Since the birth of my third, I’ve felt an overwhelming fear that I’m failing my second born.
As a middle child myself, I thought I would have a handle on what she needs from me to transition into her role as big sister, to feel heard and loved and understood. But, if I’m being perfectly honest, all of my attempts are falling flat.
I feel so confused and out-of-touch with what my middle child needs from me.
She is such a gift. She’s so unique and funny and passionate. I don’t want to fail to parent her well. What if I spend the rest of her childhood floundering and failing to connect with her? What if I can’t figure out what she needs the most?
I want to believe that this is all just temporary, a part of a phase that will soon come to an end, but as each day passes I find myself worrying it isn’t a phase. It's a part of a bigger weakness I have as a mom.
I feel so confused and out-of-touch with what my middle child needs from me to make this transition easier, that I decided to talk to an expert. I explained to Dr. Liz Matheis, child psychologist and parent coach at Psychological & Educational Consulting, that parenting my oldest was straightforward these days. She needs one-on-one time reading books together or laying in bed talking about her day.
My middle child, well, she isn’t so simple. She doesn’t seem to care much about cuddle time, and getting her to sit through a book is impossible. So most of the time, I feel like we’re disconnected. She has extreme emotions, part of being No. 2, I’m sure, but I also wonder if she is struggling to adjust because I’m struggling to be a good mom to her. I find myself questioning what is so different about adding a third? Is middle child syndrome really a thing? Should parenting a middle child really be so different from parenting an oldest or a youngest?
“The transition from one to two children is a large one, yet as your second becomes more independent, your firstborn finds a playmate in your second child. Life is good,” she said. “However, adding another child to the mix, then creates the creation of the 'middle child' (and) the middle child syndrome we parents of three children know and don't like much at all!”
What makes (middle children) unique will play a role in enabling them to thrive as adults.
She went on to explain that middle children have many positive traits that may feel difficult for parents juggling the needs of multiple little kids, but it is important to remember that what makes them unique will play a role in enabling them to thrive as adults. Middle children obviously don’t all fit into the same box, but they are often more independent, they march to the beat of their own drum and they may make a habit of trying to negotiate what they see as fair in their family and the world around them.
“The third child becomes the baby, the charming little one who chases the older two and is so easy to adore. The oldest child is reliable, independent and the first to do everything. So where does that leave your middle child?”
Dr. Matheis had a few helpful ideas for me, and other parents, who are struggling to help their middle children find their place in the new family dynamic.
First, she suggested using specific language to make sure your children know what they contribute to the family that no one else can. Are they funny? Do they have a lot of energy or a totally unique perspective on the world? Talk to them about that.
“This will help your child to identify her or his identity and understand the value that he or she brings to your family unit,” Matheis told me.
Next, parents of middle children should help them find their unique strengths and interests and help them pursue it.
Personally, I find it so easy to let my second be a tag along, since my first has such defined goals and interests. Moving forward, I plan to work harder to help her find her own thing, whether that be gymnastics or music or art.
Lastly, Dr. Matheis encouraged me to help my middle child find her place outside of the family by encouraging friendships.
“Help your child to establish and maintain friendships as relationships are important to your middle child,” she said. “Having stable relationships will help your child to invest his energy into another arena that is healthy and productive.”
I’m not expecting things to get better overnight, but I do feel empowered to move forward with a new game plan for parenting my middle child. All in all, I keep reminding myself that children need unconditional love more than anything, and that my love for my daughter will cover a multitude of my shortcomings as a mom.