Things You Say as a Middle Child

Some of you have probably been here…

I’ve touched on this subject before. I’ve been fascinated by the term ever since I came across it as an actual child, as well as by observations and studies on how birth order in families with siblings might influence the shape and course of our lives, character traits, social interactions. It’s not all black and white, though. Just because you were born the youngest doesn’t mean you can’t have leadership skills, same as being the oldest doesn’t set you up as domineering.

Plenty of people will think or even tell you to your face that being a middle child is nothing special (speaking from experience). But we all know the truth, don’t we? And then we say things like…

To be fair

Disclaimer/

Before I continue

I would like to point out

Just to conclude a thought

It’s possible

You might remember/

Maybe

On the one hand

On the other hand

Well

It’s just my opinion, but

I don’t mind either way

I’m OK with both

I haven’t really thought about this

I don’t have enough information

Is everyone comfortable?

Do you have time/ Do you have a minute/ Am I interrupting/ I can call you later

It’s OK, I can wait

No, you go first

Hmm, I can’t pick just one, but maybe we can do something with both…

Growing up, Charmed (the one from 1998) was one of my favorite shows. Sure, it was about witches, which (ha) added to the excitement, but it was also about three sisters, something I immediately related to. Piper Halliwell was my favorite sister from the beginning, though I loved the other two for various reasons. But, you see, Piper was the middle sister, like me, a fact that was mentioned on the show often enough and I was thrilled, as any kid would be, to have a fictional figure to look at. The interesting thing is, spoiler alert, that while Piper’s family life changed quite a bit, she retained her middle sister characteristics throughout the show.

Once a middle child, always a middle child…

Adult Middle Child

Being a middle child is something that stays with you for the rest of your life. It’s certainly one of the most influential parts of my identity, and a part I’m still discovering. Funny thing: despite living in my adopted hometown for a long time and obviously having answered a lot of questions about myself in German, I find that the translation for middle child still eludes some people, or they’ve never come across it. Mittelkind is a literal translation, but since Mittel also means tool or remedy, I guess I can see why Germans would be confused when I confidently state “Ich bin ein Mittelkind” in response to a question about how many siblings I have. I’ve Googled the word countless times to check that it still exists, as you do.

Another term is Sandwich-Kind. I’m not a big fan, because, without fail, saying it turns on an image in my mind of a person being pressed between two life-size slices of toast, with salami and cheese slipping out. So far I’ve managed to keep this description to myself, verbally, at least. I don’t mind saying Sandwich-Kind if Mittelkind doesn’t spark understanding. Of course, the most simple way to go, instead of trying to stick to explaining who you are in this sibling constellation, is just to answer you have two siblings. Then further questions might follow, with the characteristic German love for putting things in order, about whether they are your younger or older siblings. At which point you can a) experience all of the above OR b) answer “Both, I’m the middle one”.

We’re not done yet. The conversation is just getting started. Or rather, the interview…

So, did you get enough attention as a child? You must have been under a lot of pressure? Are you good at negotiating? Is this something special? Why do you say it like that, that you’re a middle child? Do you feel more like an older sibling or a younger sibling? How far apart are you with your siblings? Do you get on well? Were you pampered? I’ve never even heard of the term middle child, does it mean something special? (If you want me to say I think I’m special, I’m more than happy to oblige.)

In reality, surprisingly without having (yet) reverted to deeper research about middle children going through life, I am able to identify quite a few points based on my own experience. Even within a varied group of friends I will regularly find myself in constellations of threes, and based on age I’m usually either the middle one or the oldest. When someone tells you you’re like a big sister to them, it’s very touching. At the same time you appreciate older mentors you become closer to also because they remind you what it’s like when someone looks out for you. You might find yourself prefacing sentences or responses to a discussion with phrases like “To be fair”. You don’t say “To be completely fair”, because you know it’s not possible to be completely fair, even though you keep trying, dammit. Expressing opinions is sometimes tricky, because basically you’re just always searching for that middle ground. And before you know it, you’re saying things like “We could do this, but I really don’t mind either way”, then dealing with two more polite friends saying the same thing, finally making the decision since you’ve turned into the middle party. You listen A LOT.

The truth is, of course, that being a middle child as an adult is an experience like any other adult one – you’re just a person with a background and a past. Lots of the stuff described above is not exclusive to being the second-born of three. And it’s certainly never dull.