Triumph and Fails: Making your middle child feel welcome and coaching your child softball with a headache.

Triumph! How to Make Your Middle Child Happy.

Triumph! How to Make Your Middle Child Happy.

The parenting grade.
March 26 2015 12:49 PM

How to Throw Middle Child Syndrome Out the Door

Parenting triumphs on paying attention to your middle child and fails on coaching your child softball with frustration.

How To Throw Middle Child Syndrome Out the Door.
Coaching your kid’s softball team can lead to parenting challenges aplenty.

Photo by Comstock Images/Thinkstock

Remember the time you overcame your hatred of crafts to make the perfect costume for your kindergartener’s school event? Remember the time the Tooth Fairy fell asleep and forgot to visit? What about the day when your kids agitated for a social cause they strongly believed in? What about the first time your 7-year-old dropped an F-bomb?

These little triumphs and fails happen to all parents, and they’re all worth celebrating (or rueing). At the beginning of each episode of Mom and Dad Are Fighting, Slate’s parenting podcast, we reveal parenting triumphs and fails from our own lives. We’ll share them here every other Thursday, the day the episodes go live.

Dan Kois: I’ve got a fail this week—undermining in my direction.


Allison Benedikt: I love how last week—we finally admitted that the Triumphs and Fails might have a gender component. You, like, “dadsplained” that my fail was actually a triumph.

Dan: Right, because it really was! I view the glass as half full, and you view the glass as totally empty and shattered all over the floor.

My fail is that I’m a failure as a softball coach. Or rather, I triumph at coaching all the other kids in softball, but I fail at coaching my daughter L at softball.

L plays softball every spring. She has played several seasons now and I am the fourth assistant coach on the team. In past seasons, I have noticed that when I am working directly with L on the practice field, on drills or something, there is just something that doesn’t work with that combination in the field. It’s just like combustible. We become the worst versions of ourselves.


She becomes moody and easily discouraged and totally unwilling to work. I am snappish and impatient and unforgiving. So we instantly get in these cycles where I am like great with all the other kids but all my interactions with her are just awful and frustrating for both of us.

So we had our first practice of the year last week and we instantly fell into the same pattern. We were doing a drill where the kids stood in a circle and we had this irregularly shaped rubber ball around that we would toss on a bounce to each kid so they could practice irregular or unexpected hops and catching them. It’s a very simple exercise that’s meant to be a game and fun.

L had one that bounced weird and gently hit her stomach as she was catching it. Ordinarily, if I had not been there, she would’ve said “ow” and carried on. Instead she moaned and gimped around and stared at me for like five minutes with big wide tear-filled eyes and I tried to ignore her.

Until finally, I was like “What’s the problem,” and she goes, “It hurt my stomach!” and I’m like, “I don’t think it hurt!” and she was like “You don’t understand!!!!” and I was like “Go sit down.”


Immediately the whole entire practice was a total waste. I know that when I’m not at practice she does much better. She doesn’t worry about stuff as much, she doesn’t get as discouraged about bad plays, she doesn’t fuss over every little scrape. She just plays. But I know this is my fail, not hers, it’s my fail. She’s 9, and I am 40! How can I not find a way to be a decent softball coach to my own kid! But I totally can’t, I’m miserable at every softball practice, and I am so grateful, like not even secretly grateful, when I am out of town for a practice and can’t attend.

Allison: Why don’t you just not do it? It seems like that could be fun for the both of you.

Dan: I seem to be easing in that direction, but it will still be a fail for me. I can’t be the softball coach and I’m the fourth-string softball coach on my kid’s softball team.

Allison: It’s a familiar dynamic for me. We haven’t done any coaching like that, but last week John was throwing ball around with our son H out back—and I had to put down the window and say, “This was supposed to be fun!”


Because we’re switching things up this week, and because you told me to, I have a triumph.

So, way way back when we first started doing this podcast, I talked about fails—I think in context of Triumphs and Fails—on how I was failing with my son S. H gets a ton of attention because he learns everything new first—reading, writing, bike-riding, etc. And W gets a ton of attention because he’s the baby, and just quite requires it. So it often feels like S, as the middle child, is getting screwed.

One tiny example out of this recently is that H is old enough for good chapter books. So we’ve been going through the Narnia books and S does not like them. We cannot sit through them, and it’s just not fun for him. He just doesn’t read with us at night anymore and it’s a bummer—and I feel bad for him.

So, the triumph! You’re probably like: “Where is the triumph, Allison?”


Dan: This sounds like a familiar fail.

Allison: The triumph is that I have finally found an activity that has become our thing—that S and I do together that we both really love. It is—we go exploring in the park. We’re super lucky to live so close to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and we spend a lot of time there anyway, but S and I have been going up into the trails, you can sort of going up these stairs and hike up these trails—and we would do that on the weekends together. We would bundle up in the cold and the only rule is that when we come to a point in the trail where we can go left or right or multiple different options S gets to decide. And he loves that.

We’ve ended up most times in parts of the park I’ve never been to—we had to take a cab one time before, like we’ve gotten really far. It’s awesome. I love it. He loves it. It’s been good for us.

Dan: That is a great triumph! Great job. Don’t turn it into a fail in some unexpected way.           

Allison: I’ll let you know.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Listen to the rest of the episode here:

Allison Benedikt is Slate’s executive editor. Follow her on Twitter.

Dan Kois edits and writes for Slate’s human interest and culture departments. He’s the co-author, with Isaac Butler, of The World Only Spins Forward, a history of Angels in America, and is writing a book called How to Be a Family.