Middle child often struggles to find his place in family

August 28, 1997

Question: Does the middle child really have greater adaptive problems than his or her siblings?

Dr. Dobson: The middle child does sometimes find it more difficult to establish his or her identity within the family. She enjoys neither the status of the eldest nor the attention given to the baby.

Furthermore, she is likely to be born at a busy period in the life of her parents, especially her mother. Then, during her preschool years, her precious territory is invaded by a cute little newborn who steals Mama from her. Is it any wonder that she often asks, "Who am I and where is my place in life?"

Question: What can I do to help my middle child figure out who she is?

Dr. Dobson: Parents should take steps to ensure the identity of all their children, not just as members of the family - which can be accomplished in other ways - but as unique individuals. This especially is needed on behalf of middle children. Let me offer a couple of suggestions that will illustrate what I mean.


1. It is meaningful for Dad to "date" each child, one at a time, periodically. The other kids should not be told where they are going until it is revealed by the boy or girl in retrospect. They can play miniature golf, go bowling, play basketball, eat tacos or pizza, or visit a skating rink. The choice of activities should be made by the child whose turn has arrived.

2. Ask each offspring to design his or her own flag, which can be sewn in canvas or cloth. That flag is then flown in the front yard on the child's "special" days, including birthdays, after she has received an A in school, when he scores a goal in soccer or hits a home run in baseball, and so forth.

There are other ways to accomplish the same purpose. The target, again, is to plan activities that emphasize one child's individuality apart from his identity within the group.

How does divorce affect kids?

Question: My marriage has been a very unsatisfying thing for me. I would divorce my husband if it were not for my concern for our three children. What does the research say about the impact of divorce on kids?

Dr. Dobson: It's now known that emotional development in children is directly related to the presence of warm, nurturing, sustained and continuous interaction with both parents. Anything that interferes with the vital relationship with either mother or father can have lasting consequences for the child.

One landmark study revealed that 90 percent of children from divorced homes suffered from an acute sense of shock when the separation occurred, including profound grieving and irrational fears.

Fifty percent reported feeling rejected and abandoned, and indeed half of the fathers never came to see their children three years after the divorce. One-third of the boys and girls feared abandonment by the remaining parent, and 66 percent experienced yearning for the absent parent with an intensity that researchers described as overwhelming.

Most significant, 37 percent of the children were even more unhappy and dissatisfied five years after the divorce than they had been at 18 months. In other words, time did not heal their wounds.

That's the real meaning of divorce. It is certainly what I think about, with righteous indignation, when I see infidelity and marital deceit portrayed on television as some kind of exciting game for two.

The bottom line is that you are right to consider the welfare of your children in deciding whether or not to seek a divorce. As empty as the marital relationship continues to be for you, it is likely, from what I know of your circumstances, that your kids will fare better if you choose to stick it out.

James Dobson is president of Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home. Write to him in care of The Herald-Mail Co., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

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