On Saturday morning, as happens in houses all over the country on weekend mornings, my three kids bundled into our bed, at various times ranging from 5am to the somewhat more civilised 8 o’clock. The baby was snuggled into me, and Clara, my five year old was cuddled up with her dad. Emmie, my middle child, arrived last, and clambered into the middle. A few minutes later she started to cry, wailing “nobody is cuddling me, why am I the only one in the family not getting cuddles?”.
My heart broke, as does every parent’s heart a few times each day, and as I pulled her close, I promised myself to work harder at not letting her feel left out.
Moments later, she asked me what we were doing for the day. “Well you’re going with daddy to watch Clara’s swimming lesson, and the after lunch we’re going to Clara’s optician appointment” Oh dear, not for the first time, I’m sensing a pattern here.
Middle child syndrome – as an eldest child, I’ve never really given it much credence (sorry dear sisters! there were two “middle childs” in our house of four girls) but as a parent, I see it and I worry about it (is there anything that parents don’t worry about?)
In our house, particularly over the last year, everyone but Emmie-in-the-middle is getting attention. Clara started school, which was a big adjustment for me as well as for her. I went back to work after maternity leave, and we hired a childminder, whereas previously the girls had always been in creche.
All of this happened within one week (I know! not well thought out in hindsight) and my five year old did not adapt well. It took months of upset and crying fits and cold shoulders before we got back on track, thanks in no small part to a book called “The Highly Sensitive Child” (wonderful if your child finds change difficult).
So Clara has been the focus of much attention over the last six months, and although the upset has been resolved, there is homework every night, a uniform to be washed, lunches to be packed, playdates and birthday parties – it all takes a lot of time and a lot of attention.
The baby gets a lot of attention. I probably don’t need to explain this further to anyone who has a baby or knows babies. He’s a baby, and our family life revolves around him. And he’s not a great sleeper, but we think he’s cute, and we are all madly in love with him.
Then Emmie is there there in the middle – always the one happy to play independently; funny; petite; sensitive; cheeky; foot-stomping; a little fairy who loves to do made-up-ballet and to sing American Pie.
She deserves attention, but I know I need to go out of my way to make sure she gets her fair share.
I have looked recently for hooks, anything that I can use in the midst of all the junior infant homework and baby-induced bleary-eyes to single her out. She and I share a birthday month, so I started to call her my June-buddy. She loves this, and calls me June-buddy back. She takes it a step further if I’m being firm with her, saying “but mum, June-buddies never get cross with each other”
We also started to do one-on-one activities with each of the kids but especially with Emmie. We had noticed the lovely reaction we get when we divide and conquer (in a good way) so started to do this every so often. Then I read a piece from David Coleman which advocated this, as well as hearing similar advice on a Newstalk parenting slot recently, so I’ve upped the ante, and we now try to do something individually with at least one of the three every weekend.
And the lovely thing is, they don’t mind at all what that activity is. Emmie was visibly thrilled recently to be going to an eye appointment with me, saying “is it just me mama, nobody else except you and me?”
And she has been appointed her dad’s shopping-buddy – they go to buy groceries together because he tells her that he needs her help to pick all the best wraps and strawberries and spaghetti (her three favourite foods, not together though)
I’ve started to keep a record of funny and wise comments from this little girl, like the time I said “Girls, please don’t be so childish” and she replied “but mum, we are childs?” And notes to remind myself of the cartoon voices and indeterminate accents she puts on for no reason other than fun. I can show her these notes when she’s older, and say “see, we didn’t leave you out!”
And of course it’s nearly June, so we’ll be having a big birthday bash for this nearly four-year-old. She has been planning it for ten months now and the excitement is reaching feverish levels.
Being four won’t solve everything, she’ll still be the middle-child, but I’m working hard to show her every day that she’s the most special almost-four-year-old in my world.
*since this was first posted, my children have been renamed with blogger-names, mostly for their own future privacy, partly for the fun of picking new names