Tweens & Teens: This may be the most challenging period of motherhood

Emojigirls 2015

Mothers of middle-schoolers are the most depressed?

Hmm. In a recent article on the website Aeon, researchers claimed that the most challenging period of mothering (and highest levels of depression can be found) during their kid’s middle-school years.

That actually makes sense to us. Yes, you’re exhausted and stressed when the kids are babies, but research shows that moms feel satisfied and fulfilled in caring for their younger children. But then puberty hits and things get a little more complex, to say the least. We have fewer positive interactions — and more challenging situations to help our t(w)eens navigate.

In the article, researchers studied more than 2,200 mothers with children ranging from infants to adults, and examined multiple aspects of mothers’ personal wellbeing, parenting and perceptions of their children.

“Our findings show an inverted-V shape in feelings of stress and depression, with mothers of middle-school children (‘tweens’ aged 11 or 12) consistently faring the most poorly, and mothers of infants and adult children doing the best.”

The article pointed out that mothers are essentially the “first responders” to their child’s distress, and now they must figure out new ways to offer comfort and reassurance. The old ways – hugs, snuggles at bedtime – don’t always work anymore.

Women who saw their children as rude and rejecting were among those who felt most distressed, according to the study.

“A central take-home message from our findings is that the big ‘separation’ from offspring, the one that really hurts, comes not when children leave the nest literally, but when they do this psychologically – in their complex strivings to become grown-ups, in their tweens.”

Also, all this comes at a time when many mothers first see the signs of middle age. Ugh.

Advice? They offer some here (and we agree!):

“… middle-school mothers must also refuel themselves through close, reliable, authentic friendships. In an earlier study, we showed the strong protective potential of these relationships in buffering women through the challenges of motherhood. So mothers should treat it as an imperative, and not an option, to connect with supportive friends, and stick with this resolve especially during the middle-school years. They should use each other as sounding boards. Reach out when feeling frail or exhausted, or just plain fed up. And have fun together.”

The article reminds us that it does get easier: middle-schoolers become high-schoolers, and then adults.

Of course, Gwen and I don’t want to paint too nasty a picture. There are SO MANY good times with tweens and young teenagers, too.

You just have to hold on to the afterglow of those a little longer and do what I (Shannon) do: put pictures of your kids as babies up on the walls so you’ll feel all soft and gooey inside when the teen version is snarling at you. It really does help. {CLICK HERE for more advice about how to keep yourself from back-handing your t(w)ween.}

Thanks to Jennifer Adair for sharing the Aeon article with us!

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