Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Virtues of Being the Middle Child

With a second child on the way Mrs. Blackwell and I have had preliminary discussions as to just how big we want this family of ours to get.

She wants four kids. I umm......well, let's just say I'm not so sure I want four. That's a lot.

That's a lot of diapers. That's a lot of day care. That's a lot of food. That's a lot of college tuition.

Jan Brady. Worst middle child ever? 
That's a lot of kids. What happens to one's parenting with each additional kid? One couldn't possibly find the time to give each of them equal treatment, could they?

I am the middle child of three boys.

One might picture me uttering those words while seated in a church basement as a circle of empathetic onlookers nods quietly, some biting their bottom lips while digesting the full gravity of this plight.

Yes, it's a sad, sad world for us middle children and certainly justification to give me pause as we consider creating a middle child.

We middle children are the great forgotten, or so conventional thinking goes.

After the oldest child first passes through the spotlight, soaking up all of the attention that comes with being the "first" at everything, we moped in and took whatever was left over like the sad sacks that we are.

Whoops. I forgot about him. 
Then came the baby, the family's last chance to partake in all the joys of childhood.

And so, this dynamic moves throughout our development and then into adulthood. The oldest child blazes trails, while the baby serves as the "baby" and enjoys all the coddling that comes with being the youngest.

Somewhere in there, the middle child just sort of hovers in purgatory.

My mother is a firm believer in birth order. She's read books and often references the role that being a first born has played in her life. It's one of the lenses through which she views the world.

In my case, she believes it's what led me to travel and move around more than my brothers. I was, according to conventional birth-order thinking, looking for my place in the world. This sounds perfectly logical but, with all apologies to the psychologists who advanced this view, the latest research says, "nope."

....and her. 
I've read enough about birth order to know that it has a prominent place in one's development, I just don't think it's played any more a role in my life than say age difference between siblings.

There's three and a half years between my older brother and I. That didn't exactly put me in competition with him for much of anything. He was always bigger, faster and four grades ahead of me in school. I learned early on that I'd have to wait to catch up.

Compare that to my younger brother who was 15 months younger than me and just one grade behind. One might think that because of that closeness there was a great deal of competition between us. There wasn't.

We fought like boys do but we grew out of it, in no small part because he could whoop my ass by the time he was old enough to walk. Regardless, neither of us were fighters and while we got along well, we didn't share many interests through which to compete.

One could wonder how this might have affected my older brother. Seeing his younger siblings so close in age, sharing so much of life at nearly the same time. Did my older brother ever feel alienated like say, a middle child is supposed to?

Probably not, but you get my point. There's a lot of variables here.
Thanks Bill. I was starting to think this was a lost cause.

Like, what if my older brother had been a sister? Ditto for my younger brother. How would being the only boy out of three kids have changed who I am?

I'm told that I'm just like my father. My dad is a quieter fellow and, I suppose I am too. How much of this is because I'm like dad or because I'm a middle child?

And what, if my folks hadn't moved around so much when I was a kid, would I have moved as much as I have?

Who knows about any of this?

So back to my original question — and outside of having a syndrome named after us — what does being a middle child mean for a kid's development?

After minimal reading, supplemented with a lifetime of experience, I can safely say it's up to some arbitrary cocktail of mom, dad, life experiences and location. My mom is off the hook as far as the whole middle child thing goes.

And with this conclusion, I'm running out of excuses not to have one.

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