The frustrations of being second

When I found out I was having a third child, I bought a book about birth order right away. Jilly was going to become a “middle child” (gasp!), and I needed to figure out how to help her deal with this. The interesting thing was the book left me with a feeling that the middle kids usually end up pretty well adjusted, with a better sense of self and stronger social connections than first or last borns. Phew!

What I didn’t really consider was how being second, after an Alpha older sister, would affect her. This is a bit ironic since I am an Alpha older sister with a younger sister, and know of plenty of other sister/sister pairs.

I didn’t anticipate her frustration.

Frustration that she cannot make her letters too well (yet). That she doesn’t color in the lines all the time (yet). That she doesn’t sing as loud, jump as high, read as fast as her 2-year-older sister. . .you get the idea.

Even when she doesn’t make a fuss, I may find something that hits me right in the gut. She’ll destroy something that she’s worked hard on, a coloring picture or a page of handwritten letters.

I know that when I gently ask her what’s wrong, or why she scribble over her hard work, I’m likely to be met with loud sobs from a little girl who tries hard, but is two years younger, will always be two years younger.

It hurts my heart.


We saw one of our favorite kids’ musicians, Justin Roberts, play this past weekend; see what I thought over at Fairly Odd Reviews.


  1. I have a girl first and a boy second. With nearly 3 years between them my son is still trying to do everything his sister does and at 2.5 years old he is frustrated whenever he can’t (or isn’t allowed) to do everything she does. I don’t think he experiences that self-recrimination just yet, but I can see it coming and as you said just perfectly, it hurts my heart. There doesn’t seem to be any way around this! I was the oldest child and as an adult I can look back and understand a little better what my younger sisters may have been thinking and feeling but as a kid I just wanted them to LEAVE ME ALONE and not copy everything I did. I don’t know how to teach my oldest not to be as big of a jackass as I was! 🙂

  2. MG, that is exactly what we are dealing with (and I think my kids are roughly the same age as yours). I need to keep reminding myself that they are different and encourage them when they get upset that they cannot do what their siblings do. It doesn’t help that on occasion, my oldest, being a smart ass 7 year old, likes to taunt them as well. Sometimes, I feel that the younger two are missing out because of ME. That they can’t do their letters because I didn’t have the time to work one on one with them when they were younger.

    Hang in there! I’m sure she’ll find something that she can do better soon!

  3. That breaks my heart too, with my second. I often wonder if him being the only boy makes things better or worse and I can never decide.

  4. Issas Crazy World says

    I am having some of the same problems at my house. Since the baby was born, we have seen more tantrums, pouting and attitude than we did in the first four years of her life. Being the baby after a dominate sister was one thing, being the middle with a strong perfectionist as a big sister and an adorable eatable baby brother, isn’t easy. I just keep hoping time will work it out.

  5. Oh man, it is so hard to be #2. Every day it’s a struggle of Trey wanting to do what his big brother can do, no matter what.

  6. Mrs. Chicken says

    I have these issues … with my eldest. She is just like her father: if it isn’t perfect, it’s garbage. I work hard on showing her that imperfections are what make us beautiful. But it does really hurt, doesn’t it, to see them like that?

  7. Oh poor jilly. Is it possible this isn’t just a second child thing but just a child thing?

    I have no doubt that in time, they’ll all realize what they’re good at. That’s the cool thing about kids–they can all do something well.

    Besides, coloring in the lines is overrated.

  8. Yeah. Um. Welcome to my world. Always being three years behind the ‘perfect one’.

  9. Yes I know what you are saying. Paige suffers from “middle child syndrome” and as much as I try to be aware of it, we both end up frusturated sometimes. Paige and Jilly are so much alike!

  10. DysdHousewife says

    Mine too. 🙁

  11. Dysd Housewife says

    I also want to add, that, My second in line is the most confident, and well adjusted of all of my kids. She doesn’t even know what middle means. 🙂

  12. My oldest child is the one that is worst with this “sibling rivalry” She always has to be the best. We try to stress that everyone is good at some things and not so good at others, but goodness it does get tiring.

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