A Letter of Apology To My Middle Child

middle-childImage via Shutterstock

Dear Curly Mop,

I can recall the exact moment that your fate was sealed. You weren’t even born yet. It was the day of my 19 week scan and your father and I were waiting for our turn. I desperately needed you to be a girl. I suspect he hoped you would be a boy. I remember saying to your daddy I felt sad that this would be the last time we ever saw one of our babies on the ultrasound monitor. He simply said ‘why is this the last time?’

In that exact moment the prospect of a third child became reality, and you became a middle child.

Two and a half years later, when you were barely two and just beginning to find yourself, you not only became a middle child, but a middle sister. Never the biggest, never the smallest, but always being lumped with one of your sisters as one of either ‘the two big girls’ or ‘the two babies’.

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I knew the fraught position you were in, yet was powerless to change it. You were always being told to wait while I fed the baby. Then you were told to hurry up so we could get your oldest sister to preschool on time. You were pushed into bed so I could have a moment’s peace, then woken up again so we could do the afternoon school run.

Now at the age of three you have shown yourself to be independent, strong-willed, imaginative and stubborn. You are also completely immune to any sort of threat or bribe. The prospect of losing dessert or TV or a toy means nothing to you, and as such it can be difficult to control you. The only thing that you seem to want is the one thing I find hardest to give: my complete, undivided attention. Hard because I have three children and a house to run and my writing. Hard because you always want to play imaginary games, but you don’t actually tell me what we’re playing, so I always get it wrong and you tell me off.

Although you will always be surrounded by the blonde bombshells, twins separate by five years, never feel you need to be like your sisters. Never feel you need to be the eldest and never feel you need to be a baby. You are my middle, and just like a ham and salad sandwich, this family would not be complete without the middle. I need you to be yourself, and whatever you are at that point in time is fine with me. I will do my hardest to never compare you with the other girls. I will probably fail, but I promise to do my best.

I see you trying on different personas, trying to get attention: the naughty girl – baiting your older sister until she hits you in frustration, or deliberately pushing the baby over. I see you trying to be the sweet girl – coming to tell me at all hours of the day and night that you ‘wuv’ me, batting your eyelashes, puckering your mouth. I see you trying to be the baby, refusing to get out of nappies, using a baby voice, copying your baby sister.

Please don’t spend your life trying to be someone you’re not. It’s exhausting. Experience has taught me you should spend your time and energy trying to find out who you are. It is an important lesson: if people really love you, they will accept all of you, and love all of you. If someone says they love you because you are thin or smart or have curly hair, then they don’t really love you. It’s taken me many years to realize that I can be loved despite having flaws.

It’s a liberating realization to be able to relax in your own body and be yourself, and still be loved. You may feel hard done by being the middle, but I believe that in life we are never given any more than we can handle. Don’t look upon it that you are neither the eldest nor the youngest. Instead, see yourself as being both a big sister and a little sister. Your sisters cannot claim such a varied and important role; you will have the protection of your big sister and the opportunity to guide your little sister.

Some people may claim that the life of a middle is the hardest, always forgotten, overlooked in the drama of the older sibling and the intensity of the baby. But in other regards it could be the easiest; you have someone else to forge the path and fight the battles with your parents, while you have someone else to bring up the rear, and takes the burden of empty-nest concerns. That being said, I do not expect you to coast along. I see the fire within you and know that you will make your own way, despite your place in the middle, or perhaps because of it.

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I’ve always said that if money was of no concern, I would ask for two things: Clean sheets and a newly made bed every night (someone else to do the washing, of course) and someone to deliver me beautiful fresh sandwiches every day with a variety of exotic fillings.

Embrace your middle-ness Curly Mop, because every day of your life, you will be surrounded by the fresh sheets of your sisters, protecting you from the world, yet you will also be the exotic filling in our family sandwich, making our life more interesting and exciting.

Perhaps I took those analogies just a little too far, but I hope you understand what I mean.

And now I am hungry.

Thank you for being my daughter Curly Mop. Whatever your place in this family, you are a perfect fit for me, and I will always love you.


Related Post: Yes, You Should Have a Third Child


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  1. juliasv says

    Wow. I am a middle sister and wish so badly that I could have heard this from my parents. I wasn’t the pretty one, or the cute one. Never the oldest or the baby. I was the middle one. Or at my best, the “smart” one in a family that physical appearance was the be all and end all.

    Cudos and hugs to you for this letter. Your middle one will always treasure it.

    I am off to cry now.

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    • TeaLovingTeen says

      I totally agree with you, juliasv.
      I’m the middle one in my family and that’s my title, “the smart one.” Not the pretty one, not the likeable one. No, the “anti-social” weird one, who’d rather read a book than go out. Why? Because I have responsibilities at home, to my parents AND siblings. My older sister is out and about leaving my parents to wring their wrists in worry, and my younger sister cannot be asked to do anything because, “You do it better than me.”
      The middle life isn’t easy, I can admit that.

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  2. Mary says

    Oh sweetie… RUN to your nearest bookstore and pick up a copy of “You Can’t Make Me! (But, I Can be Persuaded)”, by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias.

    I’ll preface by saying she’s a Christian author, but… She’s very readable and approachable, with a lot of common sense, not all preachy and holier-than-thou or stuffing religion at you every other page. I am not a habitual reader of “Christian” literature for those reasons, but I found her books refreshingly different.

    Her books about raising Strong Willed Children, (which, btw, she promotes as a Good Thing!), saved my sanity with my elder, who is most assuredly a SWC.

    Best of luck, Mama, especially with celebrating your SWC’s best traits! They can be trying, but those are the kids who are going to run the world one day.

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  3. Debby Lewis says

    I have a middle one. She is my mini-me. The older one and the younger one seem to be identical molds of each other. But my middle one is strong willed and stubborn just like I was at her age, heck who am I kidding, I still am at this age! I would not trade her for anything in this world and I rest secure in the fact that she is indeed her own person and she knows who she is and while she may not be too sure what she wants to be as of yet, although the list is a mile and a half long, I know that when she finally decides she will be the best that she can be because she is the middle of this insane family!

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    • Amy says

      I could have written the same exact thing. My mini-me is 16. Her sisters are 18 and 14 and much more similar to each other. But it works pretty good now. I think it helps that because of my job that takes me around the world,and a divorce 10 years ago, the don’t always all live together. We have them in different combos. This year, they are all in the same house until the 18 year old moves out next month. But they will be in the same town at least! My middle has said she feels very middle child-ish a lot of the time. I’m the oldest, I’m can’t relate. But she’s the one I can hang with for hours.

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  4. Emily (OhBoyMom) says

    I have 3 boys and you just described my middle guy perfectly. I always tell him he has the unique distinction of being both the big and little brother, but the adjectives you used: strong-willed, stubborn, independent, imaginative — that’s ALL him. And yes, what he craves the most is attention from us — we try to give him the one on one time as much as we can, but it’s hard, not just for him, but for all 3.

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  5. Stacy says

    You describe my middle guy to a T. My oldest was 4 when he was born however my middle guy was just 23months when his baby sister joined us. I stopped nursing him when he was 18mo old and I don’t think he was entirely ready. To make matters worse his sister was born with some unique medical issues drawing attention away from him even more. He is the sweetest most loving child I ever could imagine but cross him and he is the most stubborn, demanding and will cut off his nose to spite his face when he wants what he wants! However people are drawn to him and he makes friends SO easily, everyone wants to be with him.

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  6. Allie Smith says

    This was beautiful. I have four, but my only girl is in the middle, between her twin older brothers, and the baby. I could relate to so much – but most of all, her need for my “undivided attention.” Oh boy….

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  7. Ice scream mama says

    I’ve got three boys and my middle was a middle even before he was born… strong willed, fiery, needy but strangely independent, sensitive and tough all wrapped in one. i was so focused on not middling him but it made no difference. he is who he is. and he has his own unique strengths and weaknesses that are no better or no worse than his brothers.

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  8. dontblamethekids says

    Thank you for this. I won’t have a middle, because I am sticking with two, but I am a middle myself. It was so important to me to carve out space that was just mine, that made me something other than just the middle. I found it with horseback riding…I hope your middle finds it with something less expensive! :)

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  9. Danyne says

    Well, as the middle in 3 girls, that made me tear up a bit. I normally try to avoid middle stereotypes, but that struck a chord. Most stereotypes say we’re forgotten and overlooked, but I realize fought hard to make myself seen and was successful.

    But what really got me was the sentence ” Although you will always be surrounded by the blonde bombshells, twins separate by five years, never feel you need to be like your sisters.” I’m 22 and have been struggling for so long watching my sisters be best friends without me and craving that intimate sister-ship, and I’m glad I read this to realize that I’m ok with not needing to be in their circle. Thank you for writing this.

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