Stuck in The Middle With You: Being a Middle Child With a Disability

Hi readers,

Brief disclaimer: My ideas will not line up 100% with Leman’s; otherwise I’d be parroting him. They are an *expansion* of birth order theory with Judeo-Christian undertones in appropriate places.

I’m starting the birth order series early in the interest of the Independence Day post. As promised, I’m beginning with middle children because they’re the ones who are overlooked most often. Dr. Leman sometimes describes them as “squeezed out,” and if you’re a true middle (we’ll get to what that means), “squeezed” might be exactly how you feel. Having a disability can tighten that squeezed feeling in a whole new way, but it doesn’t have to.

The Different Types of Middles

Middle children can be hard to pin down, not only personality-wise but based on their position in the family, their sex, and other factors. Let me show you what I mean with some subtypes:

The “Classic” Middle. This is the representation of middle-hood you often see in kids’ books or quick examples. There are three kids, all of the same sex. For this example, we’ll say they’re boys. Oldest Micah is the smartest, the biggest, and the most athletic. Mom and Dad let him do everything first and he gets all the new clothes, shoes, etc. Youngest Josh is coddled because he’s Mama’s “last baby.” He’s cute as a button, so he gets away with everything, and he can charm his way out of punishment. Middle child Chris gets squeezed. He’s not the smartest, the biggest, or the most athletic. He’s too old to be babied and too young to take on Micah’s responsibilities. He gets hand-me-downs and has to hand down his stuff. So Chris may take on characteristics “endemic” to middle kids. He might be the peacemaker between Josh and Micah, or the one who breaks the tie when a vote is needed. He’ll probably become the exact opposite of Micah since he’s the sibling above Chris. If Micah’s an athlete, expect Chris to become great at school, or the class clown, or the nice kid who looks out for little ones. He may or may not rebel, and will probably “play cards close to the chest” since he’s used to getting the short end of the stick or the blame.

The Gender-Based Middle. This is what happens when a middle child is also the first of that gender in his or her family. For this example, we’ll make it a girl. Oldest child Peter will probably take on characteristics of a firstborn–natural leader who can be bossy, list-maker, organized, and so on. Younger brother and youngest child Seth may act like a baby of the family, or he may act more like a classic middle. Why? Because in the middle, you have Gina. Position-wise, she’s a middle child, but she’s also the first and only girl. So she may have middle child characteristics, but she may also act like a leading, organizing firstborn, or a nurturing firstborn who mothers the other kids. Or, depending on how her gender is treated, she may get extra attention from one parent or the other because she’s a girl. (A disability will influence this, too, which we’ll get to). If Dad gives Gina more attention, she might end up as a somewhat tomboy-ish Daddy’s girl. If the extra attention comes from Mom, she might have heightened feminine and/or nurturing characteristics.

-Sharing the Middle. This occurs when you have a family of 3- about 6 children (any more than that and you tend to get into large family dynamics, which can be totally different). You might have two children of the same gender sharing the middle, or one child of each sharing. It’s what you saw on 7th Heaven–Lucy and Simon were both middles. Yet, Simon acted more like a youngest kid because he was the youngest boy, until twins Sam and David arrived. Lucy often felt more like a classic middle because between older, “perfect” sister Mary and cute little Ruthie, she got “squeezed out.” (Of course, if you’ve seen 7th Heaven after the third season, you know Mary was *not* perfect, but I’m speaking from Lucy’s early perspective).

If you have a family where kids of the same gender share middle space, the dynamic may be different. For example, let’s say you have a family of 4 kids: Benjamin, Laura, Deirdre, and Carson. Depending on who’s older and how the parents divide attention, or which parent each girl is closest to, you might get a classic middle or a girl who acts more like a youngest or oldest child. Note, too, that multiple births (i.e., twins) will change the dynamic too, as will a positionally middle child born 5+ years after the sibling directly above him or her.

How Disability Influences Your Position:

Whether your disability is mild, severe, or in-between, it will always influence your family position in some way. It doesn’t mean your younger siblings will always “pass” you and jockey you out of position, however. For example, if you have a mild disability and are a gender-specific middle, you still might take on characteristics of an older child because your disability may not significantly affect your IQ or physical abilities. But, your disability may mean your position as a middle child feels different. Let’s break it down:

If you are a classic middle:

You may not feel as squeezed as some TAB middle kids, because disabilities, whether we like it or not, demand attention. In fact, you may have to help your siblings gain assurance that you’re not trying to take away from their important roles as first- or last-born kids. This is where peacemaker traits can come in handy, as can the middle kid’s propensity to be a team player and look out for others. Additionally, you may struggle even more to find your special niche. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling, “My disability is the only thing that makes me stand out from the family crowd.” Find what you excel at and capitalize on it. If you and a sibling happen to have the same talents, do what you can to make it your own. For example, if you’re both musical, perhaps one of you sings and the other plays an instrument.

If you are a gender-based middle:

If you feel pressure to act older than you are because of being the first girl or boy, speak up. Remind your parents of who’s supposed to be the kid. If you’re an adult and feel like this, ask your parents and siblings to help tamp down some of the pressure. You may experience more overprotection because not only are you the only child of your gender, but you also have a disability. You’ll have to make sure your family doesn’t treat you like a hothouse flower, and that you don’t let yourself get too spoiled. (We all deserve spoiling now and then, but arrogant and entitled people get nowhere in life). As with classic middles, capitalize on strengths so that you feel special for things only you can do, not because you have a disability or are male or female.

If you share the middle:

This is a position where you can easily catch a break because there’s another sibling sharing your position, especially if that sibling is of your gender. The two of you can work together to get noticed constructively and to ensure neither of you is overprotected or cheated out of attention. Be aware, though, that sharing this position with one sibling or more might mean you get noticed less than usual, especially if your disability is mild or you don’t require extensive treatments. If this describes you, resist the temptation to retreat into a shell (which, by the way, is different from being a natural introvert). Ask Mom, Dad, or the sibling (s) you’re closest to, to make time for just you.

General tips for all middles with disabilities:
-Don’t let siblings walk all over you in any sense
-If you share space with someone whose disability is more severe: Watch out for resentment of attention they may get, and help them to excel
-If you share space with someone whose disability is milder: Make sure the rest of the family is helping you keep up your self-esteem and reach the life goals you want to reach, not just the ones set for you.
-If you are part of a multiple set and are the only one with a disability: Take advantage of the positive things about shared space, and carve your own niche
-If a multiple-birth sibling has a similar disability to yours: Work together to help each other excel, and make sure you’re getting attention as individuals

Also, remember, it might be clichéd, but it’s true: being a middle kid is pretty cool at times. You’ve got older siblings who’ll mentor you, and younger ones who you can teach the ropes. Enjoy your position, because after all, the cream is the best part of the cookie.

Next time, we’ll be looking at those ever-adorable, charming, sometimes annoying, but very necessary: family babies, the youngest kids.


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