Monday, May 20, 2013

Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Why Middle Children Rock!

Birth order matters, right? Researchers don't necessarily agree, but conclusive data or not, we are who we are because of our families. First, second, third-born, twins, large family, small family? Each case has its own set of challenges. Just ask your parents or other moms/dads at the playground. They’ll have plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest family dynamics are a big win in the "nurture" category.

There are no hard and fast rules. That's what throws off those poor souls who try to come up with trends backed by numbers. For every rule, there's a rule breaker. But as a proud middle child and a mother of three, I've made up my own rules. I'll let you decide if they're true.

Oldest children are often competitive achievers. They like attention, praise, and control. They are opinionated and mature for their age. In my family, my older sister (Yes, Carissa, I'm going to drag you into this), liked to "direct" and took charge of play–you stand here, wear this, say this, hold this–and I, for the most part, didn't mind. But there was a lot of conflict between her and my mother (also an oldest child). I see some of the same trends in my current household. I sometimes have to scold my oldest for being too “bossy,” and of course, he argues.

Middle children are amiable peacekeepers. We're the "people pleasers." During intense discussions, we make light of the situation with jokes and sarcasm, and if that doesn't resolve the conflict, we get upset and withdraw. We sometimes get mistaken as “shy,” but really we're cautious listeners who don't like to offend anyone. We're used to being ignored. We're usually OK with that, and if not, we work harder. If no one notices an accomplishment, then it wasn't good enough. In some families, this mentality can be dangerous or self-destructive. If middle children can’t be the smartest, most athletic, most talented, etc., they might settle for any attention they can get.

Youngest children are fun-loving free spirits. They are simple, adventurous, independent, and the least likely to accept adulthood. Some might even seem like self-centered rebels, but in my sister's case, (Sorry Eileen, you're not off the hook either) she has a good sense of "self" and doesn't succumb to societal norms. She does what she pleases and that happens to be helping others. She is altruistic, conscientious, prudent, and wise. She learns from her mistakes and the mistakes of others. She never wanted to follow in her sisters' footsteps. All things considered, she's probably happier that way...and better off.

Now that I have a family of my own, I might pull less of my hair out if I consider my own experiences and accept the inevitable. For example, my oldest son will always think he knows everything. I will have to adapt to "keep the peace" because he, in all likelihood, never will. I’ll also have to keep in mind that I have a mixed-gender family. I need to be patient, flexible, and tolerant of all personalities, but I've been doing this all my life. It's not easy, and my exasperation is usually internalized, but I'll make do. That's why middle children rock! And this leads me to the purpose of this post...

It's a busy time of year and I had an "oh crap" moment when I realized my middle child is graduating from preschool. How did THAT come up so fast!? We'll squeeze it in between baseball games and teacher’s conferences, baby naps and feeding schedules, and incessant puppy-dog walks. He won't be the center of the universe, though, and he'll understand. That's why he's "my bear."

So this post is for you, Jake-a-doo…

You get hand-me-downs and don't complain. Your brother's favorite shirt is now your favorite shirt, and the grease stains give it personality.

Your brother’s old shoes are practically bare to the sole. But you're happy they don't hurt like new.

You never had your own room. But you appreciate the company.

You hold the remote as infrequently as your mother does. You usually watch what someone else has selected, or you find another diversion.

You have to watch your brother's sporting events because you’re too young to play. And you're content to sit there with a candy bar and a soda.

You sit in the backseat and don't ask questions. Where are we going? What are we doing? Why are we stopped? How long will it take? How fast are we going? Look here… Look there…

You make PLENTY of mistakes. But you’re usually SO remorseful, it’s hard to stay angry.

You're happy with any restaurant that serves a hotdog and spicy chicken (hot wings). You don’t sulk if the menu is less than satisfactory.

You don't get a lot of one-on-one mommy time. But you make the most of it and enjoy your independence.

During the morning crazies, I sometimes forget your breakfast. An hour (or more) later, you politely say, "Mom, I'm still hungry."

You're always compared to your other siblings. But you find a way to be unique even if no one seems to be paying attention.

In other words, Jacob, thanks for being easy going, for occasionally sleeping past 7:30, for making me laugh, for not understanding the meaning of jealousy, for the big blue-eyed smiles, and all the dandelions...