Out in space, a collision of two neutron stars creates a massive explosion that Space.com dubbed a “stellar smackdown.” At home, where the two stars are me and my 13-year-old son, we call it Tuesday.
The energy released from these collisions (which seem often to occur in my kitchen, usually over something mundane and unimportant) can send me to the bathtub crying, fill my day with guilt and shame and stick with me for days. It’s perimenopause and puberty colliding under the same roof—and it’s happening in epic proportions in a neighbourhood near you.
In 1980, the average age of first-time moms was 23. By the time those moms hit menopause, their kids were well past puberty. But by 2010, the average age was 29.6, and more than half of first time moms in Canada were 30+. I was a first-time mom at 33. This means my hormonally charged teenage son and tween daughter are aligned with their perimenopausal mom. And believe me, we don’t need math to point this out for us. The eye-rolling, mood swings and spontaneous fits of rage are excellent indicators.
But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. While there may not be a magic wand solution to prevent those inevitable hormonal collisions, here are some strategies to help you minimize the force of the explosions:
Try Not to Project
Comments like “Isn’t puberty awful?” or “Perimenopause is no big deal” aren’t helpful. Everyone’s hormonal ride is unique. Empathize, but try not to pretend you know exactly what the other person is going through.
Even though it’s been a long time since I went through puberty, I remember it felt as if I was the only one on the planet and my parents didn’t understand. There’s a good chance your kids are feeling the same way. The onset of perimenopause was similar: I felt alone. Your kids may not want to hear every detail of what’s happening for you and your life phase. However, it’s good to acknowledge you are aware of the hormonal changes they might be going through, and to share when you’re having feelings that are also new and unsettling. Naming it—“I feel moodier than usual today”; “I’m emotional because…”—helps to take the mystery out of a confusing subject and can also reframe these life phases from something to be potentially ashamed of to change that is good and ought to be embraced.
Seek Out Opportunities to Share
Chances are your kids know about puberty, but they are less likely to know about (care about) or understand perimenopause and menopause. Sometimes it’s too easy to push uncomfortable subjects aside. Use whatever opportunity you can (a car ride, a commercial, a TV show) to crack open the conversation and keep it at the forefront of family discussions. You’ll both benefit.
We spend a good part of parenthood preparing our kids for what to expect in life—everything from how to ride a bike to how to get into university. Imagine what could happen if we explained to them what can potentially happen when puberty collides with menopause before it actually happens. For example:
“As you’re going through puberty, you’re going to experience changes in your body, brain and emotions. These changes are often overwhelming and can sometimes make you feel out of control. I’m going through similar changes with perimenopause, and although I hope it doesn’t happen often, I want to warn you that one day we might butt heads or disagree, or we might yell at each other for what seems like no good reason. I want you to know that I love you, there is nothing wrong with either one of us and it will pass.”
Know Your Kid, and Know Yourself
Paying attention to cycles can have huge pay-offs. For example, you may have noticed that your teen is no longer capable of engaging in conversation first thing in the morning. Save your important chats for after school or after dinner. Recognize your own cycles too, and know which times of the day and month you are more irritable. Acknowledge when you haven’t slept or eaten well, or missed out on exercise—and how it affects your mood. Leverage those times to treat yourself to a break, a bath or a soothing cup of tea, and don’t be shy about sharing this information with your family members.
Sometimes a simple “I understand” is all that’s required to keep the stars aligned.
By Shirley Weir