Young Mums More Optimistic, More Confident– But Is It Realistic?

Young Mums More Optimistic, More Confident– But Is It Realistic?

Media release — 18 March 2009

Young mothers are twice as confident about their ability to parent naturally and manage relationships than older mothers, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

A study of 5,000 Australian parents aged 18 to 55 asked whether they thought parenting and relationship skills came naturally.

The findings are published in the latest edition of the Institute’s journal, Family Matters.

The Institute’s Director Professor Alan Hayes said: “while mothers’ confidence declines with age, especially following divorce or separation, it is clear that young mothers tend to feel optimistic about their abilities to be good parents and have successful relationships.”

The Institute’s General Manager (Research), Ruth Weston said the study raised the question of whether such optimistic and confident views were realistic.

“Confidence does not necessarily equate with competence. Young mothers may underestimate the importance of experience and those who do encounter difficulties are probably the most likely to revise their opinions.”

The 2006 General Population of Parents Survey (the most up to date) found that when mothers are asked if good parenting skills came naturally:

  • 58% aged under 25 agreed that good parenting skills came naturally; while only
  • 27% aged 45-54 years agreed.

Similarly, mothers’ confidence about relationship skills decrease with age:

  • 53% aged under 25 agreed that relationship skills come naturally; while only
  • 27% aged over 45 agreed with the statement.

Confidence levels of fathers was marginally higher than mothers in the 24-35 age group, with:

  • 44% of fathers and 40% of mothers agreeing that parenting skills came naturally; and
  • 44% of fathers and 39% of mothers agreeing that relationship skills came naturally.

However, while both mothers and fathers were less optimistic by the age of 45-54, fathers remained more inclined than mothers to agree that good parenting and relationship skills came naturally. Mothers and fathers who had experienced divorce or separation were more likely to disagree with the notion that relationship skills came naturally than parents who had never separated or divorced.

“The results suggest that people are likely to modify their views about relationship and parenting skills through experience. However, it should be borne in mind that analysis is based on cross- sectional data. The young parents may not hold the opinions of old parents when they reach the age of the older parents.” Ms Weston said.

Authors of the paper Ruth Weston, General Manager (Research) & Lixia Qu, Research Fellow, Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Family Matters, no. 81, 2009 - table of contents and abstracts

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