department. My sister had naturally curly hair. The photo above is of me with a perm gone wrong.

Do you other middle children have similar memories?

I remember when my sister had measles and had to stay in our darkened bedroom while she recovered. I remember my parents hanging a cut-out of Howdy Doody or something from the ceiling and making a fuss over her because they were worried about her health. A short time later, I came down with the measles, too, but, the way I remember it, I did not get fussed over at all and I recall lying in bed alone in the darkened bedroom and feeling like I didn’t matter as much as my sister. I didn’t get a Howdy Doody cut-out!

My sister and I were always very competitive, but I always lost the competition because she was a year older and always ahead of me in everything. She was taller. She always knew things I didn’t know. She always did everything perfectly. This wasn’t her fault, but it didn’t stop her from singing to me: “Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you!” And she was right.

My brother was the baby and the only boy, so he was very special. My sister, being the oldest, had had my parents undivided attention for a full 13 months before I came on the scene. She was special because she was the first at everything, including being born. These were contests I could not win. No one was to blame for this, but that didn’t make me feel any better.

Most of my life, my self-esteem could be calculated in the negative. My first husband and I suffered the same lack of self-esteem. Because of this, neither of us could really help the other. We were like two rats in a stormy ocean hanging onto the same board just trying to make it. We were often thrust into situations where our lack of self-esteem caused us pain and embarrassment.

One memory is especially painful. Neither of us could carry a tune in a bucket, but we were coerced into singing a song together in front of a church we were visiting. This was tragic. I don’t mean we weren’t good singers. I mean we were awful singers. I think the experience was equally painful for the poor people in the congregation as it was for us.

The successes I have achieved in life are not the result of healthy self-esteem, but they are the result of one of the most important things my parents taught me: Anything worth doing at all is worth doing well.

When I do succeed and receive recognition or praise, I am motivated to keep going. It is like the claps I receive for my Medium posts. They are like a pat on the back and make me feel that I have successfully connected with others. They help my self-esteem.

So, my fellow midkids, don’t let your low self-esteem stop you from doing what you want to do. You can succeed with or without self-esteem.

Cited

Henshaw, Louise. A Study of Self-Esteem in Middle Children., 2002. Print.

Reader, Writer, Critical Thinker. lalemoh04@gmail.com

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