Every child has needs that are common to all children, and likewise every individual child has unique needs. These needs may vary according to birth order, and in the cases of mixed siblings from remarriage or fostering, the needs may be intensified. Raising middle children is no different than raising any child. The requirements may differ but they are also the same. There are a few areas that every parent of a middle child need to provide on a consistent basis. The need to be loved for who they are, to be heard, and to know and find their place are the subject of this discussion.
Every child, no matter what birth order. social status, race, birth defect, or situation needs love. Every child needs to be loved and accepted and encouraged and affirmed. The middle child is no different and sometimes may need to be affirmed more than the others. My own middle child experience taught me that the expression of love will be different, but the end result is that the middle child knows that they are loved.
Lyn wanted to be held more after our third child arrived, and mostly by her father. As she grew older and I couldn’t hold her for prolonged periods of time, she rebelled and acted out in church, as if to get attention. It was nothing that the older child hadn’t done but it was nonstop, and for some reason it just seemed more annoying. It was hard to get her to refrain from all of this attention seeking. Being placed in the nursery helped, since she wasn’t around the others. But, soon it became obvious that Lyn was trying to tell us she wanted to know that she was loved like the other two.
When the middle child wants things that are out of the normal range of what most kids normally want and you are unable to provide that special item, it can create a whole plethora of problems. Just giving them what they want every time they ask for something is not demonstrating love. We are not their friends, but parents. Love is patient and kind, and that means that we need to be patient and demonstrate love by taking a stand.
I heard it many times, “Lizzie and Susan get what they want”! How do you deal with that? There may some truth but I always reminded Lyn that it wasn’t true, and that we cannot always meet every request. I affirm her and tell her I love her and that I want to provide her with that special pet lizard or snake but it is not going to work, and state the various reasons.
Compromising Is Not Compromising
If I were to tell you that I compromised you wouldn’t think I was a good parent. My compromise wasn’t getting a snake or lizard, but a betta fish or hermit crab. I told her that she needed to demonstrate responsibility in taking care of a pet before we could get a bigger pet requiring more care. She did good at first but soon pouted, wanting what she had originally requested. Eventually after a few dead fish, and hermits she turned to a dog because her older sibling had a dog. I didn’t care in but used the experience to teach her what all was involved. That is also love.
I knew that this would be a challenge and that we would need to accommodate her request somehow. We were able to get a nice, gentle dog that was a good match with the other dog. In all of this I knew that there were some things that I could not do and some that I would have to do. To Lyn if she didn’t get exactly what she wanted it meant that I loved Lizzie more. She didn’t understand all that was required.
I had to be patient with her and get to the place, through trial and error that I could get the perfect pet. That is love. She had that dog for over eleven years and he was a great pet. My love was always there but the challenge was to not only let my middle child know my love for her was no less than that for her sisters, but also for her to receive mine and my wife’s love.
Part of loving a child is giving them space and time to receive. The middle child’s need for love also dictates that she will receive it differently. She couldn’t receive love if I never tried to get a pet, and eventually, she came to understand the challenges that we as parents faced for her. Sometimes we can’t give them what they want, and then there are times we don’t need to. The greatest challenge is not trying to be a friend and just hang out with them and give them everything they want.
Love is the greatest need and has many facets. I have only touched on some aspects, but remember, be patient, kind, loving, firm and always be there. For my child it was knowing that I was helping her and attentive to her needs and wants, and that won the day, even when I couldn’t get the weird and wild pet.
I Want To Be Heard
It seems that even now when we are together and especially if another sibling is present, that there is an outburst of ‘no one ever hears me or listens to what I have to say.’ Parent.com/parenting puts it best in writing, “No one understands or listens to what I say?” Is that true? Unfortunately there is a lot of truth to that statement.
Why? So often we tend to listen to the older child because they are used to being heard and when they come in the room they know how to garner our attention. Likewise the baby or youngest comes in and suddenly all eyes and ears come to them. Either way we just tend to forget the middle child is talking. This causes them to fight to be heard and often they do crazy things to get attention. When we ask why they pulled their older sisters hair or bit her three days in a row, the reply is, “she always talks and you listen to her.” Unusual behavior in any child occurs for different reasons but with a middler more often than not they just want to be heard.
Every middle child has a unique voice, and I am not speaking of how they sound. I mean they have something to say and need to be heard. Therefore, it goes without saying that we as parents have two ears and are capable of hearing and listening to what the middle child is saying. I remember Lyn was telling me about an assignment from school and then Lizzie walked in and interrupted and I forgot about Lyn. Then I proceeded to do something else, because Lizzie’s interruption had turned me away from Lyn’s talking time and now Lyn was not being heard. I heard everything Lyn had said, but I was not really listening.
Hearing Versus Listening
Being heard requires the one hearing to actually listen and not just hear. If you are on your cell phone and your middle child is talking, you may hear her say “I need to order contacts”, but you fail to hear that she doesn’t have enough money. You hear bits and pieces because you did not listen. Listening requires that we give all of our attention and remove the distractions. There are those irritating moments where you just had a nice conversation with your youngest and in walks the middle child demanding equal listening time. Unfortunately you feel drained from the previous conversation and you know that your middle will take thirty minutes to say what could be said in five.
These are the moments that challenge us to lay down what we are doing and look them in the eye and let them know that we are listening. Sometimes you need to acknowledge by repeating back some of what was said. Often I offer solutions, only to hear my middle child say, ‘ No I don’t want to do any of that, this is the answer.” All of that was just so she could have my attention and be heard. She had her mind made up. Nevertheless it is imperative that we listen and that every middle child knows that they have a voice that is heard.
Knowing Their Place
Every Middle child is a middle child. Sometimes they are the middle of the middle. Being the middle child, whether naturally born or through a remarriage with step-siblings is difficult to find their proper place. The middle-born child needs to experience acceptance exactly for who he (she) is. (Isaacson and Radish, The Birth Order Effect, Schwartz Books)
Accepting them as the middle child is only part of the battle. They also need to accept that they are the middle child. This requires overcoming the desire to be the oldest or the youngest and leave that place to someone better suited. We as parents are responsible for raising all of our children. Acknowledging that they are different and unique is part of that process. Recognize that you have a middle child and that in turn allow them to be the middle child. Affirming their place, and that it is not bad thing to be in the middle. Encourage them enjoy their station in the family. Middle children will have many friends and relationships outside of the family. It is in the family that their uniqueness has placed them in the middle of the birth order.
Loving, and listening to your middle child will help them find their place as the middle child. Have fun and enjoy being the parent of a middle child.