When Menopause And Puberty Coincide
I'm having a hot flash; my daughter's grumpy.
I’m in the kitchen fanning my face with a paper plate when my daughter comes down. I’m having another hot flash. She’s grumpy. I wait for a battle. While I’m starting perimenopause, she’s starting puberty. Our symptoms are similar: sleeplessness, irritability and anxiety about our changing bodies. I wonder how mothers for generations made it through this, the dwindling hormones associated with perimenopause and menopause just as their kid’s hormones revved up in puberty. The thing is, they haven’t. At least not in the same numbers that we currently are. While some late-boomers delayed childbearing with the advent of the pill and women’s rights, for Gen-X mothers and the generations following us delayed motherhood is common.
According to the Pew Research Center, from 1990 to 2008 the proportion of new mothers age 35 or older rose from 9 to 14 percent. A 2016 report from the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that the mean age of mothers increased from 2000 to 2014 for all birth orders, though age at first birth saw the most significant increase. It rose from 24.9 years in 2000 to 26.3 years in 2014.
As a Gen Xer myself, I had my first child at 30, and my last at 38. My mother had her first child at 19, and her last at 21. We were out of the house by the time she hit middle age and went through the changes of perimenopause and menopause. Since I had my children at an older age, I am going through the change with them.
Demographic patterns suggest I am not alone. Perimenopausal and menopausal moms with tween and teenage kids are quickly becoming the norm. This creates a complicated and unprecedented situation for a whole generation of mothers.
Deb M., a Maine mother who falls into this demographic, wonders why she can’t enjoy her teens more.
Kristen H., a Florida mom, feels guilty because she doesn’t have the same love of being with her kids. “It feels almost like perimenopause has dulled my light, and I don’t have the same energy or creativity as a mom,” she says.
What Kristen and Deb are feeling has a biological link. As the reproductive hormones that served us so well during motherhood begin to wane, our nurturing, maternal instincts take a hit. After years of putting our children’s needs first, we begin to worry about our own needs. This is actually OK, though. Finding things for ourselves while also allowing our kids the freedom to focus on themselves is vital. “At just the time your child becomes more interested in exploring their own style, friendships, interests and beliefs, moms should give themselves total permission to do the same,” says Michelle Icard, author of Fourteen Talks by Age Fourteen: The Essential Conversations You Need to Have with Your Kids Before They Start High School.
Icard says doing this also helps diminish feelings of guilt. We have to remember not to compare ourselves to others. The danger comes in, “not just comparing ourselves to the memories we view through our own rose-colored glasses of the past, but also comparing ourselves to the carefully formatted images of our peers who somehow remain #Blessed despite their hormonal changes,” says Lindsay Weisner, a clinical psychologist in Long Island, New York, and one of the authors of Ten Steps to Finding Happy: A Guide to Permanent Satisfaction.
Walking away helps, too. It’s OK to take a break instead of engaging in battle when emotions are heightened. Time-outs for both moms and kids help us regroup and gather ourselves. What matters most is how we walk away. Icard suggests saying something like, “I think I want to take a little time to process all of this.” Being honest and maintaining an open dialogue about our feelings and the changes our bodies are going through is also important. Icard thinks that helping our kids understand the physical effects of perimenopause and menopause helps them to empathize.
It’s OK to say, “I’m having a hot flash, and it’s making me feel awful! Let’s talk when I feel better in 20 minutes,” advises Icard. It can lead to conversations about what our kids are going through as their own bodies change, and their emotions often become difficult to control. The most important thing of all though is to remember that there is no best when it comes to motherhood. The self-judgment we put on ourselves makes things harder.
“The best mother is a lie we tell ourselves, or that we allow other people to tell us,” Weisner says. We need to give ourselves permission to be human beings with flaws and imperfections. We also can’t forget that while being an older mother has shifted the timeline a bit, throwing us into uncharted waters as we experience our changing bodies right alongside our kids’ changing bodies, it isn’t necessarily a negative.
“I think menopause and puberty make for an unlikely but highly symbiotic partnership,” Icard says. Indeed, it is all about perspective. “I think being open with our children about what we go through later in life,” Weisner says, “is a unique advantage that comes from us having children later in life.”