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Why My Middle Kid Gets The Worst Of Me

Why do I treat her a bit differently than I treat my other two children?

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Mother and Daughter embracing
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My middle child gets the worst of me. I often catch myself treating her just a little bit differently (a little worse) than I treat my other two children.

As we are all hustling to get out the door in the morning, she asks, “Mom, can you get me the brush from upstairs?”

“You have two legs, go upstairs and get it yourself,” I snap at her as I curl my hair in the bathroom.

The kids need to learn to do things for themselves, I tell myself. Saying no is a good thing. Good job, I think to myself. But only a few minutes later, my oldest daughter asks:

“Mom, can you get me a pair of socks?”

“Sure, Molly,” I say in my calmest voice as I put my curling iron down and head over to the laundry basket.

As soon as I hand her the socks, it hits me: I did it again. I snapped at Nora for the same exact thing I graciously did for Molly. I feel sick to my stomach. Guilt sets in, and I know it will stay with me for the remainder of the day.

How could I be so evil? Nora must realize that I am harder on her than her siblings. She must think I love her sister and brother more than I love her. She must feel rejected and not good enough. What is wrong with me? Why am I still doing this? Why did I ever do this in the first place?

I noticed this behavior in myself about a year ago, and I have hated myself for it ever since. I promised myself I would stop. I vowed to be a consistent mom treating each of my three children exactly the same. I even came up with some coping strategies to ensure that I was not being harder on Nora than the others. At first, I decided to say yes to every request Nora made:

“Can we go to Starbucks for a cake pop, Mom?” Sure thing, I would say.

“Can I get a new shirt for school tomorrow?” You got it, Nora!

I quickly discovered that this strategy was all-too-expensive and ultimately ineffective. I was merely trying to buy myself out of past mistakes. This was not the answer, and I knew it. So, I modified my strategy; I practiced taking a deep breath and long pause before reacting to any of Nora’s requests (and before yelling at her) as I asked myself, What would I do if this were Molly asking? Gosh, did that open my eyes! This (not so little) flaw of mine was more prevalent than I had expected. I wanted to make sense of it. I wanted to be better for Nora. Why was I so much harder on my middle child?

I sat with guilt over the brush incident all day. I imagined her sitting at school processing the morning events and deciding in her own mind that she was my least favorite child. She was surely rehashing the morning and wondering why her mom wouldn’t just get her the damn brush. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else, and so I knew the only thing left to do was apologize —even if it was via text:

“I am sorry I didn’t get the brush for you this morning. If I could go back and do it over, I would get it for you.”

Her response?

“It’s OK Mom, it didn’t do anything or upset me. I love you.”

I giggled.

I cried.

I exhaled.

And it all made a little more sense to me.

She is my safe place. She is my easy. She is my bounce-right-back child. She doesn’t overanalyze. She rolls with the punches. She doesn’t get mad — at me, at her siblings, at anyone or anything, really. She doesn’t mysteriously go silent for hours or reject me when I am harsh; she doesn’t pull away or flinch when I go to hug her. She doesn’t slam her door or cry. At least not yet. She is that stereotypical second child who is happy-go-lucky, quick to forgive and forget, and all-around easygoing.

She gets the worst of me because I feel so damn safe in her love. I know she will love me always and forever no matter what. I don’t fear losing her. I don’t worry about her. She is so much like me that I am never wondering what is going on in her mind or her heart. I get her.

Maybe she gets the worst of me because I think she can handle it. But that doesn’t make it OK.

Perhaps understanding why I am so hard on Nora will make it a little bit easier to change my behaviors. I want to be better; I really do. I want to close my eyes and promise myself I will change, and then POOF, I want to magically be the world’s best, most consistent mom. But it just doesn’t work that way.

Change is really hard work. I have to keep trying. I have to keep saying “I am sorry” when I am wrong, and I have to remain brave enough to see my own flaws. And when those flaws are staring me dead in my guilty eyes, I must be willing to do something different — because change is an action word. I hope and pray that the next time Nora asks me to get the brush upstairs, I will smile and say, “Of course, Nora” in my calmest voice. And maybe one day when the time is right, I will tell her that she is my safe place.