Study Finds The Tween Years Are The Most Stressful For Moms

by Valerie Williams
Image via Shutterstock

Parenting a tween is more stressful for moms than having a newborn

When you have a baby, you’re inundated with advice and support from all corners, which is both a blessing and a curse. It can be overwhelming, but at least the information and help is there. Once your child is a little older, that stream of parenting solidarity dries up, and that’s unfortunate.

Because a new study proves that’s when moms need it more than ever.

A piece from NPR cites research explaining why maternal depression is most common in mothers of middle schoolers, but those of us with older kids don’t really need it spelled out.

Parenting tweens is incredibly fucking hard.

A combination of burgeoning independence from kids and worries about parenting choices for mothers makes for difficulties we never saw coming when they were only babies. Andrea Scher, 44, has a 10-year-old son named Ben and tells NPR, “At 3 a.m., an electric current of fear shoots through my body, because I worry about my kids and how I am doing as a mom. My nervous system is in overdrive. I can’t believe I’m feeling this way all over again.”

As the mom of a nine-year-old who’s peppered dinnertime lately with questions about iPhones, cigarettes, bullies, sex and swear words, I acutely understand where Scher is coming from. I feel a new brand of panic now than I did when my children were infants and toddlers. Back then, their needs were constant and exhausting, but relatively simple.

Now? Ugh.

The journal Developmental Psychology notes in their study that maternal depression peaks when a child is around 10 years old, and that mothers of teens are usually happier than those with middle school kids. The research shows that moms of tweens feel more isolated and dissatisfied with their role as a parent and are actually more stressed out than new parents, which is hard to believe until you have your very own tween stressing the shit out of you.

Scher sums it up perfectly saying, “When Ben was a baby, I worried about his sleeping and eating schedules, but those were things I could kind of control. Now, I obsess over how much freedom I should give him when he’s playing Pokémon Go with his friends, and how I can monitor what he’s doing online. In many ways, he’s more on his own now, and I have to trust him to make the right choices.”

Mom of tween Samantha McDonald echoes Scher’s feelings explaining, “Ever since my daughter was 10 or 11, I’ve found myself feeling sad and irritable because I don’t know how to help her fit in at school or resolve conflicts with her girlfriends. And even if I did, she doesn’t trust that I know the right thing to do, or that I can comfort her, and that’s heartbreaking. I put my career on hold because I always wanted to be a mom. It used to feel fulfilling, but now I find it unrewarding and stressful.”

All of that coupled with surging tween hormones and that shift McDonald describes where suddenly, your middle schooler knows you don’t have all the answers, makes for a powerful blend of emotions, none of them good. And the fact is, there’s a lot less support for moms with tweens, as most playgroups have long since disbanded and women find themselves without that built-in tribe of fellow parents to bounce their concerns off of and commiserate with. It’s easy to feel alone when you aren’t talking about the worries you have with other moms.

And that’s why Scher’s advice for this tumultuous phase makes a ton of sense. “Whenever I need reassurance, I force myself to reach out,” she says. “I encourage my sons to speak up when they need help, and I must advocate for myself in this way, too.”