menopause 101

Slamming Doors, Yelling and Tears - Oh, My! Puberty Meets Perimenopause

 

Many women who are having children these days are having them later in life. A woman having children in her mid to late 20s through her early 30s will be living with tweens or teens in her 40s just in time for perimenopause. Yikes! Imagine having two or more individuals in the home that are on a hormone rollercoaster.

 

Most women are familiar with the hormone rise that happens to girls and boys in puberty and are prepared for the potential storm of these rising hormones. However, many women are not familiar with the upheaval of perimenopause, how to determine when it is starting, how long it may last or just how many symptoms they may experience. Rarely is a woman invited to consider menopause as a factor in family planning. If she were, she might reconsider her choices!

 

Let’s take a peek inside the home of a menopausal mom, a 13-year-old pubescent girl, a moody 16-year-old boy, and a wide-eyed dad. Fleeing in different directions a tearful girl screams “It’s not fair, you just don’t understand!” Mom spits out a sweaty “Leave me alone.” All that’s heard from the 16-year-old boy is a slammed door. A bewildered dad sits at the kitchen counter with his head in his hands wondering when it will be safe to follow mom and offer his support.

 

Perimenopause can begin as early as one’s late 30s and can last more than a decade. Menopause, occurring 12 months after your last period, usually arrives in the early 50s. A decade of perimenopause is not the norm, and for most women, the perimenopausal time frame is two to three years. As your estrogen is plummeting, the estrogen and testosterone in your kids are soaring to as much as 10 times their starting levels. In both instances, the brain is changing which is creating volatility, mood swings, sweats, fits of rage, inexplicable crying spells and many quiet, self-reflective “What’s It All About?” moments.

 

There is a lot to be said for perimenopause being puberty in reverse. As your kids are losing baby fat and enduring growth spurts, you are likely wondering why you are getting thick around the middle and moaning about aching joints.

 

As your kid’s brains are maturing and the all-important pre-frontal cortex is continuing to form,  they are getting better at self-control and empathy. Meanwhile, you are moving through a similar calming down of the fluctuating hormones and find yourself relaxing into a new level of self-acceptance and an energy level that drives your curiosity about what you might want to invest that energy in. For each of you, you are arriving at a new level of maturity.

 

What to do? Talk. It is helpful, in a moment of no high-flying emotions, to explain what is happening on both ends of the continuum. Reassure the kids that this too shall pass and that this is a normal aspect of growth that we all go through. Remind them that you love them regardless of who is screaming, weeping or slamming and that your menopausal storm has nothing to do with them. Let them ask questions and give them honest answers.

 

If you are married to a man, it will help to explain to him what is happening to you. There are a few good books out there written for men about menopause that will be helpful to both of you. If you are married to another woman, just pray that you are not both perimenopausal at the same time! Regardless of your partner’s gender, remember that you are the adults in the room and it is your job to help the kids make sense of their experience and yours.

 

Remind your kids (and yourself) that eating well and getting plenty of exercise can help a lot as can some form of meditation/mindfulness. There are many mindfulness programs designed for young people.

 

In terms of managing your symptoms, there are several options and you will find many of your questions answered on the website of the North American Menopause Society. ( http://www.menopause.org/for-women/expert-answers-to-frequently-asked-questions-about-menopause ) There are also many products on the market that are designed to moderate some of your symptoms that are non-estrogen containing and may be your perfect solution.

 

Yes, this will pass; it is not the new normal for any of you.

 

For decades Barbara Mark, Ph.D., an elite executive coach, has worked with professional women in midlife to listen, guide, support and cajole them to clarity and decisive action as well as attaining deep professional and personal fulfillment and satisfaction. She is a recognized expert on the psychology of women, the stages of adult development and how these stages impact career development and leadership in women.

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