Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Mystery of the Middle Child


I can’t stop thinking about birth order and the role it inevitably plays in how each of my children will turn out, especially my middle child Cheeks.

When I dropped him off at preschool today his did his usual – kiss me goodbye with a nervous look in his sensitive espresso eyes, then trudge off to play by himself.

According to his teachers, alone is mostly what Cheeks chooses to be at school, a stimulating stage for the dynamic developmental experience featuring, at times, some 70 potential friends. Cheeks can’t be bothered though, playing on his own, building sand hills for plastic cows to graze on. Sometimes he engages in parallel art and cooking play.

The extremely social, talkative adult part of me wishes Cheeks would make friends at school, establish a regular gang of kids. The extremely shy, nearly a-social little girl in me remembers how crippling it felt to break the ice with new people in new places. She wants to protect her loner middle child from the crushing, sometimes unruly seeming crowd of kids at school.

I’m conflicted to say the least. Maybe Cheeks is too.

As early as the 1920s Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler asserted that yes, according to his extensive research, birth order does in fact influence the development of a child’s personality and intelligence.

Tomes have been written on the controversial subject. Study after study has picked apart birth order. I'm betting nearly every mother throughout history has too. One recent study even showed that birth order affects which careers children will grow up to be in and how successful they will be.

Who really knows? Will mothers of middle children ever stop worrying about how well they will adjust, how their birth order-related propensities might serve or disserve them in life?

When will I stop obsessing over making sure Cheeks is getting enough attention, enough stimulation, enough of my (mostly paper thin) patience, enough of my heart, enough of my soul? Probably never, not even when he’s flown the coop. It's a case of caring too much, if that is even possible.

Simply put, researcher Adler contended that each child vies for the attention of his/her parents, and that each successive child has to compete that much more than their older siblings. Maybe this is why Cheeks is so fitful. He does what works. His rage stirs up a massive tidal wave in me and it shows.

Also, depending on the size of the family, each child struggles for parental attention that much more, according to Adler. The competition could be worse for mine. I could have had six children like my grandmother, not just three.

Still, even having skimmed studies old and new, I often wonder how much I can attribute “middle child syndrome” to my Cheeks’ white hot temper, social shyness and ultra-emotional sensitivity.

I wonder what Cheeks thinks of himself. Of me. Of his older brother and little sister. Of his entire family. Does he feel left out? Left in the middle child lurch?

Mostly he builds walls that feel too steep for me to climb. Sometimes, when in the rare mood to open up one-on-one, he tosses me a rope and I carefully climb in, stepping lightly and in perfect awe.

What's your birth order? How do you feel your birth order shaped your personality if at all?


At 5:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, well I am the middle child, but was raised the oldest. My sister grew up with her dad and step mom, and we only saw her on the weekends.

I'm not the loner middle, and I'm not the organized oldest.

I am a lost soul. Who knows.

But my brother is your typical baby...who is still spoiled by my mother and will probably expect woman to cook, clean, and do his laundry.

My husband's brother is your typical middle child. Loner...insecure..you name it.

At 7:20 AM, Anonymous AdventureDad said...

I only have a younger sister but we couldn't be more different. She's had a less successful and happy life than me but I'm not sure if it has anything to do with birth order. I blame it on my parents. I wasn't their favorite child or anything but I got more attention from them and others because I was a star at sports. I think they could have done a better job including her in everything. So could I but at that time I was too young and immature (still am).

I have two young kids now and don't feel birth order has any impact on their lives. I try to divide my attention so they are both in focus and they are both treated fairly. They are very different so far but I can't wait until they get a bit older and more of their personalities show.


At 7:23 AM, Blogger Just Me said...

That question is a bit hard for me, because I'm the oldest but I'm also a twin. We were born exactly the same time (c-section) so there is no older or younger twin. She has dark hair and I have light. We have always been opposite. She was the social one I was the shy one. She was the rebel I was the good one. And when I tried to step out of my box I was always pushed back in. I even remember the first time I swore I thought my sister was going to ripe my head off. When my sister got married our senior year of high school I completely broke out of my shell and became the outgoing, hyper person I always wanted to be.

As for attention of our mother; by the time I was 12 my parents were divorced and my mom was raising 5 kids by herself so I'm not sure how much attention we were vieing for. I'm sure the younger two recieved a lot more attention then the oldest three but only because by then we were "to old" to really care.

So I'm sure birth order is a factor in personality but also if they are a singel birth or multiple birth. Because really my sister could be my best friend or worst enemy. Now I'm happy to say she is my best friend -- as we got older we are more alike.

yeah so that's my two cents -- sorry for the novel... lol.

At 9:14 AM, Blogger ewe are here said...

I was an oldest of two girls. So I probably don't have a lot to complain about in some ways: I did get the extra attention up front (no competition); extra resources (same); and high expectations. On the other hand, more responsibility came with the job, and expections can be a b*tch! Especially when they come without any real guidance.
(Of course my sister complains about her position as the youngest....)

My husband, on the other hand, claims he was the long-suffering, ignored middle child. His older sister was daddy's favorite, and his younger brother was his mom's baby and favorite. I do recognize his point to a certain degree when I see the family dynamics in action. But on the other hand, you have to get over these things at some point and forge ahead. And perhaps remember these lessons should you have a middle child of your own someday.

MF is currently and only (obviously about to change) and has had a heck of a lot of attention. And, funnily enough, he much prefers small groups and more one-on-one play than big, loud roomfuls of children. And he loves attention from adults. I know I'll want to make sure we find an appropriate school -small- so he feels comfortable.

At 7:38 AM, Blogger penelopeto said...

I'm the second of four. Sib A is the oldest, Sib D is the youngest, and Sib C is the only boy. That makes me, Sib B...
a genius, of course.

(wink) Seriously, more than birth order, personality expectance has weighed heavily on our 'roles.' Oldest is the artist, I'm the brainy (and bratty) one, next comes the boy, then the baby.
and so we always have been.

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