“I’m a typical middle child. I’m the mediator. The one that makes everything OK, puts their own needs aside to make sure everybody’s happy,” rationalises American actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. However, does the middle child always think this way?
TheAsianparent spoke to two people who are the middle child in the family. Justin Li, 23, and Jesslyn Tan, 19, explain what it’s like being stuck in the middle.
TheAsianparent (TAP): Tell me a bit about your family members.
Justin Li (J.L):I come from a family of four, two sisters – Sueann (25) and Beulah, (16) and a brother, Jevan (20).
Jesslyn Tan (J.T): My sister’s name is Ray Chi; she’s currently working as a social worker. My brother’s name is Eugene. He’s currently studying in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, taking Diploma in Chinese studies. We share the same room.
TAP: What is it like growing up as a middle child? Did you ever feel jealous as a child?
J.L: Interestingly enough, I never felt the ‘effects’ of being a middle child. I think as a child, we were all just happy to have three other people to play with. I never felt jealous and I give my parents credit for that – they never gave us any reason to feel deprived. They always encouraged us to do things as a family and to share whatever we have with our siblings. Whenever one of us did well in school, for example, we would go out for dinner as a family to celebrate, but at the same time, my parents would encourage the rest of us that we had the potential to just as well.
J.T: Sometimes I felt left out due to the common topics my elder sister and my younger brother would share.
TAP: Describe one childhood memory you have doing something nice with your brother and sisters.
J.L: Many but the one that stands out is 3 of us rehearsing and performing for my parents.
J.T: Our best childhood memories come from planning birthday surprises for our parents. There was once when we all woke up at 4 am in the morning to cook a few dishes and a birthday cake for my mum. The cake didn’t turn out too well, but we certainly enjoyed the whole process.
TAP: Describe one childhood memory you have doing something mean to your brother and sisters.
J.L: I tricked my younger sister into thinking that toothpaste could be used on pimples. And she fell for it! I had a really good laugh when I saw toothpaste on her face.
J.T: Well I leaked my sister’s secret when I promised her that I would not. Also got into ‘combat mode’ and punched my brother.
TAP: Do you ever blame your brother or sisters for things you did?
J.L: Yes. This always happens when I’m in a bad mood. I’ll just blame everyone, even when I know that it is my fault. But when I cool down I will usually apologise.
J.T: Guilty (laughs), from the past to the present.
TAP: Did you rebel, etc to gain attention?
J.T: Yes and I still do (laughs).
J.L: Even as a kid, I never felt that I had to do anything to get my parents’ attention. My mum would always go the extra mile to make health tonics and fruit juice for us and my dad spends a lot of time with the family despite his busy schedule.
TAP: How does being the middle child now feel as compared to in the past?
J.L: I feel more responsible for my younger siblings’ future and how I am supposed to be a good role model for them than I did in the past. I think this naturally happens when you go out to work and discover the realities of life. On the other hand, we have also gone through different experiences in life and I find that I can gain many different perspectives and insights from them as well.
J.T: I feel loved by my parents. In the past, I had no say in anything, now I do. I get advice from my elder sister most of the time and giving my brother advice when it comes to relationship problems. I feel fortunate having to experience having an older sibling and a younger one.
TAP: How were you treated by your parents while growing up (i.e. academic expectations, attention etc)
J.L: My parents were very fair in their treatment and expectations. But yes, they expected results and anyone who fell short would be in serious trouble – they will have a lot of explaining to do.
J.T: When it comes to relationships, they were very concerned about it and often asked me questions like, “so does any guy likes you now?” My parents are often asking about my life in school, and making sure I am coping well with everything despite having so many activities like ballet and electone classes. Their expectation of me when it comes to ballet is really high. They expect me to open a ballet school on my own in the future.
TAP: Any advice for parents on what they should do to make sure their middle child is not being left out?
J.L: Spend personal time with each child and encourage your children to spend time with each other. In my family, we are able to communicate effectively with each other and this, in my opinion, really helps break the barriers between the eldest, middle and youngest child.
I think that one of the mistakes parents make is assuming that a particular method which worked on the eldest child would work on the second child as well.
J.T: Let the middle child know that they will always be there for her; constantly asking her how everything is. Be more sensitive but not over-sensitive and overprotective.