Just lately, I’ve been worried that my oldest son has been suffering from Middle-Child Syndrome. At seven years old, three years separate him from his sister to the north, and his brother to the south. Stuck in the middle with them, so to speak.
I’ve never regarded him as our Middle Child, primarily, I guess, because his sister is my stepdaughter and he is my first-born. However, of late, he’s started to withdraw from us: nagging me to head off to another kid’s house at school pick-up; preferring to spend time with a similar-aged pal than with his sister and brother.
And sometimes, it works the other way, too: his older sister finds him rather irritating. Strike that: MASSIVELY irritating. So she fusses over her ‘Little Dolly’ youngest brother whilst raising her eyebrows and tutting a lot at her next-in-line.
It came to a head with a couple of examples the other week. On the first occasion, I went to collect him from a friend’s, but the moment he’d heard the doorbell ring, he disappeared upstairs and hid in a cupboard. I had to employ my trusty crowbar (otherwise known as ‘Don’t You DARE Embarrass Me In Front Of Another Parent’ tone of voice) to prise him out.
‘You’ve been there four hours,’ I said on the sulky walk home. ‘You can’t stay there forever. You’ve got your own family.’
‘But they never play with me,’ he replied.
Which isn’t true. The other two try to get him to join in, but he often self-excludes.
The other occasion happened when he had his mate round for a return-match-playdate. When the mum turned up, my lad virtually begged her to take him with her.
The mum looked at me with an ‘It’s OK with me, if it’s OK with you’ look, and I said: ‘Fine.’
And then she said: ‘The little one can come too, if he likes.’
Cue a meltdown from the Middle Child.
‘I don’t want him to come, too. I want to go on my own,’ he tantrummed.
That was a red rag to my bull and so I petulantly sent the kind offer packing and sent the MC to his room to Have A Think about how mean he’d been to his little brother.
All of this set me thinking about his place in the pecking order, and harking back to my own childhood.
I am the eldest of four boys. My Dad called me Number One, which made me feel very special indeed. Number Four felt quite special, too, because he was babied by the rest of us (and still is, truth be told, even though he’s 43 years old).
But Two and Three didn’t feel so special. They didn’t like being Numbers. They were Free Men. And as a result, there has always been a distance between us. That’s my theory, anyway.
Fast forward to now and the Me That’s A Dad, and I don’t want my three children to grow apart as I did from my siblings. I’d like them to be thicker than thieves.
So I started to do some research into Middle Child Syndrome: does it even exist and, if so, what is it?
Here’s what I found on a website called Middle Child Personality:
‘Middle child syndrome is a condition in which children born in the middle experience feelings of emptiness, inadequacy and jealousy. It is also characterized by low self-esteem and extreme introversion, sometimes even leading to psychotic behaviour.
‘The middle child, unlike the eldest child and the youngest child, is not given much attention. They have to go the extra mile just to get some attention. Middle children tend to be achievers because they need awards to be recognised by their parents. Sadly, this also goes the other way around, they can be very troublesome and determined to get noticed even if it means getting scolded at or punished.
‘Because they lack emotional support and guidance from their parents, they will always have a sense of low self-esteem. These feelings of emptiness and loneliness make them not very friendly and maybe even weird to other people. Most likely, these negative feelings will also stop them from pursuing what they want.
‘Other observable traits of middle children are insecurity and jealousy. Being raised in an environment where they have to compete for attention, it’s natural for them to have feelings of insecurity and jealousy of others. Seeing others easily get attention while they continue to strive for attention, these feelings of resentment towards others will continue to build up. All these repressed feelings of being unloved, unwanted or even hated can trigger an extreme case of middle child syndrome where they show psychotic behaviour.’
Jesus H. Ker-ist. Heavy, HEAVY stuff.
This so freaked me out that I bought my son a book called ‘Martha In The Middle’. It’s a bit below his reading age, and it’s about a mouse – and a girl mouse, at that.
But I figured the messages would be clear enough: middle child feels unwanted, unspecial; but middle child is very special indeed, because all children are special, no matter their place in the birth order.
So how did it go down, this sagely lesson in life?
After we’d read the book together, I asked our Middle Child what he thought of the book.
‘Is it supposed to be about me?’ he asked. ‘Even though it’s about a mouse. A girl mouse?’
‘Why do you think that?’ I asked.
‘Because Martha’s in the middle, and I’m in the middle.’
‘Well, yes, son, you are. And what do you think about that?’
‘I love it,’ he replied.
‘Because there’s three of us and when there’s three you can only have one person in the middle. I’m not the oldest and I’m not the youngest – I’m a bit of both.’
OK, I’m projecting here, but what I think he was trying to say was this: ‘I’m the link that bonds the other two together.’
And then he took his book off to his big sister’s room and read it to her and their little brother.
Middle doesn’t = mediocre. Just different. I just hope that when he turns into a psychotic axe murderer, he will be a very special axe murderer indeed.