Parents aiming to achieve that elusive balance between overparenting and underattentive may want to take a cue from the middleborns among us.
A new book, "The Secret Power of Middle Children: How Middleborns Can Harness Their Unexpected and Remarkable Abilities" (Hudson Street Press), argues that the intense parental attention aimed at first- and lastborns can leave those middle kids better at negotiating, compromising and thinking creatively.
"Middleborns have the benefit of being the somewhat overlooked children, and that's not necessarily a bad thing," says Catherine Salmon, associate professor of psychology at the University of Redlands in California and co-author of the book. "Especially when the opposite is the overly coddled version."
There are about 70 million middleborns (adults and children) in the U.S., according to the book. "Any child born between the firstborn and the lastborn is a middle child," the authors write. "But that doesn't mean all the middles in any given family are exactly alike. Each middle still searches for his or her own distinguishing niche."
This search, Salmon says, is part of what helps them succeed later in life. "In families you have a firstborn child who tends to have a particular kind of position as the recipient of all the parental expectations and adoration," she says. "And the baby in the family usually has a special role, (with) things expected of them and other things they're not expected to do."
Middleborns are often in charge of creating their own roles, frequently with the least outside interference.
"It makes them very resilient adults who tend to think outside the box," Salmon says. "They're more willing to take that leap of faith and believe in things that are somewhat unproven. A different way of thinking and a willingness to entertain crazy ideas often leads to innovation."
Salmon and co-author Katrin Schumann's research also shows middleborns have lower rates of infidelity and divorce and higher rates of marital satisfaction.
"They tend to value a home where everyone gets along," Salmon says. "When children can't push their siblings around, like a firstborn can, and they can't do the whiny baby thing, they often learn to get both people (in a relationship) what they want."
And they tend to be fiercely loyal.
There is a downside. Because middleborns tend to sacrifice a lot, they often stay in bad relationships, especially if their loyalty is coupled with low self-esteem.
"Middleborns can end up with a deflated sense of self-esteem because of their lack of a unique role in the family," Salmon says. "Parents need to be conscious of that and reward them for what they do well."