Why Middle Child Syndrome Is Actually Middle Child Privilege

by Jamie Agins Lincow
Originally Published: 
Three boys holding blue and white balloons in the park, while one of them is experiencing a middle-c...
Jamie Lincow

Any mom with 3 kids has certainly heard of “middle child syndrome.” If you Google it, you will see that the term describes the feelings of inadequacy or jealousy that come from those born in the middle. I have even heard parents say that their child “has middle child syndrome” as a rationale to excuse any misbehavior or negative outbursts. When I gave birth to my third boy, a few relatives even cautioned me to pay extra attention to my middle son so that he would not become a traditional middle child.

My own brother was born in the middle, but he was the only male in the family (cousins included) so he was garnished with quite a bit of attention and praise. Still, I can remember my mom throwing around the excuse that his grievances were a result of him being the middle child.

Now fast forward 20 years, and I am raising my own three boys (who are almost 4, 6, and 8). I once worried if my middle son could fall victim to middle child syndrome, especially because he is surrounded by brothers. However, I have quickly learned that gender does not eclipse individuality, and that my middle son is quite fortunate to be book-ended by his two brothers.

Each boy in our house has a nickname, and we call our middle son the “middle man.” He happens to be redheaded and blue-eyed, the rarest combination on the planet. His emergency birth was fiery, and he continues to be a spitfire with his actions and quick wit even at a young age. As the younger brother, he constantly rivals his older sibling with any physical feat, whether it be climbing monkey bars, tying shoelaces, or riding a bike without training wheels.

On the other hand, he has a softer side while caring for his little brother, who he lovingly still calls “baby.” Of course they all play in a rough and tumble way from time to time, but the middle man has a gift that the others lack: he is the younger brother AND the older brother, able to express himself and play different roles depending upon who is home.

The other day, my middle man was “playing up” with his big brother. They were outside riding bikes with the neighborhood kids, playing cops and robbers, and then having a football toss. When he got bored of the games and wanted a change, he came back to the driveway and “played down” with his little brother. The two of them chalked the entire driveway and then took turns drawing outlines of each other’s body on the cement. There is always someone for the middle child to play with — he can explore all different types of play depending upon his mood.

When it comes to school, organized sports and activities, or even developmental milestones, the middle child has the ability to know what lies ahead and prepare himself for that journey; yet, he also has the capacity to voice his opinions and share advice with the younger brother who will eventually follow in his footsteps. When our middle man lost his first tooth last month, he already knew that a tooth fairy would come and leave him money, and he took pride in showing his little brother how to wrap the tooth properly and stick it under his pillow.

The countless sociological studies conducted on the relationship between birth order and individual characteristics are often true and quite interesting, but middle child syndrome does not have to be a stereotypical issue for all children born in the middle. Rather than demarcating the middle born with a syndrome, can’t we value his place in the birth order as a privilege?

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