In retrospect, the findings didn't surprise her at all.
After all, professor Suniya Luthar remembers when her children were middle-schoolers.
"Just horrible, those years," said Luthar, professor of psychology at Arizona State University. "And I say this as a mother and a scientist."
She's referring to the results of her recently co-authored study, which found that mothers of middle-schoolers reported the highest levels of stress and loneliness and lowest levels of life satisfaction and fulfillment. Other research has also shown marital satisfaction to be lower, and strife higher, when children are in their teenage years.
"Middle school is just chaos," Luthar said -- both for the children in that period of rapid growth, and for their parents. There's no other time that brings such dramatic changes in a child's cognitive, physical and social development all at once, affecting school, friends and family life.
Luthar and postdoctoral scholar Lucia Ciocolla studied more than 2,200 mothers, most of them well-educated, with children ranging from infants to adults. They looked at several aspects of the mothers' personal well-being, parenting and perceptions of their children. Moms of middle school children, between 12 and 14 years old, were far more stressed and depressed than those rearing toddlers.
Many adults can remember the ways middle school was challenging for them.
Bodies are changing. Emotions are turbulent. You encounter rejection and being left out. Old friends might leave you. You feel awkward, and people around you are also awkward, or acting more confident than they feel. Everyone is trying to fit in. Insecurity is high. Peers compete on so many levels, academic and social.
It can be difficult for parents to accept that these same struggles may be hard for their child.
It's not a time for parents to disengage, even when children start to push away and pull back. But parenting at this age requires a new diplomacy. Caring for infants and toddlers is physically exhausting, but the complexities of child-rearing during adolescence can be emotionally and mentally exhausting. Parents are trying to figure out new ways to relate to, guide and discipline a child, and the stakes feel much greater than they did in elementary school.
So, what's the best way for parents to cope during their kids' turbulent years? Luthar says mothers, in particular, need to seek out other women who will nurture them: Mothers need to be given what they routinely give out, she said. Lean on your relationships with other women you respect and trust, and who care about you and your children.
"Go to other moms who share your values, who are kind people," she said. "Be able to share your hurts and vulnerabilities."
These relationships need to go beyond the occasional girls' night out.
During the middle school years, more than ever, moms need "tenderness and gentleness and support."
She remembers her own wise council of women, an ad hoc advisory committee she could turn to when she felt heartbroken, angry or bewildered. These were women who could tell her how they navigated similar challenges, or say, "Yeah, me too."
Don't wait until your child is in sixth grade to nurture these relationships, she said. "You need to have systems in place."
Michelle Icard, author of "Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years," writes that it's important to keep in mind that children need to form their own identities so they can have healthy relationships throughout their lives. It's also vital for parents to nurture their own interests, hobbies and passions outside of child-rearing during this time.
For me, just reading this study -- the validation that yes, this is an especially trying period -- was reassuring.
While we may know intellectually that our social supports and personal pursuits are important, we may not realize how much we need to prioritize them given the demands of other people in our lives.
It's how we build our shelter to weather a storm.