Moms often shoulder much of the responsibility when it comes to caring for children and managing the household — along with, in many cases, juggling work. But who supports moms the best? Turns out, friends top the list. (Sorry, spouses.)
When Arizona State University researchers surveyed more than 2,000 women, they found four essential factors that predicted moms’ well-being: unconditional acceptance, feeling comforted during stressful times, authenticity in relationships — in other words, feeling like you can be yourself — and friendship satisfaction. These four qualities play key roles in keeping moms happy and helping them feel supported when dealing with the rigors of childcare, according to a new study in Developmental Psychology.
The researchers were surprised to find that being married, per se, was not related to the mothers’ psychological well-being. Not surprisingly, the quality of the marriage was more significant. But even when moms were satisfied with their partners, their friendships still had a more powerful effect on their well-being and stress levels.
So how important is it for mothers to have close friends to lean on? “It’s indispensable,” Suniya Luthar, study author and Foundation Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Whether the female friends are sisters, a mom, or a cousin, to have that loving, tender care from other women is essential. It’s not to say that men and marriage are not important, but what [female friendships] offer is different, and women need it.”
Between the demands of caring for children, making time for your spouse, and working, it’s easy for female friendships to take a backseat, but Luthar points out that maintaining these social connections is necessary for a woman’s well-being. “Think about it like a car and gasoline,” she says. “You don’t fill it up once. You get some love [from a friend] and then go off on your merry way. But you need that replenished again and again.”
Part of the reason marriage didn’t rank higher on the essentials-for-well-being list may be because friendship isn’t burdened with the same level of demanding responsibilities that come with a marriage, such as childcare. “If you’re mad at a friend, you can take off a few days to be upset and then you can go back and say, ‘That sucked,’ and laugh about it,” Luthar says. “With spouses, because you’re in the same room and so much is riding on your relationship, we’re much less likely to have that kind of space to do that, so we snap each other’s heads off. There’s less baggage associated with friendships.”
These friendships can also help improve your marriage. In the study, the researchers noted that “having close friendships may help to sustain the marital relationship by reducing the burden on the marriage to fulfill all of one’s emotional needs.”
The good news is that you don’t have to see your friends every day to reap the beneficial boost in well-being: “It can be face to face, but also phone calls and text messaging,” says Luthar. “It’s just being in touch with your close friends.”
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