Expectations vs. reality of being a middle child

Illustration of a middle child looking unhappy and happy
Kelsey Choe/Staff

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The “middle child syndrome” is a word coined from the belief that in a family of three or more kids, children who are neither the oldest nor the youngest may receive less attention from parents, thus feeling excluded and neglected growing up. The syndrome predicts middle children to be attention-seeking and people-pleasing to make up for the love and attention they lacked as a child.

I am the middle child of three girls, and when I tell people, they either react with a surprised “woah,” a curious sympathetic expression with the question, “Do you have the middle child syndrome?” or some sort of empathy expressing that they are also a middle child. People think that it must be a bad experience, but I have to disagree — I’ve always loved being a middle child. Here are what people expect the middle child experience must be like, opposed to the actual reality I experienced.

Expectation: You feel invisible

Being sandwiched between the oldest, the leader and pride of the family, and the youngest, the baby of the family, it seems like parents, relatives and family friends would pay less attention to you. However, I didn’t always feel so. I firstly have to give credit to my height — I’m the tallest of the three, so many people approached me assuming I was the oldest. More importantly, though, I’ve always been active with many interests and hobbies. If being a middle child means people pay less attention to you, it only means that you have less pressure to care about what others think of you. As I explored my interests and expressed my style and creativity, I noticed that relatives and family friends were more interested in me. As long as you express your unique self, middle child or not, people will notice you.

Expectation: You want more attention

Apparently, my parents were aware of the so-called middle child syndrome and tried their best to balance the love and attention among the three of us. But even if you do have parents who neglect you over your siblings, as a middle child, you actually will never lack attention: attention from your siblings. Being in the middle, you play an important mediator role, possibly bridging two generations within the family (Gen Y and Gen Z in my case). Being a middle child also means that you have a family of at least five. Someone will always be talking or listening, and there will most likely always be someone that gives you attention or asks you for attention.

Expectation: You socialize well

Because you have an older sibling and a younger sibling to attend to, many expect middle children to be very sociable. I will agree that I do interact with my sisters a lot, and there is never a quiet moment in the house. However, I often need time in my room by myself to recharge — this really depends on your extraversion. On another note, because I’m so close with my sisters, I am not always the most social outside my house. Since I spent a lot of nights and weekends hanging out with my siblings rather than with friends, my sisters and I have our own friendship and humor code that doesn’t always translate outside our home. I may be good with teamwork and conflict resolution, but I definitely wouldn’t call myself a social butterfly.

Expectation: You don’t like being a middle child

Neglect from parents. Lack of attention. Invisibility. Many believe the middle child syndrome is real and that middle children don’t want to be in their own shoes. However, I am thankful to be a middle child. You don’t have the pressure and the daunting responsibility the oldest child carries, nor do you get babied or bossed around like the youngest (although maybe you experience both when one sibling is away). To me, the biggest perk of being a middle child is that you’re given two friends for life whom you can connect with on different levels. And when the three of you are all together, there’s no other place in the world where you have more fun and feel more like yourself.

Who said that being a middle child was unfortunate? Being sandwiched between an older and a younger sibling is a blessing and a fun experience. However, if in any case, you do end up having the middle child syndrome, at least you know that you may surprise but will never disappoint your parents!

Contact Eunkyo Jo at [email protected].