The Middle Child

Daniel Siegel, attachment researcher, neuroscientist, and author of a dozen books on the brain, teaches us that we create a life that reflects our brain.


We create a life that reflects our brain.


This isn’t just something the mystics and the new age hippies espouse with their manifestation boards and drum circles. It’s hard science.


So, if we believe we are unlovable then we provoke rejection from our most beloved people. This is more than a cognitive choice. It’s a reflex. It has to do with the mechanics of our brain and the wiring of our early experiences.


I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy on November 15, 2014. My five-year-old son just became a middle child instead of The Baby. Since then, Josh has provoked disapproval from me.


Example: Last night I was looking up how to use butternut squash in a salad and whether or not it was reasonable to add raisins instead of cranberries (it’s not) and Josh comes by and wordlessly shuts my computer. Then he ambles away, laughing hysterically.


He also ate half the tube of toothpaste, for the second time.


After I instructed him not to touch the muffin tray, he reached out anyway, and predictably burned his finger.


I said, “Josh, don’t stomp. You’ll wake up the baby.”


Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.


I said, “Don’t put the binky in Sam’s mouth because you’ll wake him up.”


Josh promptly put the binky in Sam’s mouth.


Josh drives me CRAZY. He doesn’t listen nor follow directions and purposely does the exact opposite of what I want him to do—just to mess with me, the exhausted post partum mom.


I am reminded of a Louie CK joke.


He quipped, “Before children when I’d see a parent yelling at a child in the grocery story, I’d think, ‘Oh that poor child. What is wrong with that mom?’ After I had children, I’d witness the same scene and instead think, ‘That poor, poor woman. What has that horrible child done to her.’


During one of Josh’s oppositional moments I accidentally visualized sending him outside.


“Go play outside,” I’d yell and then enforce it.


I pictured him behind the sliding glass door crying; his giant alligator tears falling down his cheeks. That’s Josh’s worst fear, I think, to be behind a pane of glass separated and rejected by the people he loves the most; and yet that’s exactly the response his behavior provokes. Luckily, I have Herculean mental strength and self control not to obey his command.


I’m not going to send Josh outside, because the other half of the story is this boy is

bad-ass and hilarious and so intensely loveable I couldn’t imagine loving him more (or less) for any reason. He shines.


Josh collected snails in a plastic 16 oz cup, set up a table in front of our house, and made a sign that read, ”Snails for sale. $4.00 each.” Only one snail was purchased by his sister and she got a deal; it was free.


Josh wanted to invent a diving board flinger to solve his sister’s fear of diving. He imagined that he could just push a button and take the choice out of it for her.


When his sister cried about a mean friend, Josh offered (at about two-years-old) to beat up the culprit.


He wore dresses like his big sister and when he started realizing that boys don’t usually he just put on pants, too, tucking his dress into his pants when he was in public.


Josh is obsessed with the regular boy stuff including cars, tools and trains and he also loves Origami, classical music, and drawing pictures. He has an uncanny ability to imitate other people and can run as fast as an 8 year old. He loves to dance.


My heart is tied to his every single day. I believe in Josh’s soul.


Yet, he provokes my irritation and anger and disapproval, despite my deepest feelings about him and my intention to fill him up with love and approval every day.


Parenting requires ENORMOUS self-control.


As an antidote to this nasty dynamic, where Josh was annoying me and I sent him disapproval, which made him act out more, which caused me to disapprove more, I started noticing what Josh was doing right.


I assigned him little jobs around the house like getting the water for my tea and putting a blanket on the baby. I praised him with every success. I ignored the oppositional moments—when possible.


Then one night, I put him to bed and listed all the things he did right that day.   He said, “But I got into some mischief, too.”


I responded, “When I was a little girl, I did mischief, too.”


He said, “You are still kind of sneaky with popsicles.”


I told him that if he could see himself through my eyes, he’d never doubt himself again.


He put his arms around my neck and we cuddled till he fell asleep.   I am shaping Josh’s brain right now so that he has a template for love. Even when he is struggling with being a middle child and acting out, he is still intensely loveable. In the end, he will see himself through my eyes and when he looks in the mirror, he will see what I see: A capable and fiercely independent but also deeply loving and affectionate, beautiful boy.

The Attach Place Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Parenting with Love and Laughter,

Jennifer Olden, LMFT

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