I don't care what science or psychology says about the middle child syndrome, because I know first hand that being the middle child totally sucks. Stuck between two sisters myself, I know the struggle all too well, and while recent studies show birth order might not matter, it certainly didn't feel that way growing up. Luckily for me, I had good friends, a passion for journaling, and a love for reading that helped me survive as the middle child of my family.
Like Stephanie Tanner, Jan Brady, and the rest of the middle children of the world, when I was growing up, I constantly felt left our and ignored by my family, which in retrospect seems as ridiculous as my then favorite red leather jacket, and I was always fighting for the attention I felt I wasn't getting. I had a serious chip on my shoulder, and I remember complaining to my friends at school about how my family "just didn't get me" because after all, who was I to them? My older sister was the first, the special one, and my younger sister was the baby that everyone adored, but what was I? In truth, I was a grumpy little kid with a habit of being bored and jealous all at once. Luckily, I found books, and they were just what I needed.
On the most basic level, books were great company for the lonely days I usually spent brooding over all the attention my sisters were getting while I, the middle child, was usually shunned (OK, not really, but I was a pretty dramatic kid, and that's how it felt.) When I did feel left out or alienated from my family, I could always find refuge in a good story. Reading kept me busy and entertained, and helped me become more independent. I quickly learned being alone wasn't the worst thing in the world, as long as you had a good book to keep you company. Who needed an annoying family to ignore you when you have an adventure awaiting you at the turn of a page?
But books weren't only entertainment for me. They were my escape from sisterly drama, my companion when I felt no one else was paying attention, and my guide while I tried to figure out who exactly I was.
One of the biggest struggles I had as a middle child was finding where I fit in and what I wanted to be in a family where everyone else's roles were so clearly defined. My parents were, obviously, mom and dad, care givers, rule enforcers, and the heads of the house hold. As for my sisters, the older one was the leader and the protector, the bossy one who got to be in change when our parents were gone, and the younger one would always be the baby. But where did that leave me? I couldn't put a label on myself nearly as easily as I could my family members, but books helped me find a way around it.
Books like To Kill a Mockingbird, Bless Me,Ultima, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn helped me shape my own stories and gave me the inspiration I needed to carve my own path and create my own identity.
While I was growing up, I read a lot of coming-of-age stories with young people just like me — alone, confused, and trying to figure out who they were. Books like To Kill a Mockingbird , Bless Me,Ultima, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn helped me shape my own stories and gave me the inspiration I needed to carve my own path and create my own identity. These books about kids like me who could feel ignored and who could feel lonely but kids who ultimately found their own way, they helped give me the perspective I needed but couldn't get jammed in the middle of two other people. They taught me I could be anything I wanted to be, and I didn't have to fit into any kind of mold. Just because my older sister was the leader or my younger sister was the sweet one didn't mean I couldn't be those things, too.
But out of everything reading and books helped me with while I was growing up in the middle, I am most grateful for the way they helped me find my voice and speak up. As a middle child, I felt like my voice was constantly lost in the noise of everything on either side of me. I didn't feel like anyone listened when I talked, let alone cared what I had to say, but reading helped change all that. Brave characters like Nancy Drew, Hermione Granger, and Matilda, characters who spoke up when there was an injustice and girls who refused to let their own voices get drown out, were examples of the kind of girl I could be, and the kind of girl I should be. They taught me that what I had to say mattered, and if people weren't listening, I shouldn't keep quiet — I should just learn to talk louder.
If it wasn't for my love of reading and all of the great stories I've encountered along the way, being a middle child would have been a lot harder. Believe what you will about the middle child syndrome, but take it from me when I tell you that all that anxiety, all that fear of being ignored, it all feels real when it's happening to you. And yes, maybe you say that those things are a part of growing up no matter what your birth order is, but either way, books helped it all feel better. Books help make everything feel better.
Images: ABC; Giphy (2)