MIDDLE SISTER SYNDROME
“My mother never had time for me. When you’re the middle child in a family of five million, you don’t get any attention.” Woody Allen
According to cultural lore, as well as multiple online reports, studies, comments and articles, middle children frequently suffer from feelings of being overlooked by parents, thus creating feelings inferiority. It is known as Middle Child Syndrome.
I am the fifth child of seven, so technically, I am not smack in the middle. I am, however, the middle of the three girls. Suzanne is younger than me, and there is one brother younger than her. Gail is the second-born, with one brother older than her.
Older children, it is noted, tend to have stronger personalities and are typically leaders. These two aspects, in the very best of ways, describe Gail.
Youngest children, in contrast, tend to be charming and popular, which describes Suzanne exactly, but perhaps not for the reasons cited: youngest children have developed social skills that will get other people to do things for them.
I can say honestly that as a child, I knew only this: Mom and Dad loved us all fiercely, and all resources—time, the little money we had, and energy—was equally divided among all of us. I don’t ever recall feeling slighted. I do remember hanging out with my two brothers just above me, because we were the closest in age, and Mom was likely busy with Suzanne and Ryan.
Apparently, while Gail was busy helping Mom with the babies and the house, David, John and I whiled away the hours outside building forts in the wooded area behind the house, working our own plots of land on our make-believe farm, building haystacks in the hayloft in the barn, going fishing and generally keeping ourselves busy with all the outdoors had to offer, much like all farm kids did back then. Indoors, I remember reading Motor Trend magazine with them, playing pool, playing board games and the occasional game of football—indoors. The most memorable one was in the living room, and I was the football. I learned to be physically tough.
When I am in a social situation that necessitates good-natured talk of a physical fight, and the other party perceives my small stature to ensure a win for them, I remind them that I grew up with four brothers, and while I am relatively small, I am mighty if I need to be.
So don’t mess with me.
They’re all good…
We have no control over our birth order, and I cannot imagine being anything besides the middle sister. I get to be sandwiched between my two best friends; I get to be the middle link. I get to look up to Gail, and, as I have mentioned many times, I look up to Suzanne, too. She is infinitely wiser than me in so many ways. I get to be there for either of them if I can help, and I ask them for help, too.
Gail, being the natural-born leader, quickly assumed the role of matriarch when our parents died. She was self-appointed, but by birth order and virtue of her exceeding qualifications, she was the best woman for the job. She had big shoes to fill, and she continues to fill them well.
The dark side of the online studies and reports I read is this: there are often resentments between siblings—and sisters—predictable by birth order. If resources were unevenly distributed among the children, this negativity may result. If achievements by the sibling that appeared to be more favored—often the younger child–are more celebrated by parents, this resentment grows. If one child was perceived as the clear “favorite” by the parents, this is an almost sure set-up for further conflict.
I remember telling Dad that we didn’t fight among ourselves, because there was no reason to. There was no uneven allocation of resources, no wealth that may have been perceived to be unevenly shared and ultimately divided in the end.
Very simply, we didn’t have anything to fight over. No favorites—although Suzanne, in that charming style I mentioned above, will make frequent jokes about all that was bestowed upon her, while we toiled away to make it on our own in college and making our way in the world after that.
Unlike Woody Allen, I never felt that Mom and Dad didn’t have time for us. Growing up, my most vivid memories of Dad were as a busy farmer, and Mom was perpetually busy with laundry, while Gail was the chief chef for nine people.
But they always had time if we needed it, and they always seemed to know when to take a moment to play a game, read a book, wipe a tear or band-aid an arm. They always kept us their priority, their Magnificent Seven.
And number five of that seven is the perfect place for me, between Gail and Suzanne.