“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” — Jan Brady, the middle and often cantankerous daughter from the long running 70’s television series, The Brady Bunch However, Jan Brady is more than an iconic character, she has become the poster child/stereotype for middle children in America. Jan, throughout the long running television series and then 90’s movie franchise, is portrayed as lesser than her older sister Marcia– Jan, the middle child, is intentionally written into situations to be jealous of her older sister’s beauty, popularity and pleasing personality.
But in reality the quote, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” should be: “Marcia, Cindy, Bobby!” because being a middle child means there are pressures/stresses placed on the middle child by both the older and younger siblings. The middle child seeks to carve out time and attention and an independent identity not only from the older and younger siblings, but especially attention from his/her parents. This attention seeking behavior is often misunderstood to the detriment of the middle child.
The middle child is lost in the family shuffle/dynamics overshadowed by the oldest and youngest family members. The oldest children have the special place within the family unit of experiencing everything first. Everything is new not only for the child, but especially for the parent(s)– from first steps to first day of preschool to first soccer practice. With this ‘newness,’ parents give unconscious, extra attention and praise to the oldest child. The middle is dragged along to the activities for his/her sibling, but when it’s the middle’s turn to do activities, less attention is paid. Chances are the older sibling is at a game of his/her own and one parent if any makes the game of the middle child. And when the baby of the family enters the family scene, parents feel nostalgic toward their baby. This is the ‘last time’ for first steps, the ‘last time’ for first day of preschool, the ‘last time’ for first soccer practice, etc. So attention is paid to the youngest– an actual effort on the part of parents to savor and pay attention to these moments of the baby of the family.
But for parents of middle children, there can be an unconscious attitude of “ugh another band concert” or “ugh another end of year project” or “ugh another soccer game.” The middle child can pick up on this attitude and can act out towards siblings and parents in the family. Although the soccer game is no longer a ‘first’ for the parent, it is still a first and new and subsequently exciting for the middle child. Attention must be paid.
As a result of being a middle child, he/she has the skill set to navigate all kinds of personalities. Outside of the home, the middle child thrives in school, can easily make friends, and works well with others. My middle child has an uncanny ability to make friends, and is one of the easiest children to get along with that I have ever encountered. Outside of the home, the middle child thrives when the pressures of being in the middle are removed.
I think the problem of the ‘middle child’ is with the parents and not the kids. I am now making a conscious effort to understand how my middle daughter is lost in the family shuffle. It has taken time, but I now see how she is not given the same attention as her siblings.
For example, when she asks me for help with homework, after five minutes I am pulled away to help another of her siblings. I am making more of an effort to understand her sensitivity and feelings and to give her more of my time. I don’t want her to feel lost in the family; rather I want her to enjoy being part of a large family. I hope that one day if/when she becomes a mom she will consider having a big family too, and having a middle child of her own. Because my middle child holds a special place in my heart.
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