New Study Compares How Maternal Age Affects Parenting Readiness

Although many women wait until they are well into their 20s and beyond to have children, a large number of young women and teenage girls do get pregnant. Whether those pregnancies are intended or unintended, those that are carried to term result in maternal ages that are well-below the age of adulthood. Having a child at a young age not only puts stress on the mother, but also poses a risk for the child. It has been well established that children born to adolescents are more likely to live in poverty and to have developmental and psychological challenges that children born to adult mothers do not.

To better understand the differences in maternal parenting styles and challenges based on the age of the mothers, Amy Lewin of the Center for Clinical and Community Research of the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC sought to examine mothers based on developmental maturity. Therefore, rather than looking at adolescent mothers and comparing them to adult mothers, Lewin looked at adolescent mothers (under the age of 19), emerging adult mothers (those between age 19 and 25), and adult mothers (over 25). She assessed all of the mothers when their children reached two years old and evaluated their levels of maternal warmth, discipline techniques, sensitivity, socioeconomic factors, and co-parenting relationships.

Lewin found that there was a significant difference between all three groups of mothers. Even though the adolescent mothers had the highest rates of poverty and the lowest rates of maternal warmth and sensitivity, the emerging adult mothers had levels that were far lower than those of the adult mothers. This suggests that although the emerging adult mothers may be better equipped to handle the stresses of parenting than adolescent mothers, they may still not be fully mature, financially or emotionally, to cope with the demands of mothering as well as older mothers. Surprisingly, Lewin also discovered that the rates of depression and co-parenting conflict did not vary between age groups. This supports Lewin’s belief that maternal age plays a unique and significant role in the way in which a mother parents. Lewin concluded by saying, “Overall, our findings indicate that the younger a mother is, the more she is at risk for maladaptive parenting, and this risk is not restricted to adolescence.”

Lewin, Amy, Stephanie J. Mitchell, and Cynthia R. Ronzio. Developmental differences in parenting behavior: Comparing adolescent, emerging adult, and adult mothers. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 59.1 (2013): 23-49. Print.

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  • monica


    March 8th, 2013 at 3:01 PM

    so proud to be an adult mom!
    gave me such a better understanding and awareness of my children’s needs and what they needed to succeed and feel loved
    not saying that it can’t be done by younger women, because of course it can, but for me I am never sorry that we waited til we were a little bit older and wiser, more financially sound, to have our kids

  • Wade


    March 9th, 2013 at 7:07 AM

    What about all of the moms from centuries ago who you know were young? That didn’t stop them from being mothers, as a matter of fact they would have been looked on as old by the time they were thirty so there was no waiting around for them. I realize that things are very different now, but it can’t be discounted that women have become mothers from a very early age since the beginning of time and while I hate to see it today, it’s gonna happen and there’s no guarantee that they would be a better mother just because they are a little older.

  • peyton


    March 10th, 2013 at 4:03 AM

    I would like to add to this conversation that perhaps it is not all baout age per se, but maybe just that with age comes maturity and security, something that is lacking in most younger moms. But remember that there are still those young people who mature more quickly and establish themselves earlier, so maybe they could be the younger people who could havea child at an earlier age and be fine with that. But of course stats show that they won’t and that typically it will be those with little in the way of opportunity and wealth who will have children when they are young and then have problems for years after that.

  • Marcine


    March 11th, 2013 at 2:47 AM

    Another thing that we could also throw into the mix is looking at how much involvement and support younger parents versus older parents are receiving outside the home. Older parents could have a more established web of friends upon whom they can rely to help with things like sitting and such, whereas those who are younger might only have grandparents to call on, and they may still have other responsibilities that would prohibit them from helping as much as they may want. I just think that there are so many things that could be at play that could actually skew the results of this either way.

  • rachel


    March 11th, 2013 at 10:51 PM

    what about some benefits of having a child at an early age? my mom had me when she was just 17 years old and although she did go through difficulties when it was about money we really got along well due to the small age difference. not only that it even helped her self esteem to a certain extent when I was in college and all my friends’ moms were much older than her.

    it may have a flip side but it also has bonuses. having a child early also means you get through your responsibilities quicker and a middle age with less worries!

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