birth order

What Are We Gonna Do Without The Middle Children?

They’re less and less common... and we’re gonna miss them.

Written by Julia Williamson
Tired mother drinks coffee while her tree daughter has breakfast at home.
Maria Korneeva/Moment/Getty Images

Birth order is equally blamed and touted as a defining aspect of our characters and behavior patterns. And it’s got me worried: what are we gonna do, now that middle children are starting to disappear?

We used to have tons of middle children; eldests and youngests were in the minority, and onlies were anomalies. But family size is diminishing according to the CDC (and your own eyes), and I don’t think anyone is worrying about the real problem: Oldest and youngest kids are going to get a shock when they realize how much the quieter siblings were taking care of business.

Middle children get overlooked, but they’re the ones that keep the gears turning. They’re taking notes and remembering birthdays and volunteering to go to the drugstore. They’re paying attention to the details and reminding us of deadlines. Behind every oldest child CEO is an army of middle children making sure sh*t gets done.

Without the middle children, who’s going to keep the peace?

Let me be clear: I am not a middle child. If I were, I probably would not be kicking up a fuss in the form of this article. In my own family we were three girls, and we totally fit the stereotype. As the youngest I was loud and dramatic, and, according to my older sisters, got all the perks usually assigned to the baby. My oldest sister is a perfectionist who is always right and does not put up with any dissent. Our middle sister, likely traumatized by our constant bickering, is the quiet peacekeeper. Check, check, check.

Now I know not every child follows the path laid out by birth order, but it’s shocking how often the stereotype holds true. And I’m concerned about who is going to keep the lights on when we don’t have any more middle children. They are, after all, the ones who actually get the work done when the oldest is ruling and the youngest is grandstanding.

I have two children, because I’m a modern parent, and they fit the mold perfectly. The oldest is a worrier, who has nightmares about her little sister walking out into the Zombie Apocalypse with a lot of swagger but little in the way of weapons. The youngest is bold and outspoken, refusing to listen to anyone (especially her big sister) once she’s charted her course. Watching them interact has made me nervous about what’s coming for us all.

Imagine going to your favorite neighborhood café. The owner, an oldest child, stands at the register, overseeing her domain. The servers, youngest children all, are moving from table to table, being adorable and entertaining but not really moving the customers along. As a line forms at the door, the chef (another oldest child) is rebelling against the servers, who ask for substitution after substitution, because shouldn’t every diner get exactly what they want, not what they’re TOLD they should eat?

The chef and the owner start berating the staff, the servers revolt by slowing things down even more, and eventually service grinds to a halt, with management and staff glaring at each other over cups of perfectly blended coffee.

Imagine the scene in the operating room! Oldest and youngest children arguing over the best strategy for removing the spleen. Meanwhile only children will be flying planes solo, refusing to let their co-pilots into the cockpits because they “really do better work when I can be alone in here”.

We need those peacekeeping, rolling-their-eyes-as-they-get-sh*t-done middle children. They’re the ones that make sure the invitations are sent, the appointments are scheduled, the supplies are ordered. They quietly maneuver the others and let them think they’re in charge, soothe their egos, pat their backs.

Without them, who’s going to keep the world running while the others battle it out in a bid for attention and power? The whole enterprise will fall into blamestorming and finger-pointing. At the very least, find and thank a middle child today. You’ll recognize them because they’ll be quietly juggling 17 different egos to actually make your local school system run properly.

Julia Williamson is mother to two mostly adult daughters. She’s a freelance writer, a decluttering wizard, and an inveterate optimist, regardless of reality. Read more in her weekly newsletter, Families and Other Freaks.