Second Son: Pain and Pleasure

Murari Sharma

Are you sad that you were the second child? As the second male child in the family, I was. I used to feel I did not enjoy the respect my elder brother commanded in the house; neither did I get the love and attention my younger brother received. But as I grew up, though, I began to realize that being the second male child has its fun and advantages.

The pain is real when you are old enough to know but still too young to move out of your parents’ house. You find that you have to share the food you like, the room you cherish, the toys you want to play with, and the parents’ love attention you are desperate to get. Your older brother lords over you and you have to put up with it. If you fight back, you invite more pummeling. Worse, your views are brushed aside while your elder brother gets your parents’ ears.

Your space in the family gets further squeezed when your younger brother comes along. He, being smaller and needing more care than you, gets more protection and love from your parents. Besides, you get even lesser of the things you love and cherish, as they now have to be shared with your two brothers.

As the middle child, you do not get the privileges of either of your brothers. That could easily give you constant heartburn. Over a billion people in the world, born as middle children, should have faced such predicament while growing up.

Scientific research bears out much of what I have said. For instance, Don Dinkmeyer et al have, in their Parent Education Leader’s Manual, suggested that the first child, not just male child, strives to gain attention from the parents and respect from the juniors. While doing so, s/he often becomes competent and successful. On the other hand, the youngest always behaves like a child and expects others to do things for him. Middle children, deprived of the privileges of the oldest and the youngest, become independent and even rebellious.

In my experience, many middle children fail to take their position in their stride and carry the bruises throughout their lives. But I chose to do otherwise. Why should I cry over the accident of nature which I can do nothing about? So I tried to make the most of my status in the family: Perused education, found a good job, became independent, and married at the time of my choosing.

In fact, I am happy that I did not have to suffer the consequences of being the eldest or youngest male child. Think of the downside of being the oldest. Ours is a traditional society, and my elder brother married in his teens, under pressure, to produce grandchildren for my parents. He had to help my father deal with many family imperatives and emergencies. And he had to make more compromises than me.

I do not envy my younger brother, either. Sadly my mother died when he was three. He could never fill that psychological vacuum. Sure, he did get more attention and pampering more than me, at least until our step-mother gave birth to two more brothers. But the pampering made my younger brother too dependent on the family. So he could not make as much progress as his potential would have allowed.

Free from such encumbrances, I could chase my goals and, in all modesty, become materially more successful in life than all my brothers. Looking back, I would not want to trade my place with either of my brothers. The second children of the world, let us put our heartburn aside and move on.

November 25, 2009


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