Friday, April 3, 2015

Making middle children feel special

As a father of five, I have two kids who are always being celebrated as the first in our family to do something (Elissa, my oldest) or the last in the family to do something (Jack, my youngest).

Being first or last among siblings holds a certain amount of prestige because everything you experience is associated with some sort of milestone or celebration.

Elissa was the first among my children to attend college. That was a new experience for us and we enjoyed it. When Jack gets there, he'll be the last kid to attend college, and that will also be an interesting experience and probably cause for some reflection.

So what about my three "in-between" kids? No. 2 (Chloe), No. 3 (Jared) and No. 4 (Melanie) are doing the same things now that Elissa did a few years before them, but there's an unavoidable element of, "OK, this is cool, but we've been down this path already." And for every life achievement they have, we know that we'll likely experience that same thing at least one more time when the next kid gets there.

When you are the parent of three or more children, you have to make a concerted effort to ensure your middle kids feel every bit as special and appreciated as those on the ends. Because they ARE just as special and appreciated.

Straight A's need to be celebrated and rewarded with the same enthusiasm you showed Kid #1. Newly acquired skills should be praised equally, even if you're a little fatigued by the time you teach a fifth child how to tie his/her shoes.

You also have to avoid the temptation of comparison, both positive and negative. Saying, "Well, your sister never had this much trouble in Algebra" is just as bad as, "You're so much better at this than your older brother!"

Evaluate and laud your children on their own merits and not in comparison with one another. That's something I've learned along the way.

I am the youngest of four, and on top of that, my siblings are much older than me. (Sorry, Deb and Mark...maybe I shouldn't have said "much.") Therefore, I grew up almost like an only child, and thus I never had to worry much about sibling comparisons.

Not so with my poor daughter Melanie. Mel is one of those people who is very good at almost everything she does. She's a good soccer player, a good trumpet player, a good student. Just an all-around solid, talented person. She's beautiful, too, but I try to play up her other qualities more.

One thing at which Mel is average is spelling. She's not a bad speller, just a little above middle of the road. Her older siblings are all, for whatever reason, excellent spellers. Elissa won the school spelling bee twice, Chloe won it once, and Jared finished second the year Chloe won.

And just this year, Jack and his friend Allie both did really well in their elementary school spelling bee competing as fourth-graders even though they both skipped a grade last year and are, age-wise, third-graders.

Mel never qualified for a spelling bee. She just never happened to be one of the top three spellers in her grade. Does this make her unintelligent? Untalented? Not special? Not in the least. But because her siblings happened to qualify for, and do well in, an event conducted in front of the whole school, I think she feels like she has failed.

Which is so wrong. She is blessed with an abundance of talent, but it happens to be in other areas. So Terry and I have spent years working on her self-confidence and self-esteem. I remember Terry making Mel say over and over, "I'm a beautiful, confident woman. I'm a beautiful, confident woman. I'm a beautiful, confident woman."

And I think it has finally taken hold as Melanie finishes middle school and gets ready to start high school in the fall. At an age when many girls start to doubt their own abilities and worth (thanks to the negative messages with which society bombards them), she is feeling good about herself, which is wonderful to see.

We have a long way to go in our parenting journey, but if there's one thing Terry and I will never stop doing, it's making sure the kids in the middle of the Tennant Family Sandwich feel just as special as the bread on either end.

No comments:

Post a Comment