The middle child syndrome is not a clinical syndrome, it is a result of the birth order or discrepancy the child faces. It is the feeling of exclusion experienced by middle children, which occurs because the first child is more prone to receiving privileges and responsibilities while the youngest is more likely to receive indulgences. The middle child, left with no clear role in the family, can end up feeling lost. The confusion this creates in the middle child can lead to neurotic – and not psychotic issues, which is why it is not categorised as a clinical syndrome or disorder.
Dr Megha Tulsiyan, a therapist at Inner Space explains, “Our birth order often influences our experiences of life. Parents are more nervous and excited for their first-born, as parenting is a totally new experience for them. There is some exclusivity that firstborns therefore feel. With the second born, they are often more relaxed since they already have some experience of raising a child. When the third child also enters the family, the youngest sibling is the ‘baby’ of the house and tends to get more attention.”
Ojaswani Choraria, a middle child from Mumbai, believes that at one point in our lives we all feel a little neglected, but as and when we mature, we realise it’s nothing but a feeling.
She says, “I feel like an odd one when they support my elder brother more than me or allow him to do certain things and not me, or when they pamper my younger sister more. But like I said, I think it’s only about how you feel, and it is something that needs to go itself.”
In fact, Ojaswani thinks it has its own perks as parents are so invested with the other two that you get away with anything! Besides this benefit, she gets to play the middle child card a lot, getting her way through things they don’t initially agree to.
Nikunj Pherwani from Mumbai, who recently heard of the middle child syndrome over the internet says, “Even after being a middle child, I never felt like I was ever neglected. I’d say my parents did a good job in raising me, because they never treated me differently from the other two. I was probably a little less pampered than the two of my siblings, but never less loved. Also, there’s an 8-year gap between my older brother and me, so I guess I got all the attention I needed.”
He adds, “I don’t feel sorry for being the middle child and I don’t want others to feel that way either. I’m really happy to get the best of both worlds; an older and a younger sibling.”
“One of the greatest challenges middle children could face is fighting against rigid notions that people have built around them being the middle child. Another challenge could be that they have to rebel, to get what they want, as children…Middle borns may be more rebellious, but categorising them as rebels needs to stop.”
Franky Gupta from New Delhi has had a different experience. She says, “Being the middle child in my family I never felt anything special about myself because my parents never made me realise that ever. No offence to my parents, they gave me everything that I needed for everyday life, but I would say I never got anything that I wanted.”
She adds, “Girls at the age of 15 starts planning how they will celebrate their ‘sweet 16’, but I would just pray to get something that I could claim to be mine. Be it a school bag or stationery, I was always handed over my elder sister’s stuff.”
According to Ujjwal Yadav a therapist from Mind Over Image, it is a middle-class syndrome, because of which much emotional disharmony can develop in the child and it can also reflect in their adulthood. It comes more from the circumstances than the birth order.
Identity crisis can be one of the issues a middle child goes through since they constantly shuffle between authority and responsibility. It might make them very gullible to relationships or emotionally abusive in relationships, as they will be constantly looking for something that they did not receive.
“Unfortunately, parenting in today’s generation, especially in Indian culture, is not so evolved and thoughtful, so it’s quite prevalent. Parents should look at each child as an individual because they need to understand that just because they come from the same parents or the same combination of genes, it doesn’t mean they will be the same individual,” she further adds.
Invariably parents are overburdened with responsibilities and fail to give attention to the middle child. There is also aggression. The elder one invariably sets the rules and bosses over the younger ones, yet the youngest of all is always pampered. The middle one is bound to break rules and think they are not loved as much, leading to emotional burn. Eventually, this leads to middle children not having very stable relationships, becoming overly-dependent or completely aloof.
Purvi Shah, a psychologist from Mumbai says, “Parents should never use phrases like ‘Oh, you’re elder, you should understand’. Since they are children too, they will not understand, and you can’t expect them to understand. When we have parental sessions, parents don’t see themselves at fault and rather say, ‘I’m the parent, how can I possibly neglect my child?’. But in reality, they do not have the insight into what they are actually doing. They should consciously start giving equal attention to all their kids.”
When one of the children is doing exactly what the parents would expect, it leads to favouritism for that child. Parents need to understand that when the child is being a rebel, they are seeking more emotional attachment. Fostering love between the siblings is one of the key solutions to the whole issue.
One of the greatest challenges middle children could face is fighting against rigid notions that people have built around them being the middle child. Another challenge could be that they have to rebel, to get what they want, as children. Although this could turn out to be positive in the long run, as they learn to be more independent, and to negotiate their way through what they want, thus developing important life skills. Middle borns may be more rebellious, but categorising them as rebels needs to stop.