"Why wreck my middle-child-always-being-left-out syndrome by including me now?"
Everyone loves the oldest child because the parents can rely on them
, they watch out for their siblings
and they're so confidently attractive
. The Youngest Child Wins
because they're the "baby". But what does that leave the one in the middle?
That's essentially the definition of Middle Child Syndrome, in which a child automatically may become The Unfavorite
or the rebellious Black Sheep
, specifically because they are the easiest child to overlook. They're not old enough to be given the responsibilities and privileges of the oldest, and the youngest child took their spot as the spoiled and doted-on "baby" of the family. This tends to be more of an issue when there are three children
rather than four or more. Oftentimes in media, the middle child ends up becoming more of the Deadpan Snarker
or the quirky one for this reason. That, or they end up the best-adjusted between the overly-responsible elder sibling and overly-privileged younger.
Can be somewhat avoided, but not always, if the middle child is special by virtue of being of the opposite gender than their siblings, since they could share a bond with the same-gender parent. But if that parent is not around
, then it's right back to this trope. If the middle child is a girl
, however, she might avoid this by being Daddy's Girl
Truth in Television
. It's common to blame or demonize the parents, but in most cases, they do not realize the situation, and need it brought up to them. There are also times when the parents do see there is a problem, but do not know how to handle it.
Contrast Only Child Syndrome
, which tends to have the opposite effect of too much
attention rather than too little.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Somewhat averted in Ah! My Goddess. Belldandy hardly suffers from being a black sheep or unloved, but she does seem to be somewhat left out, as her nature, elegant and refined, is very different from that of Urd and Skuld, who have much more in common with each other than with her. As a result she's always on the outside of their antics, so much so that she feels jealous.
- Subverted with Kankuro of Naruto. While overall not as powerful as his older sister or younger brother, he's still formidable. It's also implied that none of them really got on well with their father, and Kankuro seems pleased with the opportunity to finally act like a big brother to Gaara after Gaara's Heel-Face Turn. He and Temari are likewise shown to be close. However he is all-but ignored by a lot of the fanbase.
- Kozue in Working suffers from this, being the third child of the five Takanashi siblings. This is compounded by the fact that her younger brother Souta is the only son of the family and thus receives a disproportionate amount of attention such that she is often forgotten. As a result, she grew up to be a Hard-Drinking Party Girl who simply wanted more attention.
- Inverted with Killua, the Deuteragonist of Hunter × Hunter. He is the White Sheep, but he's the favorite of his psychotic mother Kikyo, and his father Silva is sure that Killua will become like himself. Killua is also beloved by three of his four brothers. Illumi is an overprotective and extreme older brother, Kalluto joins the Phantom Troupe in the hope of bringing his brother home, and Alluka can't not love Killua, the only one of the family who loves Alluka. Even Milluki admits that Killua has the most potential in the family.
- Considering that the Chimera Ant Royal Guards are siblings, Shaiapouf is the weakest of the three, and a Crazy Jealous Guy. The latter part is the reason why he is so hated by the fandom, because he's the only one who acts against the king: trying to kill Komugi.
- Jagi, the third of the four Hokuto Shinken brothers in Fist of the North Star is the Black Sheep, the weakest brother and a total Jerkass. Raoh is the strongest, Toki is the most talented, Kenshiro is the true successor and better than all of them.
- Kana Minami from Minami-ke is the dumb and lazy sister among the three, is usually the Butt Monkey towards her younger sister, but also occasionally to her older sister, too. While Haruka is very popular in her school and and Chiaki is respected by her classmates, Kana is not, though, she's not unpopular either and is even the first one to get a Love Interest, whom she is oblivious...
- Whenever the three brothers of the other Minami family have a discussion (mostly about their younger sister Touma), Akira Minami is often ignored by his two older brothers due to the age gap, despite that most of his statements are actually right. Not only that, he gets the short stick in the Love Dodecahedron between Kana, Fujioka, Riko and himself.
- In some versions of Beauty And The Beast, Belle is la cadette, the second daughter... who, at least in one version, gets picked on by both her sisters, has a Missing Mom, three absent brothers, and spends her time self-sacrificing for her father who apparently prefers her... but agrees, upon her insistence, to let her do all the work while her sisters get to be pampered and to mope, and finally, he abandons her in a creepy mansion in the woods because she told him to.
- In One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes, a witch had three daughters, each of which had one more eye than the one before. The middle daughter is therefore the one with two eyes and gets abused. Of course, that means she gets to marry the king in the end.
However, as Two-eyes saw just as other human beings did, her sisters and her mother could not endure her. They said to her, "Thou, with thy two eyes, art no better than the common people; thou dost not belong to us!"
- One The Powerpuff Girls Fanfic offered an alternate interpretation. Rather than making Blossom the Eldest, she was the Middle Child, and her acting more mature and claiming of the leader role was her attempt to compensate for her fear of being overlooked. Buttercup was the Youngest, and her extreme attitude was her way of rebelling against any notion of labeling her the 'baby', and Bubbles was the Eldest and simply didn't care about whatever role she 'should' fill, given that all the girls were extremely young anyway and her sisters were more willing to fill those stereotypes.
- This is Trixie's Freudian Excuse in the Pony POV Series. She gets a double dose of this because not only is she the middle sibling, they all look so alike that people asked her if her and her sisters where clones.
- In Empath: The Luckiest Smurf, Grouchy was the middle child of his family that consisted of his older twin brothers Hefty and Handy and his younger sister Sassette, and doesn't like that his Papa Smurf cared more about them than he did about him.
- In many Harry Potter stories with a 'brother mistaken for the boy who lived' plot, which often include a younger sister born years later. Harry will be overlooked between the child savior and the only daughter of the family.
- The TMNT film series saw fit to bring this part of "cool but rude" Raphael into the mainstream. Putting up with "Splinter, Jr." is his least favorite part of being a turtle. And he doesn't even have a utility like being smart, unlike the other middle child, Donny.
- The eponymous Eve from Eve's Bayou felt like The Unfavorite compared to her older sister and younger brother. This is probably why she developed such a close bond with her aunt Mozelle.
- Dawn Wiener in Welcome To The Dollhouse. Shunned by her peers and ignored by her family, Dawn pretty much has to fend for herself.
- In The Darwin Awards movie, the protagonist cites this as being a possible motivating factor for many peoples' Darwin Award moments... including himself.
- Repo! The Genetic Opera. This is a possible contributing factor in Pavi Largo's descent into psychotic narcissism. His elder brother Luigi almost certainly got more attention than him on account of being an angry, murderous psychopath since birth, and his younger sister Amber is the biggest Attention Whore imaginable. The Extended Universe info suggests that Pavi, by contrast, was relatively unremarkable while growing up (aside from having a severe speech impediment, which he eventually learned to cover up by adopting a ridiculous Italian accent) and it was only later that he turned into a deranged, womanizing rapist who enjoys cutting women's faces off and grafting them onto his own (horribly scarred) face.
- Antz begins with Woody Allen's ant character in a session with his ant therapist, and one of his many issues is "When you're the middle child in a family of five million, you don't get any attention. I mean, how is that possible?"
- The Baby-Sitters Club:
- Tiffany Kilbourne.
- Kristy has a bit of this as well: too young to hang out with Sam and Charlie, too old to play with David Michael, Karen, and Andrew.
- Older Than Radio: What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge, 1872. Katy and Clover, the oldest children in the family, are inseparable, as are the three youngest, Dorry, Johnnie and Phil. The one in the middle, Elsie, is too old to play with the younger kids and too young to hang out with the older ones and is accordingly lonely and miserable.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- Stannis Baratheon, the middle child of the Baratheon brothers and the only unpopular, humorless Knight Templar of the bunch - both his older brother Robert and his younger brother Renly are instead charming Boisterous Bruisers. Renly was happy looking up to Robert, but Stannis wanted to move out of his shadow.
- Lysa Arryn is implied to contend with this, being in the middle between Catelyn and Edmure. Jaime Lanniser, when he was younger, found Catelyn more interesting than Lysa, whom he might have been betrothed to.
- Not so apparent with Arya, third of Ned and Catelyn's five children, because she's a Daddy's Girl, but still there — she's sandwiched between Robb and Sansa, who both easily fit into the responsibilities assigned to them, and Bran and Rickon, who are doted upon due to their young age. It doesn't help that she's a misfit herself as her tomboy nature clashes with her sexist society. She's also the only one out of all of them who doesn't look like a Tully, which is part of why she's so close with fellow misfit Jon Snow. This trope (and her young age) is suggested to be why she acts out so much, especially in the first book.
- In Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle (but not the movie), Lettie is actually the prettiest and most ambitious of the three Hatter sisters, but Martha is the youngest child, so she gets sent off to train as a witch, and Sophie, the protagonist, is the oldest, so she's groomed to take over the family business. Lettie is expected to work as an apprenticeship at a pastry shop, where she'll meet some nice man and have lots of children. Also, Martha is Sophie and Lettie's half-sister from their father's second marriage, which "ought to have made Sophie and Lettie into Ugly Sisters", but didn't. As one might expect from a Diana Wynne Jones book, there is a plot twist whereby Lettie and Martha reject their expected roles and switch places and appearances.
- Fredo of The Godfather has this in spades. Sonny has the brawn, Michael has the brains, and Tom Hagen plays the traditional middle child role of mediating between them. While introducing Kay to his family during the novel's opening sections, Michael acknowledges that Fredo serves almost no purpose in the Corleone family.
- In the book he's described as being the quintessential Italian Momma's Boy, and he was essentially useless to the family business.
- In the Mark Winegartener sequel novels, it is implied that a severe case of pneumonia when Fredo was an infant was partially responsible for his behavior issues and/or mild retardation. In addition, he was also a heavily closeted homosexual, which is something of a no-no in Old World Italian values, and compensated by cultivating a reputation as a swinging ladies' man, which also went against his family's conservative upbringing. Following on from this, his "betrayal" in Part II came about because he wanted to start a racket of his own (described in the novels as owning his own cemetery in New Jersey, giving him a piece of all the stonemasonry, flowers, landscaping, etc., that came through, not to mention the obvious benefits of a mobster owning a place to legally hide dead bodies) in order to prove his independence and show that he could be successful and not reliant on his younger brother's largesse. It's also shown that Michael considers Fredo to be the unfavorite of his brothers; Nick Geraci, a Coreleone capo and primary antagonist in the novels, thinks to himself that Fredo's idea has plenty of merit, but that Michael wouldn't give it any consideration just because it was Fredo's.
- Others outside the immediate Coreleone family, though, consider Fredo to be the most likable. While Sonny had a hairpin trigger, and one always had to be on guard with Tom and Michael for subtle nuances and double meanings, Fredo had the distinction of being both friendly and harmless, the most easily approachable of the Corleones for a drink and casual conversation.
- Inverted in Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper, where middle child Kate is given the most attention due to her cancer, leaving her older brother Jesse to become a delinquent and her younger sister Anna in question of herself.
- Samantha in All-American Girl. The younger sister of a beautiful, popular cheerleader and the older sister of a child prodigy genius, she has become the Black Sheep of the family, an artistic loner. Then she becomes the person to get the most attention when she saves the president from an assassination attempt (long story).
- Jane Austen:
- Inverted in Sense and Sensibility, where the middle child Marianne is her mother's favorite.
- Played straight elsewhere in the Austenverse; in Pride and Prejudice, there are five sisters. Everyone loves Jane, the eldest, who has the sweetest disposition and prettiest face. Elizabeth, second-eldest, is her father's favorite; Lydia, the youngest, is her mother's. Mary and Kitty, the third and fourth daughters respectively, enjoy no favoritism at all.
- Invoked in the Deconstructor Fleet fantasy novel Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming, when Azazel decides that the middle son will be the most useful for his purposes because the middle son is the most neglected: The oldest son is the heir, and the youngest son goes on an adventure and thus becomes successful, but the middle son enjoys neither kind of success.
- The Real Kids Readers book Molly in the Middle deals with Molly, her older sister Tina and younger sister Lucy. Molly's failed attempts to become the oldest, youngest, funniest, loudest, meanest, etc. take up most of the book until she realizes she is the "luckiest" because she doesn't get the disadvantages that come with being the oldest/youngest.
- Ron Weasley from Harry Potter is constantly overshadowed by his six siblings despite being the second youngest. This changes over the course of the series as he gains credit for his heroics fighting alongside Harry and ultimately probably becomes the most famous member of the Weasley family.
- As Ron isn't the true middle child, Percy bears some mention. He's sort of the Butt Monkey in earlier books before he turns into a full Jerk Ass, especially if Fred and George are involved. Everybody admires Bill and Charlie, everybody finds Fred and George fun to be around, Ginny is respected for her ability as a witch (plus she's both the youngest and the only girl) and Ron does get some respect as Harry's best friend and for his later heroics. Percy, on the other hand, gets nothing. Even his boss, Barty Crouch, Sr., calls him by the wrong name to his face! Percy is actually made up to be the favourite in book one, too, but only because he was a prefect.
- Barty Crouch being unable to remember Percy is "Weasley" and not "Weatherby" is particularly egregious considering he knows his father well, and by name. You have to be pretty forgettable if you're the son of your boss's longtime co-worker and he can't remember your last name.
- May not apply, since Barty Crouch spent the majority of Goblet of Fire under the effects of the Imperius Curse, we just don't find this out until he was killed off for real.
- It may well be that Percy is Molly's favorite child, but he's definitely everyone else's least favorite in the family. All of the Weasley kids are smart, and all but Fred and George wound up prefects, so Percy gets no special points for his scholastic abilities but loses them for not being happy-go-lucky, brave and funny like the rest.
- Greg from Diary of a Wimpy Kid is this trope. How many times do you see Rodrick or Manny (usually Manny) getting the advantage over Greg? Because Rodrick is about 4 years older than Greg (and constantly getting in trouble) and Manny is a baby, they constantly get more attention.
- Debatably, this is one of the main premises of entire the series, especially the second and third books and movies.
- The book Half Magic is about four siblings in the 1920s (from oldest to youngest, Jane, Mark, Katharine and Martha) finding a magic nickel that grants wishes by half (like if you wished for an ice-cream sundae, you'd get half an ice-cream sundae, etc.) Since Jane's the oldest, she calls the shots on everything. After Jane, Mark and Martha have already made wishes, gotten themselves into trouble, and figured out how to use the magic charm correctly, Jane pulls an I-get-to-have-the-first-wish after they get back home, and this is what happens:
Katharine: I don't see why. You always get dibs on first 'cause you're the oldest, and grown-ups always pick Martha, 'cause she's the baby, and Mark has a wonderful double life with all this and being a boy, too! Middle ones never get any privileges at all! Besides, who hasn't had a wish of her own yet? Think back! (Previously, Jane had set a playhouse on fire, Martha had made their cat talk in half-understandable gibberish, and Mark had taken them to a desert.)
- Abby from The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes has this. Her older twin sisters Eva and Isabel constantly fight and excel in their chosen fields (sport and study, respectively), while her younger brother Alex excels in technological fields, meaning that Abby only gets attention if she goes out of her way to do so — something she doesn't like doing. Not to mention, nobody actually takes any notice of Abby's skill with creative writing.
- It also turns up in the second book- Eva and Isabel get to go to the school fair by themselves, while Abby has to take Alex with her. Finally, she gets fed up enough to demand that rather than being used as the automatic solution for anything concerning Alex, she gets to ride to the fair with her friends instead. Everyone is very surprised at her demand.
- She also complains about it while writing about her wish for new rollerblades- Eva and Isabel, as the oldest siblings, get brand new rollerblades, and Alex, as the youngest, also gets new ones as the old ones won't fit. Abby, as the middle child, has to deal with the really shit castoffs.
- In "Confessions of a Closet Catholic," Justine, known as 'Jussy,' notes that her mother loves her older sister Helena best, her father loves her younger brother Jake best because he is a boy and her mother even loves the French poodle, Bijou, more than her. It is subverted in the end though when her mother tells her that she may understand Helena better because they are alike but she doesn't love her more.
- In "Oh boy !", Siméon (14 years) is the gifted student, Venise (5 years) is very beautiful, and Morgane (9 years) is "only" a clever girl. People who talk about the fate of the children (they're orphans by the beginning of the book) often forget she exists.
- In A Mango Shaped Space, a psychiatrist chalks Mia's claims of hearing colors (a real disorder) up to this.
- Subverted in The Outsiders where Sodapop is well-liked by his brothers and in their little group. However, this status causes him stress because he is the only mediator between Ponyboy and Darry.
- The Sisters Club played this perfectly straight with the middle sister, Stevie. Her older sister is the actress, and her younger sister is, of course, the cute one.
- In Kushiel's Dart, Joscelin admits that this is the case of noble families who end up pledging a son to the Cassilines (think a cross of priests and bodyguards). The eldest stay because they are the heir to the domain. The youngest stay to comfort their mothers. It's then a middle son who ends up being pledged to the order.
- Isabelle from The Mortal Instruments, is always raring to go into fights, not to mention she consistently dates boys her parents would hate. Jace says she does it to get attention, as she is not only the only girl but also the middle child.
- Subverted in Middle School Blues. Main character Cindy's new friend Margo complains that the middle is absolutely the worst place to be born, while Cindy herself is a youngest child and hates the fact that no matter what she does, one of her sisters has done it first. Another friend Helen complains that as the oldest, she's expected to be perfect and set an example for her youngest sibling, and Cindy's best friend Becca is an only child, meaning that her parents never leave her alone. The four come to the conclusion that being a teenager sucks no matter where you were born.
- Stamped all over the royal family's sons in The Farseer trilogy. Eldest prince Chivalry was raised to rule, while youngest prince Regal is a Royal Brat whose mother (the king's second wife) considers him the "true" heir because her family was higher-ranking than the first queen's and so he's "more royal" than his brothers. Chivalry's untimely death in a hunting accident sets the events of the trilogy in motion, and puts middle son Verity on the spot - nobody has expected anything of him except maybe to watch the borders for his older brother, and after being neglected so long he was fine with that.
- Played completely straight in If There Be Thorns. Cathy clearly favours handsome ballet star Jory and cute toddler Cindy (both are also blonde) over middle child Bart.
Live Action TV
- "What A Crazy World (We're Livin' In)" by skiffle singer Joe Brown plays this trope to the hilt.
- In For Better or for Worse, Elizabeth feared this after April was born. Ironically, however, it was April who ultimately suffered the most from this, becoming neglected and overlooked because her parents felt ready to 'retire' from being parents — and resented any reminder that they had a daughter who was still dependent on them.
- There actually is one special in which Elizabeth gets this in spades, from being brushed off to being blamed for April (who was still a toddler at the time) breaking Elly's favorite ornament. When Elizabeth goes sledding and gets lost; a woman named Grace actually inverts this trope by telling her that sometimes, the middle child gets the best because they don't bear the responsibility and and aren't always treated as a baby.
- The two older Patterson kids were based directly on Lynn Johnston's actual children. April is an entirely fictional character.
- Hammie in Baby Blues. See here and here.
- In the Mystara setting's Karameikos, the royal family is an example. King Stephan favors his tomboyish daughter as heir to the throne, while his wife dotes on her youngest son and wants him to inherit. Their middle child — the eldest son, hence the one most players would expect to be heir — isn't favored by either parent, and indeed is more interested in business than government.
- Meta-example of a forgotten middle child: Every Ravenloft fan in the world remembers Strahd von Zarovich and his youngest brother Sergei, as their Cain and Abel story is responsible for the setting's very existence. Mention their other brother Sturm, progenitor of the modern Von Zarovich bloodline, and most gamers assume you're talking about Dragonlance.
- Prince Geoffrey in The Lion in Winter. His father prefers younger brother John to inherit the throne; his mother prefers elder brother Richard. Somewhat understandably, he develops Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
Geoffrey: No one ever thinks of crown and mentions Geoff, why is that?
King Henry II: Isn't being chancellor power enough?
Geoffrey: It's not the power I feel deprived of; it's the mention I miss. There's no affection for me here; you wouldn't think I'd want that, would you.
- In a way, the second stage of three stage evolution families in Pokémon don't get as much attention as the first and third stage. The first stage is usually a Mascot or Ridiculously Cute Critter, while the final stage has the largest base stat total making it the best choice for actual competitive battling. The second stage in comparison is generally seen as just a stopover before fully evolving.
- Except for Grovyle; which people often like better than Sceptile (this may be because of the spectacularly Bad Ass Grovyle that is one of the main characters of the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Explorers games). Also Ivysaur but chances are; that was probably because everyone would have complained if Charizard wasn't the tier-three evolution featured in Super Smash Brothers Brawl.
- Also tends to be avoided in three stage evolutions where one or two of the stages are introduced after the original Pokemon they evolve to, in which case the original Pokemon is/are usually the most iconic. Pikachu as compared to Pichu, for example.
- In Dragon Age II, main character Hawke has two younger siblings: twins Carver (a warrior) and Bethany (a mage). Despite being twins, Carver suffers this trope hard. If Hawke is a mage, then their parents (including a mage father) focused more attention on Carver's magical siblings by necessity. If Hawke is a warrior/rogue, then Carver will be seen as an inferior fighter, plus Bethany was Daddy's Girl due to their shared magical sense. Either way, Carver has a massive chip on his shoulder for much of the game if Hawke is a mage. If Hawke is not a mage, then he dies in the prologue.
- Donald in Magical Diary has this as his major issue. Depending on how the game goes he may decide he's sick of being a screw-up and seek a new identity of his own.
- Gorman evokes this trope during his drunken Motive Rant for leaving his brother's ranch for show business in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.
Gorman: Anyway, I'm just the despised second son! I can't handle horses like my older brother! I can't take care of horses like my younger brother! I left the ranch, came to know the world of show business, traveled around, but for what? For nothing!!!
- Summer of Moon Over June grew up with three older brothers and three younger brothers. Scientific evidence holds that she probably would have grown up to be a lesbian anyway, but her family situation pushed her into an utter loathing of everything remotely male.
- Venus Envy has a variation mentioned in the scene where Zoe's brother is forced to talk to her psychiatrist. The psychiatrist theorises that Alex's coming out as Transsexual and becoming Zoe has made her brother feel like he now has a younger sibling instead of an older one, as Zoe now needs more parental care and attention, and her brother can no longer look up to her as an older brother and mentor. The brother vehemently denies this, as "I never looked up to that freak".