Take Two

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The Brood: Why moms of middle schoolers have it the hardest

by Alex Cohen and Monica Bushman | Take Two

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A study published in Developmental Psychology finds that maternal depression is most common among mothers of middle school children. Ryan and Sarah Deeds / Flickr Creative Commons

"Don't worry, it gets better."

Those reassuring words are often used to comfort new moms who are stressed out, or maybe depressed.

It turns out though, it may be more accurate to say, "It gets better, then it gets even worse, then it gets better again." While that advice might not be as comforting to hear, it's rooted in research.

A study published last year in the journal Developmental Psychology found that the hardest time for mothers isn't when they're new moms, but later, when their kids are in middle school.

The researchers— psychology professor Suniya Luthar at Arizona State University and Lucia Ciciolla, an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University— surveyed 2,247 well-educated mothers about various factors related to their personal well-being, and found that moms of middle schoolers were the most stressed and unhappy.

As kids reach middle school and approach their tween years, Luthar says, "kids are bringing home this humongous amount of stress that they themselves are experiencing, and therefore that we, as first responders to them, are experiencing." At the same time, moms are dealing with getting older and also approaching the peaks of their careers, which may mean a lot more demands on their time.

As for what moms should do with this information, Luthar says, the first thing is just to understand that there will be challenges ahead. She suggests keeping up with support networks-- those friends who you can turn to for advice when you need it.

Her other piece of advice for surviving the middle-school years is to have a lots of open communication with your kids.

"Of course, wherever we draw the line, they will test one step further," Luthar says. "But that is the single most important thing-- have that loving, honest, open communication with your child."

To listen to the full interview, click on the blue media player above. 

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