Social support networks can help mothers of teenagers navigate through difficulties and maintain closeness with their children.
Angie Wang for NPR

Raising children is a task that requires extensive “on-the-job” training, which is why many women rely on new moms groups for parenting support and guidance. Often, however, as the kids get older, the mothers’ friendships fall by the wayside.

Now, new research indicates that social support isn’t just valuable for mothers of young children, it’s beneficial for moms of teens, too.

The study, published this spring in the journal Family Process, suggests that these support networks may help mothers develop closer relationships with their teens.

“Having someone to talk to about your children is essential for maintaining positive parent-child relationships,” says Melissa Lippold, an assistant professor of social work at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and lead author of the study. “However, this type of social support impacts parenting behaviors for mothers and fathers differently.”

The study includes data from 636 rural, two-parent families who completed a series of questionnaires and in-person interviews with the researchers. They found that for moms only, social support plays a significant role in how they parent their teens, especially when they feel overwhelmed and out of control in their lives.

“When these women lean on others, such as friends and co-workers, they are more likely to maintain warm relationships with their kids,” says Lippold. “I think mothers are more socialized than fathers to seek emotional support from relationships when they struggle. It’s possible that when moms confide in others, they feel calmer, which helps them maintain closeness with their children.”

While the early years of parenting are physically demanding, the teen years can be emotionally taxing. Mothers often find themselves in a tug-of-war, because as children start letting go, they want to hold on. Teens often believe they’re more capable of making adult-like decisions than they actually are, and often aren’t keen when parents point out their limitations.

Julie Burton, 50, a mother of four children in Minnetonka, Minn., grappled to raise her two eldest, now ages 22 and 20.

“Journeying through the teen years with my older two children felt like riding a road bike down a rocky terrain,” she says. “I often felt ill-equipped to cope with their moodiness and requests for greater…

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