My mother has always rejected the notion of Middle Child Syndrome. She would tell me it was an attempt by me to be dramatic and talk my way out of whatever mess I was getting myself into. Not only was I embarrassed that she did not believe me, but I felt misunderstood. When I approached her about feeling neglected and believing that it was because I was the middle child, she scoffed and told me to stop being dramatic.
I learned that “acting out” and getting in trouble in school would get me the attention I longed for. Attention due to bad behavior was better than none. While my father struggled with his alcoholism for the first ten years of my life, my mother struggled not only raising him, but five children that had different needs. She did a great job providing us with the things our father felt short on, but it was overwhelming. She juggled a lot of balls and as best as she tried, she could not provide us with equal attention.
Whenever I voiced a desire or want, she would be short with me. Granted some of my demands were attention or ice cream. She would ask me to stop my rowdiness while she was attending to the smaller children. When I wasn’t being rowdy, she would dismiss me. I felt too much, I was too much for her to handle. I was persistent, opinionated, and attention seeking which annoyed her. When she would tell me to stop, I would become upset. I would tell her she was mean. She would respond, “Stop being dramatic. I am doing something for your brother or sister.”
It was this repeated narrative that stayed with me. I would eventually attempt to use being “dramatic” as an excuse for my misbehavior. The excuse only made my mother upset. The exposure to my father’s alcoholism and being a middle child wounded me. I was acting out because I felt ignored, misunderstood, and lonely. I had a shell of a father who rejected his children and a mother who was trying to manage the best she could and be strong for her five children.
Growing up with a set of siblings on either side of me made me feel misplaced. As we got older, there were times my older siblings excluded me from activities because I was too young. On the other end, I was too old to play with my younger siblings. This made me feel left out for a significant portion of my pre-teens. When I was at home, I spent a lot of time in my room listening to music. I would journal, read or collage. I remember wishing I could disappear when I felt attacked for spending time alone.
As I aged, I slowly faded into the background. I learned how to live in a state of feeling unimportant. When my mother would ask why I spent a lot of time alone I would retort it was better than being yelled at for existing. This would upset her, and she would repeat her catch phrase. I had a difficult time talking to my mother about my feelings. She dismissed my big feelings as drama or a misrepresentation of the truth. To this day, she argues that my account of certain situations is incorrect. That I am distorting the truth.
It was through therapy that I learned about the concept of the “lost child.” It explains why I have always felt unloved or a sense of not belonging. It is at least a starting point for the very chaotic childhood I had. There are other factors as well, but I will focus on the lost child concept for now. In my adulthood, my mother has expressed to me that she does not worry about me. She is confident that I will always be okay, no matter the situation. It is a relief to hear, but also kind of hard to accept.
Yet again, I feel like I am being written off. Not that she is doing so on purpose. I have been through a lot as a young adult and have always managed to thrive. I learned from my mistakes, eventually, and kept it moving. I did not let the bad moments take center stage or take over my thinking. Bad shit happens to all of us, but I must scrape the shit off my shoes and keep moving. However, a part of me believes that I have made it too easy for my parents not to worry about me. While they were tending to my other siblings, I grew up. I figured things out on my own, survived a lot of stuff they do not know about, and have still managed to have a good head on my shoulders.
I suppose, I was forced to be okay.
It has taken decades to have honest conversations with my mother about my feelings. In my past attempts, I did not have the tools to discuss my feelings without exploding when I was dismissed. I was told that I was making up Middle Child Syndrome and was using it to get attention. The lack of compassion for my feelings brought up the rooted hurt from my childhood.
When I went to college, I took an interest in psychology, I even majored in the subject. I have always had a fascination with human nature and growth. I wanted to learn more about myself and my family dynamic. I remember coming home and trying to discuss things with my mom and she would brush conversations aside. She was proud that I was in school, but I think overwhelmed with the topic of conversation. I reflect on that time and try to justify her dismissal of me as her not knowing how to have conversations about emotions.
My parents have always had tough honest conversations with their children about how dark the world can be. They did not shelter us and prepared us the best they could so that we would be able to manage the dark moments in our lives. Their tough love approach made a lasting impact on their children; however, this tough love approach also limited our ability to share our feelings with them and others. They raised tough children that were stunted in their growth in different areas, but we all struggle to express our feelings and snuffed out our inner child.
It is only now in my thirties that I have been able to express my feelings and that my mother has been receptive. She has had a hard time listening to how I felt as a child and why I feel similarly as an adult. Feeling misplaced for most of your life takes a toll on you. What has been perceived as snobbish behavior or not caring is really me being at odds with my own emotions. When you feel overlooked it is difficult to let people in, despite the familial relationship.
I may not be a “lost child” any longer, but I do feel unknown. There are times I feel that I only matter when there is something major happening in one of my family members life (the same for some “friends”). There are moments where I am needed to help strategize or listen to a problem and then I fade into the background drifting out to sea until someone needs me again.
Photo Credit: All pictures are Mari Rey Originals.