Menopausal mom + pubescent teen = hormone hell

The Globe and Mail

By Adriana Barton

July 14, 2009

By postponing childbirth longer than ever, mothers are no longer just dealing with their teen’s mood swings and irritability – they’re facing their own as well.

When Trudy Green’s 15-year-old son came back from summer camp last week, he was in a foul mood.

Bitter about leaving the fun and games away from home, he sulked in his room and swore at his mother when she asked him to get the camping gear ready for his 12-year-old brother to use the next day.

The son’s attitude was “a slap in the face,” says Ms. Green, who had stretched the Vancouver family’s finances to send him to the nearby island getaway.

It may be normal teen behaviour, but Ms. Green, 49, says it’s more than she can take right now. As she enters menopause, her own hormones are raging. She suffers from mood swings and night sweats, she says, and after months of lost sleep, her patience is wearing thin.

“I’m tired of doing everything for others, because right now my body is sore and no one is thinking of me.”

The hormonal fireworks in Ms. Green’s house are all too familiar for women who are entering menopause as their kids hit puberty.

At an age when women used to be grandparents, they’re dealing with their son’s porn stash or shopping with their daughter for her first bra – and hoping they don’t get a hot flash at the checkout counter.

Boomers are the first generation to delay childbearing en masse, with help from fertility treatments and the Pill. But demographic patterns suggest that menopausal moms with teenaged kids may become the norm.

Women continue to postpone childbearing, according to Statistics Canada. In 2006, for the first time, the fertility rate of Canadian women aged 30 to 34 surpassed that of women aged 25 to 29. And the fertility rate gap continues to narrow between women aged 20 to 24 and those aged 35 to 39.

Since menopause usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55, any woman who gives birth after age 32 may be sucked into a menopause-puberty tornado with her kids.

It’s uncharted territory, family therapists say. And in some households, it’s hormonal hell.

The symptoms of puberty and menopause can be eerily similar: sleeplessness, irritability, weight gain and anxiety about one’s changing identity and sexuality.

The difference is that the teen is overwhelmed by surging hormones while mom is reeling from hormonal loss.

Parenting an adolescent is challenging enough without adding menopause to the mix, says Judith Sills, a Philadelphia-based psychologist and family therapist.

“It’s an emotional time because your estrogen is going crazy and that just makes you more reactive,” she says.

A child’s growing independence, combined with looming infertility, can make a woman confront her identity as a mother as well as her mortality. Meanwhile, her husband may be facing a mid-life crisis of his own, says Dr. Sills. “This is a time when marriage may get rocky.”

Some women may be envious of a teenaged daughter’s budding sexuality, Dr. Sills says, adding that boomers have tried to narrow the generational divide.

“They dress like their daughters and dance to the same music as their daughters,” she points out. (Pop star Madonna takes first prize in that category. At age 51, she’s been photographed more than once in the same outfit as her 12-year-old daughter, Lourdes.)

“Daughters want their mothers to retire into maternal dumpiness,” Dr. Sills says, but a divorced boomer mom is just as likely to put on a short skirt and go on a date.

Nevertheless, despite their anti-aging regimes, older mothers often forget what it’s like to be an adolescent, says Betty Londergan, the Atlanta-based author of The Agony and the Agony: Raising Your Teenager without Losing Your Mind.

Ms. Londergan, 55, says it’s easier to cope with these “wretched ingrates,” as she calls them, if you remember how “neurotic and self-absorbed and completely idiotic you were as a teenager.”

Women who accept menopause as a rite of passage may have an easier time with their teens, according to Sara Dimerman, a Toronto-based family therapist and parent educator.


Comment from Leslie

Great read…and yes, women who are aware of this rite of passage have an easier time – just as women who live with the ebb and flow of their hormones have an easier time.

Check out my new book “Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle ” and you will begin to understand the importance of living with your cycle.


Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.