Records show that more than half of women in England and Wales born in 1990 were without a child when they turned 30 in 2020. This means that more women are experiencing perimenopause and menopause while still actively involved in raising young children and teens.
Experiencing the menopause while parenting means that you might have to be a bit more patient with yourself (and your family with you) as you navigate and embrace the various changes occurring in your body, mood, behaviour, and energy levels. Dealing with menopause in and of itself can be a challenge, never mind the added pressure of having to act like everything is 'okay' all of the time.
Talking to your children about menopause and what you're experiencing can be reassuring for them, understanding there's a reason (that's not about them) why you're feeling cranky, teary, flushed and not quite yourself. It can also serve as a great relief for you to be honest and to feel understood in those moments.
Children are intuitive and can often tell when something's up with a parent. Being open and transparent with your child can create a sense of closeness, and they can even support you rather than challenge you during heightened moments.
But how do you broach this complicated and sometimes, quite awkward subject?
1) Keep it Age-Appropriate
The way you approach the conversation will vary depending on the age of your child. However, whether they're 5 or 16, it'll be helpful for you (and for them) to keep the conversation light and brief. What you decide to disclose is totally up to you and the level of details shared should depend on what you're comfortable with.
For younger children, the conversation can be as simple as: "Mummy's going through a difficult time, and it sometimes makes me feel cross about things." Or "Mummy's body is feeling very hot and bothered, so I just need a little space to cool off." You can also let them know that it's normal and that there's no need to worry. For older children and teens, you can let them know that you're experiencing similar hormonal changes to them and that these fluctuations can cause you discomfort and mood swings. You can also make a pact to be mutually patient with one another as these changes occur.
2) Keep it Simple
As mentioned above, when it comes to discussing your menopausal symptoms with your child - the simpler, the better. Overloading your child with complex information might distract from the real matter at hand, which is to simply explain your situation and its impact on your behaviour. You can explain that your body is going through a change due to hormones and that sometimes it can make you a little forgetful, emotional, tired, and flustered.
With teens, you can explain that what you're experiencing is basically puberty in reverse. If they've already encountered their first experiences with puberty, then they will have some first-hand knowledge on the matter and be able to relate in some way. If not, then you can use this as an opportunity to fill them in on some changes that they too can expect to take place soon.
3) Let Them Know What They Can do to Help
When a child experiences their parent behaving differently, it can cause alarm and helplessness. So, to support them during one of your sad spells or hellish hot flush moments, it can be helpful to equip them with some pre-arranged responses. Feeling more equipped to react to certain situations will provide your child with a sense that they're giving you what you need and that everything is going somewhat according to plan.
Another thing you can do in these moments is call a 'code red', which can signal to your child and family that you need some alone time to ride out your symptoms.
4) Give Them Permission to Call it Out
This one is easier said than done. It might seem crazy to give your child the permission to let you know when you're behaving unreasonably, but by inviting them to approach you openly and freely during times of unease, you're giving them an opportunity to assess and respond to your behaviour rather than emotionally react to it. In turn, this helps them empathise with you, while giving you the chance to realise when you're having a 'menopause moment'.
5) Let Them Know You're Okay, and in Control
Though menopause is natural and something that, to a large extent, you can't control, it's important to maintain a sense of control. Your child needs to know (and feel) like you're still the parent - not the other way round. When explaining menopause to your child, it's a good idea to present the information to them in a way that lets them know what's happening without making them feel like they're responsible for your wellbeing. Let them know that you're managing and getting the help you need, as well as assure them that even though you have some tough moments, you're still the same you!