Of course he is a middle child.
TJ Therrien's creative mischief is the star of his TikTok videos, in which the Blaine dad acts out how kids react to everyday situations, based on the sequence in which they were born. He's built an entire shtick off the resonant truths of birth-order theory: The oldest is responsible, the middle loves an audience, and the youngest has outsmarted us all (and has us caving in fear).
Therrien's goofy takes on sibling dynamics have given us something to giggle about, even in the depths of the pandemic. More than 850,000 people follow him on TikTok, and he's attracted over 324,000 on Instagram.
He's also creative director at Centerville-based Eagle Brook Church, where he leads a team of video producers and graphic designers. And you might see Therrien at Minnesota Twins games, where he shags foul balls and tosses them to lucky kids in the seats.
The 37-year-old told me he actually has four children, ages 9, 7, 5 and 2. Therrien says the first three fit the stereotypes — he and his wife, Melissa, are still figuring out the personality of their littlest. We also discussed Therrien's faith and why you won't find him delving too much into pandemic-related content.
Here's an edited snippet of our conversation:
I find your takes reductive, accurate and hilarious. Why does birth order resonate with so many people?
Well, I didn't know that it was going to resonate with so many people. I just started throwing videos out there, watching my kids and their funny personalities. I thought back to my childhood and stories I'd hear from my parents. Both of my parents are firstborns. When they were teenagers, their parents were super-strict. By the time their youngest siblings were teenagers, my grandparents completely let go. My dad asked my grandpa, "What's up with that?" And my grandpa said, "Frankly, we just don't care anymore. We're tired."
What was your childhood like?
I was actually born and raised in Blaine. I was very much into athletics, and my dad worked for Old Dutch Foods all my life. It was a blue-collar kind of job. They worked really hard to pave the way for us kids and give us opportunities to get into sports and activities.
One thing I just appreciate looking back as a middle child — they let me be me. They put up with my antics, and maybe it's paid off in some ways.
A friend sent me a story saying the most stressful number of kids for parents to have is three. Do you agree?
My opinion is no matter what, you are at your max capacity. I think about parents of only children — they're at their max capacity because this is what they know. And then when you have a second child, you are stretched. Your max capacity grew, and you didn't know that it could. Then you have a third or fourth, and of course that's going to lead to stress.
But I will say this: Based on our experience, the transition from two kids to three kids was the most difficult. Going from the third to the fourth wasn't easy, but it actually wasn't harder than the previous one. I think we let go of some rules and relaxed our parenting style a little bit as a survival mechanism.
Your take on the family bike ride had me laughing so hard I was crying. You're walking down your very suburban block to the tune of "Gangsta's Paradise," pushing a stroller and carrying your kids' bikes that they've obviously ditched. This is one of the most banal moments we've all had as parents, but you've found a way to make it funny.
I want to bring out those funny little things. When our kids ask to go on a bike ride, I know for a fact I will be carrying their bike after five minutes, but then I'll probably make a video about it.
But that's not something I would have even remembered to write down in, like, a gratitude journal.
I think the reality for us has sunk in that we're pretty sure we're done having kids. We are in a phase of life where we are trying to soak it up as much as possible. And of course, we get stressed and impatient at times because our house is loud and crazy and there's fighting. But it comes down to realizing those small moments are the moments we will someday miss, so we try to be as present as possible.
Do you think your videos have been helpful during this isolating period of COVID-19?
That's when it started. It was a creative outlet for me during the pandemic, and maybe being locked in my house for months with my family made the personalities come alive. I noticed it started resonating with parents right away. One really cool example is a mother who lives in the Caribbean who reached out. We look nothing alike, and we live very different lives. She had three sons, and she told me how much she appreciated my videos, how relatable they were, and it made her feel like her family was a little bit more normal than she realized.
When people watch my videos, I believe they're looking past me and they're seeing their own families. That is special.
It's clear that your faith is important to you. How has it helped you get through the pandemic?
It's helped me to pass this time — what is hopefully the short term — from a bigger picture. I would even say it's helped me see this time from an eternal perspective, and it's brought out the things that really matter in life. I found myself working through problems quicker and getting caught up in the little things a bit less because I have faith in what's to come.
One of your videos was about masking, but most seem COVID-free. It seems like there might be comedy gold in these weird times. Why haven't you done more of that?
There are a couple of values that I have with my videos. One of them is they are completely family-friendly. No. 2, I steer away from anything that's going to cause division with people. So yeah, I haven't touched COVID a lot because people are passionate, and they have big feelings about it. I don't want to stir up the division. I want to focus on things that unite us ... which for me, that's birth order.