Stuck in the middle…….
Research suggests that middle children rebel as teenagers, following a childhood starved of the attention lavished on first- and last-borns. But is this really the case or just an excuse for bad behaviour?
By; Siobhan O’Neill
Being first born, a middle child or last born is something you have no control over, but can the order in which you arrive into the world cast a shadow over your life?
Many middle children, who claim to suffer from ‘middle-child syndrome’ seem to think so. They feel hard-done-by and less important than their older and younger siblings — they’re neither the precious first nor the idolised last.
Some experts agree and claim that being a middle child can play an important role in how children feel and develop. Other experts disagree and say there is no such thing as middle-child syndrome.
Either way, this controversial topic has been studied by great minds such as Freud and Adler and, for the past 30 years, psychologists have carried out hundreds of studies which show distinct trends associated with birth order.
The trend with middle children is that they are rebellious and attention seeking, like middle-child Madonna, or they tend to be people pleasers, such as middle-child Tony Blair.
In a recent documentary dedicated to analysing middle-child syndrome, psychologist Kevin Leman claimed that being a middle child can have a huge impact on personality development. He says that the middle child often feels lowest in the pecking order of the siblings.
They are often overshadowed by first-borns who are groomed for leadership and success. In Bill Clinton’s case, he was first born and went on to become President of the US, while his younger brother, the middle child, got into trouble with the law and ended up with a criminal record.
Middle children can also have the limelight stolen from them by last-borns, who tend to be easy going and can adapt to change without difficulty.
Just look at famous last-borns Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz — both display relaxed, laid-back personalities.
On the upside, middle children tend to grow up to be more independent and are born mediators and negotiators. They also tend to ‘go their own way’ when dealing with established ideas and become innovators and thinkers, such as Bill Gates.
According to Dr Leman, the middle child lacks the status of the eldest or the perks of the youngest and so feel constantly overlooked and unimportant. This is why the middle child is most likely to be rebellious in any given family because they feel isolated within the family unit. But is a so-called syndrome really to blame for rebellious and bad behaviour or is it merely an excuse?
“Early on I learned to occupy myself by playing alone and so I became fiercely independent. The older twins often picked on me and the younger ones were not interested in me, they played together all the time. I felt very alone and so I rebelled in my own way by being deliberately different to my siblings.
“When I was teenager I got a job and earned my own money and with it I bought myself nice things, which I did not share with them. Because I had two older sisters I was nearly always dressed in their hand-me-downs. Even my communion dress had been my older sister’s before me, so as soon as I could afford my own things I bought the best I could.”
Therese’s family used to tease her, saying the shops they went to weren’t good enough for her. “I liked that, I did not want to be the same as them.”
Therese feels that she spent her entire childhood trying to fit in, “but with a nickname like ‘sandwich’ it wasn’t easy,” she says.
The silver lining for Therese, if there is one, is that although her childhood was tough, it shaped who she is today.
“I am strong and independent. I do not rely on my parents for support and approval like my siblings often do. I can look after myself. I am very outspoken now, which I believe to be a reaction to my childhood when no one listened to me. I get on well with my family now but my childhood memories are still quite vivid about being in the middle with no-one paying me any attention and it still hurts.
“Sometimes I wish I had been born first or last because I think my childhood would have been a lot easier that way.”
But not everyone has had such a negative experience. Mandy Hutchinson, 30, from Cork, is a middle child and feels it did not hold her back at all. “I had a sister who was a year older and a brother who was three years younger. I sometimes felt left out because my siblings were very alike. They were both very outgoing with lots of friends and I was fairly quiet with few friends. However, my parents were interested in me and gave me plenty of attention, so I never felt ignored like many other middle children do.
“My dad got me music lessons, swimming lessons, elocution lessons and was very supportive about school studies.”
Mandy recalls feeling a bit lonely sometimes. “I remember asking my mum when I was 12 if I had been adopted because I felt I did not quite fit in with my siblings. She assured me I was not and after that, she gave me even more attention than before. I actually had to ask her to treat me the same as my siblings because I was getting too much attention!”
Mandy always wanted to do well at school to make her parents proud and they always praised her whenever she did something well so this spurred her on even more.
“I got very serious about my studies and put my social life on hold to do my best. Looking back, I should have had more fun but I did not want to rebel, I wanted to make everyone happy.”
The only shocking thing Mandy did in her life was telling her parents, at 27, that she was pregnant.
“It was unexpected but after the initial surprise my parents were very supportive. I do think being the middle child has given me a strong sense of independence.
“I am very happy today. I get on great with my family, I love my job and, of course, I love being mum to Jacob. Being the middle child did not hold me back at all.”
Psychotherapist and middle child Mark Reddy believes that parents can do something to counteract birth order.
“Even the fact that a parent is aware of middle-child syndrome is a start because they will try to avoid isolating their middle child. I am a middle child myself and a bit of a people pleaser, which is quite common. When I was studying psychotherapy I was interested in learning about it from a professional and personal standpoint.
“I find it can be helpful to ask someone about their birth order as it can tell a lot about someone’s personality but there are other factors which can have a bigger impact, such as the family dynamic, death of a family member, abuse or neglect or parents splitting up.
“Parents should be aware that middle children can feel like they need to compete for affection and attention with their older and younger siblings and this can cause conflict and resentment.
“Parents are often less protective of the second, third and subsequent children because they are more experienced so they tend to me more relaxed with the middle child, possibly not giving them as much reward for achievements.
“This then leads to people-pleasing activities by the middle child for attention or, worse, disruptive behaviour.”
This can have a big effect when the child becomes a teenager, says Mark, which explains why middle children are more likely to be the troublemakers or people pleasers in the family.”
From : http://shr.gs/geV3Uzk