One of my friends announced good news the other day by posing her youngest daughter in a pink dress and with a sign that read: “Soon-to-be middle child. Good thing I can’t read yet.”
Predictably, justifiably, people in our group chat went wild. College friends asked if they knew the baby’s sex yet, and her best friend, who was born in February, expressed great delight to finally share a birth month. I made my regular contribution, which is telling the mom-to-be that “Gina” would be a lovely name choice. I couldn’t help but be a bit curious, too: how is the little girl in the pink dress doing to react?
As most parents these days are choosing to have fewer children, the middle child has become much rarer. It’s no secret that women, for various reasons, are no longer having those big, boisterous families of days gone by. A quick look at any census will reveal that more women have one or two children as opposed to three or more. The number of women having four or more children has shrunk exponentially in recent decades.
Those numbers used to be reversed. I don’t think I could name many families in River Bourgeois in the 1980s which had less than three children. I suspect that the further back you turn the calendar, the larger the average number would be. When my grandparents would speak about families, it was not uncommon for someone to be one of 10 or one of a dozen.
Let’s face it – raising children is expensive and tedious and nerve-wracking and time-consuming and increasingly difficult. Working parents rarely get the support they need and today’s moms and dads are expected to spend more time and money than ever before to ensure each child can keep pace in a world where one-on-one tutoring and private sports coaches are common. Families can swing the expenses for one, maybe two, children but resources are probably stretched to the breaking point with three.
This, in a roundabout way, leads me back to middle children and what it might mean to society as a whole if there are fewer around. As they grow scarcer, there is an emerging appreciation for their unique characteristics. They are the diplomats, the go-betweens, the peace-brokers, the dealmakers, and often the open-minded speculators.
I was the oldest of three children. I was, and remain to this day, a type-A personality. I have always been domineering and assertive, and I function best when I’m in charge, as my siblings would confirm.
My sister was the baby, personifying every preconceived notion you might have about a little girl being the baby of the family. She was beautiful and soft spoken, with long blonde ringlets, and had the world wrapped around her finger.
Then there was my brother, right in the middle. I’m not sure he was the quintessential middle child, but he definitely stayed out of our way and chilled out. He still does, taking everything that comes his way in stride, rarely getting worked up. I think he’d say that my sister and I just cancelled out each other’s energy.
I shudder to think if there had only been two of us. It’s only now, since I’m older, that I see what an important buffer my brother was, and what a crucial role he played.
Though I suppose that would have been no different than at my house now. Two kids seven years apart was a challenge at times, but we all survived. And although I often think of what life might have been like had I kept going and had a girl, I’m not sure that would have been the right dynamic for my house.
Most of my friends are in the same boat, although there are a few exceptions. I have one friend currently working on her fourth child, another who stopped at five, and yet another who has six. Six! That’s a lot of laundry, is all I can think of. My mind won’t even wrap around that number, so the thought of living in the 30s and having a dozen is inconceivable to me.
I’m not going to worry too much about that oblivious little girl in the pink dress, though. One day she will appreciate the benefits of middleness (or at least the ability to get away with so much while her siblings distract Mom and Dad).