I’m a classic middle child in my family – but also a little bit of an oldest. I had the unique position when I was growing up that, for a lot of the school weeks during the year, it was just my younger sister and myself living at home. I tried to step up and play the role of the oldest; protective of my younger sister, helping my mom with chores, making up games for my sister to oblige to play with me, all the oldest-kid things.
When my three half-siblings would come home, all who are older than me, I reverted back to the middle child (very happily, I might add). I remember our summer birthday scavenger hunt for the infamous DQ cake and consistently running back to my mom crying because the older three ran so much faster than me that I never got to read a clue. I would watch as she would gently tell my older siblings to ensure I was included. However, I also remember stacking the four cords of firewood my dad would order in the summer and his eyes were usually elsewhere, making sure my oldest siblings were stacking at a rate he was satisfied with, and I could get away with stacking at my own pace. I also always desired peace…and still do today. When fights broke out amongst the five of us, as siblings sometimes do, I tried to smooth the waters in whatever way I could.
When my second son, Bennett, was born we could very quickly tell he had different behavior patterns than our oldest son. He loved affection and physical touch. It often felt like he just couldn’t quite get close enough to your neck and face as he burrowed in there. Once he settled in, he would gladly just stay there, then in the next moment be pinching you a bit too hard with a smile on his face. He was super adventurous, loved being tickled, and didn’t really care what he was eating as long as it was food. He was fantastic at imaginative play; his mind could create a world with vibrant characters, daring adventures, and great escapes, but never with a lot of order. He enjoyed spontaneity and was up for anything. He was rough-and-tough, often knocking down our oldest son’s perfectly crafted Lego Duplo creations, or barreling into the blankets that were stacked with books on the couch to create a fort. This almost always resulted with our oldest in tears and us trying to encourage our middle to be a bit more understanding about the different ways they enjoyed playing.
Two years later, our third son came along. We were learning as parents that the way we parented needed to change because of the uniqueness of each child. Our core values remained, but discipline tactics, conversations, charts and privileges varied based on the child. What worked with our oldest didn’t always work with our middle. What worked with our middle really didn’t work with anyone else.
Our kids are now 11, 9, 6 and 2. By no means are we experts, but we have seen those typical “birth order” roles play out in different ways with our children. One child that has remained a pretty consistent, stereotypical middle child is Bennett, even though he is now one of two middles.
August 12th is National Middle Child Day (who knew?!) – and while there isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to parenting your own children – I wanted to highlight a few things that have helped us navigate life with middles:
1) Date your child! This goes for all kids whenever you can but your middle child will take all of the extra one-on-one attention he/she can get.
2) If your middle is affectionate, or shows love through physical touch, make extra time for cuddles, hugs, a tickling match, or reading on the couch together.
3) Find time for meaningful conversations; the best time for us is usually in the car on the way to a weeknight commitment. Especially with boys, sitting side-by-side/shoulder-to-shoulder, and asking those more pointed questions are typically best answered during car time.
4) Communicate love in written form. Leaving Bennett encouraging notes, writing quotes or Bible verses on the mirror in his bathroom, posting teacher affirmations on a bulletin board, or putting birthday cards out on display that are sent to him are always encouraging to his heart.
5) Give your middle child a special chore or activity that is only theirs. Bennett enjoys cleaning the bathrooms because we assigned him that early on (another “mom tip” — get your kids on the chore wagon sooner rather than later!) and he’s mastered it now. It doesn’t take a lot of extra effort for him because he doesn’t need to learn anything new. He knows what to expect, how long it will take, and what steps to complete so he can be done faster. He started mowing the lawn this summer and does it solely so he gets his $.50 and a soda pop (which is what we both got as kids for mowing!) and he couldn’t be more proud after the weekly mow.
Rest assured, mamas, your middles are going to be just fine. They might drive you a little crazy but they love super hard, too. They will adapt and be up for almost any adventure. They will know how to work hard and then fully rejoice in their reward. Hopefully as they grow they are first, KIND. But also confident, peacemaking, spontaneous, hopeful, up-for-anything kind of people.
The morning of August 12th, make sure you point out to them that there is a nationally recognized day designated JUST for them – nothing will make a middle feel more special than that. Then maybe eat ice cream before dinner to celebrate.