Being a middle child is a blessing and a learning experience. There are several studies about the “middle child syndrome” and many other musings and commentary about being in the middle.
For various reasons, the characteristics of being in the middle are interesting. Maybe being in the middle of three vs. four or five children creates a different mix; I don’t know. What I do know is that I am a middle child.
Our family has four children, and my older sister and I were squarely in the middle, with an older brother and a younger sister on either side of us. My older sister and I would argue that we were treated “differently” growing up. It seemed that my older brother was Mom’s “favorite” while my younger “sister” was Dad’s. Whether it was really true or not, I guess it might be all in our perspective.
Today, my older sister and I have a closer relationship than with the other two. We all get along, but my older sister and I just seem to know each other better. It might be due to all that time we spent being in the middle. If no one else was going to recognize us for who we were and what we did, then we certainly would have spent the time supporting each other.
If you research any commentary on being a middle child, you will find some of the following characteristics and personality traits which describe us:
- Usually can read people well
- Can see all sides of a situation
- May be more of a peacemaker, more diplomatic in approach and in relationships
- More independent and creative; a dash of populism may be in the mix
- May not share thoughts and feelings as readily as others
- May not like being compared to others
- May rely on peer and friends groups more
- May be more relaxed and flexible as well as more balanced and generous
Did being in the middle of four siblings make me different? Do those characteristics describe me?
Well, I think various life situations will drive certain traits in people. Growing up in the middle had some impact on me, I’m sure. Just as every elected President of the United States was either a first-born child or first-born son, being in the middle carries certain qualities which make up who we are.
Now, the danger is that it is easy for the middle child personality to be squeezed out. Just think about it. Look around your neighborhoods and schools. How many families do you see with 3 or more children? All right, take out the combined divorced families, because I am sure that introduces a whole new dynamic!
The point is there are not as many middle children as there used to be, so some of these key traits and characteristics may get lost. Isn’t just typical! Middle children getting squeezed out and ignored again! We can’t catch a break anywhere!
Lessons Learned from the Middle. So, what does this all mean? Speaking as a middle child, I believe there are several lessons all need to take to heart and practice. Yes, that means all the oldest and youngest siblings out there; take note and capture a lesson from the middle.
1. Pay attention, give attention: If you have friends, family members, or people you work with who are quieter in nature, reach out to them and listen to what they have to say. They have a lot to offer and, sometimes, just need to be asked.
Also, just don’t recognize or give attention to the “loud” ones. Recognize what someone has been quietly, consistently doing. Without that effort, all may not work as well as it has. It is important to remember and recognize the people in the middle of the activities.
2. Explore issues; put yourself in each person’s perspective: Spend the time to really understand the other side or another perspective. Don’t assume you know it. Ask. As Stephen Covey says in the 7 Habits, seek to understand.
One of the best things to do is to listen and then play it back. After listening, state “what I hear you saying is…. Is that correct?” Gain the middle perspective. It will help propel your own efforts forward and advance your own skills and leadership abilities.
3. Be open; express your thoughts and feelings about an issue: While not dominating a conversation or a situation is essential, it is also important to ensure people hear your perspective clearly. Do it calmly and thoughtfully. Take questions. Ensure you are being understood, too.
All involved in the conversation need to be expressive and engaged. Be heard. Listen. Balance. None of this takes away from getting things done efficiently. With this approach, the outcome may be more result-filled.
4. Be a diplomat: Take a lesson from the middle. Be kind to all sides; try to bring them together. Move all forward as best you can. A diplomat manages the relationships while moving people forward. Yes, I know that leadership means getting things done; however, getting things done at any cost will not last. You don’t need to join the Foreign Service; just treat people in a fair, respectful, and thoughtful way.
I do believe middle children bring certain skills and abilities to the table. We all need to learn a little from each other and expand our own capabilities.