This summer, we heard a piece on the Today show about the looming extinction of the middle child in America. That sounds a bit dramatic, but here’s the statistic. According to a study by the Pew Research Center in 1976, “the average mother at the end of her childbearing years had given birth to more than three children.” Back then, 40 percent of mothers between 40 and 44 had four or more children. Twenty-five percent had three kids; 24 percent had two; and 11 percent had one. Today, those numbers have essentially reversed. Nearly two-thirds of women with children now have two or one. This means there may still be an oldest and a youngest, but often no middle. As a girl who has proudly held the middle child flag for the better part of four decades, this makes me sad. Certainly not in a way that critiques other families who have fewer children, but sad because I know what attributes the middle child brings to a family unit.
In our house, the twins split the sibling order, but in truth, Harper is our quintessential middle child. I recognize it from first-hand experience. She is quick to make peace between her siblings, and generously gives of herself without asking for much in return. She is a good negotiator, is more laid back than her higher-strung sibs, and is very social. She plays more independently and demands less time with Graham and me. Which is good. . . and bad. Because Middle Child Syndrome can be a real thing guys, and the kid in the middle often feels neglected, overlooked, and isolated from the family.
Have a middle of your own or plan to one day? Here are four ways to make this special birth order babe feel like a valued part of the the family.
Be intentional. In our house, everybody’s vying for attention. Particularly the attention of their daddy. Graham is so quick to say yes to any request. Henry wants to have a Nerf gun war. Maddox wants to watch funny YouTube vids. Winnie wants to be held and eat all the snacks. “C’mere,” she says. Who rarely asks anything of either parent? Harper. We recognize that as a middle child, she may not. So just a few mornings ago, Graham told Harper he wanted to spend one hour with just her after school. No sibling interruptions. No distractions. While I wrangled the others, daddy and daughter colored in a fairy tale coloring book and told stories about the pictures. Being intentional with our middle children doesn’t have to mean spending money. Just time.
Buy it new. Our middle kids get everything handed down. If they are the same gender as the oldest, the list gets even longer. Clothes, shoes, bathing suits, bikes, toys, books. Which is all good and is saving this family A TON of money. But every now and again, I try to buy something new for Harper. A back-to-school outfit. A hairbrush that is just for her. A new book. She doesn’t ask for these things, but appreciates having something that is just for her. Harper says for her 8th birthday, she wants a bank account and a library card. Perfectly suited request for my independent middle child.
Encourage differences. Studies show that the oldest child in the family often outperforms younger siblings on cognitive assessments (probably because they had our undivided attention for at least a year or two before sibs came along). Our smart and very driven first-born children have many natural giftings. Which means that we, as parents, need to be careful not to demand our subsequent children go down the same path as the oldest. Even if it seems easiest at the time (ie hand-me-down sports equipment, uniforms, coordinated practice times, etc). This fall, we put Harper in fiddle lessons—an instrument her flute-playing sister knows nothing about. Which is a very good thing for Harper’s confidence. Encouraging our middle children to do things differently from their brothers or sisters, and letting them have a choice in the matter, allows them to assert their much-needed voice.
Equalize the Memories. Check your pictures, mamas. If you’ve got a photo album dedicated to the first year of your eldest, and a wall full of frames of the new baby, but slim pickins of your middle child, it’s time to settle the score. Speaking from personal experience, it is also quite easy to enjoy experiences with your oldest (museum trips, plays, concerts) and forget that the next in line is ready and old enough to enjoy those things too. Equalize the memories now and your middle will thank you later in life.