Those awkward, puberty-laden middle school years are notoriously tough on youngsters who are just beginning to find their footing in life. Turns out those years are also the most difficult for mothers, one study finds.
In the study from 2016, Arizona State University researchers tracked the well-being of mothers through the various development stages of their children, starting from infancy through college.
Jen Clausing's daughter, Jadyn, started middle school this fall. She said she can't forget how she felt when Jadyn's older sister Macy was in this position three years ago.
"I remember her starting sixth grade, and I was just, I felt like I was hit by a truck," Clausing said. "It was like all of a sudden, she looked older, was acting older, and all of a sudden had the bigger responsibilities all within two weeks. And I remember just feeling completely overwhelmed."
ASU psychology professor Suniya Luthar was one of the researchers who measured moms' adjustment during their children's middle school years. She said these years are when mothers scored lower for life satisfaction and higher for stress, emptiness and guilt than moms with kids of other ages.
"Suddenly, this child morphs into this weird person who looks at you with distance and sometimes even dislike and scorn," Luthar said. "That's awfully hard."
Luthar said mothers are unprepared for the changes that the middle school years bring and need more support from family, friends and support groups during and before this time.
The study identified four factors that boost mothers' well-being: unconditional acceptance, a source of dependable comfort, satisfaction with friendships and "congruence," which is feeling like the person you are in your everyday life is the same person deep within you — simply put, feeling like you are authentically yourself.
"Imagine what your kids need from you," Luthar said. "That is what you need from other people, and that needs to be in place and that needs to be respected, prioritized and sustained."
Luthar said that while husbands and partners can offer support, moms need a "sister network" as well.
Clausing joined an online support group for mothers and feels the middle school years will be easier the second time round.
"Connections are not optional, they are essential," Luthar said.
For more information on the study's finding, visit ASU Now.