In news that will surprise pretty much no mother anywhere, researchers from Arizona State University have found that women who feel supported and accepted by their friends are better able to deal with stress of motherhood, and as a result, are more likely to enjoy it than those who don’t. In other words, having awesome friends makes you a better mom. But even though that may seem like an obvious conclusion to come to — why wouldn't having good friends make you happier? — lead researchers Suniya Luthar and Lucia Ciciolla have found that paying attention to mothers' happiness is important, because it directly affects their ability to be there for their kids in meaningful ways. Just as children need to feel unconditionally supported and loved by their primary caregiver, to build crucial resilience skills that will help them later in life, moms need to feel supported and loved in order to give that kind of support to their kids.
Luthar and Ciciolla found that there are actually four primary factors that will affect whether or not a mother will feel supported and happy: feeling unconditionally accepted by her friends, feeling comforted when needed, feeling that her friendships are authentic, and generally feeling satisfied with the quality of her friendships. And while those aspects are important for all women, regardless of whether or not they’ve had kids, the research shows that they are even more important for mothers, since women usually throw themselves into motherhood and care-taking, which can really take a toll on their emotional well-being.
Interestingly, while we'd generally consider the relationship a mother has with her partner to be at least equally as important to how supported she feels, the study found that relationship satisfaction might not be as important as friendship satisfaction, at least when it comes to motherhood. "Relationships with spouses are important but clearly not determinative to a mother's well being," Luthar said. "Our findings show the strong potential protective power of other close relationships — satisfaction with the frequency of visiting with friends had significant unique associations with all seven adjustment outcomes." In other words, you need your girls. (But hey, you already knew that.)
So what does this mean for moms who lack these types of relationships in their lives? Well, for one, Luthar hopes that by highlighting the importance of quality friendships, we can start to prioritize opportunities for women to be supportive of one another. In fact, one direct outcome of the study was the creation of a three-month support program for mothers at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, called "Authentic Connections"). But more importantly, the researchers are hoping that continued study about the factors that affect mothers' well-being can shift the focus to what mothers actually need in order to provide the best care for their children, instead of just telling them what not to do.
"Developmental science is replete with studies on what moms do and do not do, what they should do and should not do," Luthar says, "but there is almost no attention to what might mothers need to negotiate the inevitable challenges in sustaining 'good enough parenting' across decades."
Making good mom friends might not be the easiest task, but if you've ever spent time with a like-minded, supportive mom bestie, than you know it's worth the effort. And now science is proving that it's true.