The Middle child: Does Birth Order Really Matter?

Ask my brother and he would love to tell you how he didn’t get the same attention and love that my parents gave me and my sister. He’s the middle child and can seriously wax lyrical about how hard-done-by he was.

Fast forward a couple of decades and now I have three. My husband, third of six, also very aware of his ‘middle child’ status is keen to ensure our second daughter never feels deprived.

From hand me downs to sweet-giving to birthday parties… everything we say or give to our oldest is measured against whether we can do it for all three.

And this is harder than it looks. When the oldest grows out of her scooter and it’s still in great shape, why shouldn’t we pass it on to the next one? When one is old enough to go on a sleepover and the other isn’t, why should the eldest be held back?

It’s all gotten very confusing to me and I know we’re going to make mistakes along the way. But I am very aware of it and noted recently that  my middle child’s first and more powerful statements as a two year old is (with arms crossed firmly over her chest), “it’s not fair on me!”

I, being the youngest, undoubtedly had the stereotypical childhood of ease and indulgence as my parents were more relaxed with parenting, probably tired and much more ready to grant me that freedom.

Conventional wisdom about the middle child suggests middle children are neglected, misunderstood and undervalued. Their place in the birth order suggests parents are tired when they come along, having gone through the emotional turmoil of joys and fears with the first and willing enough to lavish it on when it comes to the youngest because they know it’s their last.

My middle daughter has all the hallmarks of what I thought marked the middle child. A feisty spirit, the constant feeling that she’s being hard done by- fighting for her place from both her older and her younger sisters-and fierce independence. Whether or not these are traits that will follow her until adulthood, I already feel guilty these first two years of her little life.

In researching for this post, I thought I’d come across a bunch of research that would back up my instinct that the middle child is less likely to succeed. But apparently I was wrong.

Research instead (and there’s a whole lot of it on birth order) suggests middle children are given attributes such as empathy, articulacy, independence and creativity. Having to negotiate with those both older and younger, they learn the art of compromise, loyalty, and the ability to see the others’ point of view. Take one of the modern geniuses of our time- Bill Gates. His ability to think outside the box and take risks are trademarks of a middle child.

Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy- heck, 52% of American presidents were middle children- well over their representative numbers.

In the same Swedish study, middle children were also found more likely to stay married. 80% of married middle children stayed together while only 50% of youngest children did.

So we can stop worrying. I certainly will. My child is fierce and she will fight harder to make her voice known but she’ll turn out okay- just like the millions who’ve gone before her.

One thing I know I can’t avoid however, is the tale she’ll tell when she’s grown about how her parents gave her her sister’s old scooter…

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A mama blog for all things parenting and mixed heritage kids