Jennifer Trujillo, of Dublin, is no Jan Brady. She doesn't fit the stereotypes of middle children as jealous, neglected wallflowers who become maladjusted, underachieving adults.
The 40-year-old is outgoing, independent and self-possessed.
When her older sister Sherry dared her to audition for the Raiderettes, Jennifer did it. When the committee for her 20th high school reunion needed an emcee, Jennifer volunteered. And together with her sister, she's launched a successful mortgage brokerage in Campbell.
Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. With those three words, Jan Brady of the 1970s sitcom "The Brady Bunch" painted the picture many of us associate with middle children -- that they are envious, insecure attention seekers. But a new book by Catherine Salmon and Katrin Schumann suggests that the country's 70 million middleborns are self-aware, outgoing team players who have the ability to pave the way for others.
Birth order is just one element that shapes personality, but it's an important one. Salmon researched middles for 10 years before writing "The Secret Power of Middle Children: How Middleborns Can Harness Their Unexpected and Remarkable Abilities" (Hudson Street Press, $25.95). She was drawn to the subject because her father was a middle but didn't fit any stereotypes in the academic research.
"Very little was there and most of it was negative," says Salmon, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Redlands. She writes: "As a child he sought to define himself in contrast to his siblings -- he was a middleborn who refused to be lost in the crowd."
Among Salmon's core discoveries: In the absence of the parental pressure typically reserved for firstborns, middle children are free to explore what they want, pursue it and excel at it. Another perk of middleborns is something most of them probably see as a disadvantage.
"Firstborns tend to get what they want because of their authority in the family," Salmon says. "And the baby of the family gets her way by being emotional. Without either strategy, middleborns become good at negotiating, and this serves them well outside of the family."
And in the workplace. Many trailblazers, including Bill Gates, Desmond Tutu and Jennifer Lopez, are middleborns. So are 52 percent of American presidents, Salmon says.
"Unlike the last born, who is more likely to exhibit knee-jerk risky behavior, middles are calculated risk-takers," Salmon says. "They are willing to think outside the box but keep in mind what the costs of failure are."
This leads to success in social situations as well. If you ask Breana Neil what it was like growing up between her 15-year-old sister and 23-year-old brother, she might say, "Lonely."
"They'd always kick me out of the room when I tried to hang out with them," says Neil, 18, of Castro Valley. "But I wasn't all depressed or anything. I'd go do puzzles by myself or play on the computer."
According to Salmon's research, that sense of independence and creative motivation benefits middles through adolescence and beyond.
While she didn't necessary like growing up in the middle, Neil says these experiences have made it easy for her to approach people as a new student at Las Positas College, where she is pursuing a career in nursing.
"It actually taught me to be able to make friends," she says. "I have no problem striking up a conversation with anyone."
Palo Alto marriage and family therapist Carol Campbell says she suspects there's some evolutionary value in not being the first or last born. Middles likely come from this place where they need to be more self-reliant and provide their own stimulation, she says.
"I'm a middle child and I remember constantly comparing myself to my big brother," Campbell says. "So it motivated me to want to achieve while enjoying my vast superiority over my younger brother."
famous middle children
tips for parenting middles
Don't stress too much about how much attention your middle is getting. They achieve in the ways they do because of their family environment growing up. They develop strategies and skills that stand them in good stead as adults.
Do call out middles' achievements when they deserve it. You're encouraging them to follow their natural talents and skills.
Don't compare your middle to your other children, especially the older ones. You won't get them to do what you're aiming for and you'll increase conflict between the children.
Middles are very social animals. They may seem secretive or withdrawn to parents. But don't worry, they're experts at establishing relationships with those outside the family.
-- Catherine Salmon,
University of Redlands