5 go-to moves when perimenopause and puberty collide.
We’ve got a tween, a teen, and a perimenopausal mom under one roof. And man, it can get ugly. Fast. One minute we’re all laughing and enjoying a snack, and the next someone is sassing hard for some unknown reason while the other is stomping off in a rage. And I’m suddenly hot and stressed. Giving the sassy one my best “I’m so disappointed look”, while yelling at the other one ‘DO NOT slam your door!’. There’s usually more yelling. From everyone. Frustration. Misunderstanding. And likely some crying.
The Hormonal Double Whammy
Now there is arguably a lot at play in this scenario, and similar ones playing out at any given moment all over the world. But one of the key pieces is that our collective hormones are raging and surging. Theirs are wildly fluctuating to prepare them for their reproductive years and adulthood. Mine are wildly fluctuating as my reproductive years come to and end. And frankly the secret weapon for this hormonal double…hell, triple whammy, has been to understand my behavior. Yes, understand my behavior, to allow my blossoming young adults to have the space they need to figure out who they are.
Don’t get me wrong. They are given firm boundaries and there are consequences for behavior that they know is not acceptable. That said, I’m the adult in this family and it’s my job to set the tone and example. This isn’t always easy, but the ‘5 go-to moves’ described below have made a big difference in the frequency and intensity of the hormonal chaos in our house.
Be their guide and safe space.
There’s a lot of teaching that goes on when our children are little. How to speak, holding a fork, learning to sleep, and moving from diapers to potties to name a few. As our kids grow, our parenting role shifts from teacher to guide. Often when things are escalating in my house, it’s because I’ve forgotten that I’m their guide. When I’m insisting that they finish their homework, pushing them to eat something, signing them up for a team that they aren’t interested in joining, those are times when feelings can really boil over.
So when tension starts to brew, I try to repeat to myself: “I am their guide”. I don’t have to map and mold their choices and behaviors. In fact, I shouldn’t. They need the space and opportunity to make bad choices and try on different behaviors. And perhaps most importantly, take responsibility for those choices and behaviors. This doesn’t mean being hands off. It means setting clear boundaries. Like if you can’t get your homework done, then we need to limit or take away your screen time. And following through on the boundaries set.
Instead of insisting and forcing them to get their homework done. And being really annoyed at all of the time it’s taking me to cajole them into doing their homework. I repeat to myself “I am their guide” and then choose to let them navigate this responsibility and choice. As a guide I might say,
“Hey, do you need some time to do your homework tonight, and if so, when? I can’t help you before 9 pm, so if you need help we should do it now.”
There’s a lot less fighting with my tween about homework. They’re becoming more self sufficient. And I now rarely get worked up about homework. Win-win.
Being a Guide Creates a Safe Space
Adopting ‘I am their guide’ as a mantra has also allowed me to be the parent they need. I now regularly tell my children that I’m their safe space. And I try my best to model that for them. They need to know that no behavior is too big. I don’t want them learning to shut down their big feelings and emotions. The risk being they could learn to no longer trust how they’re feeling. Something like: “if it’s too much for mom, it must not be right or valid.” I want them to learn who they are, and they need to have somewhere that they can safely try that on. That doesn’t mean they get to walk all over me, but it does mean that I will wait until another time to address how they chose to express themselves when it’s not appropriate.
So far, the safer their space, the bigger feelings and emotions can come out. They can learn to regulate and understand instead of suppress. And there’ve been some incredible bonding moments as a result. We’re still working on the door slamming. And we’re by no means perfect. But there’s more productive disagreement, deeper connection, and everyone’s taking ownership and making amends when they need to.
Learn your triggers.
Typically when things are overheated in my house, it’s because I’ve forgotten my role and have gone full steam into ‘molding mode’. No more guiding, “you will do this and not make me look bad!” takes over. This is usually because I’ve fallen into an old pattern of worrying about what other people think, or even regressing to a childhood challenge from my past. Back to the homework. If it’s not done, and I’m not functioning optimally, I can get pretty worked up about my kid’s homework. And it may start as being worried that they are falling behind, not doing well, or won’t be able to get into a good university. But then it really comes down to my deep-seeded fear that I’m not enough. That I will be judged. And harshly if my kid’s homework isn’t done, and done well.
If my anxiety is also spinning out of control, the little girl in me who was always deeply concerned about disappointing her teachers, her parents and any other authoritative figure will surface. I start to feel like I’m the one who has to show up with incomplete homework. And man that really gets me cookin’. But when I say the words, “I am their guide”, it brings me back to the present. I can take a beat, and my prefrontal cortex kicks in again. Then I can move forward in a rational way.
It’s important for me, in the moment or after the fact, to be curious. Why did I get so upset? What was that really about? It’s often one or all of these:
- My period is about to start
- Not sleeping well or at all
- I haven’t been moving my body and getting fresh air
- Too much dining out and not enough greens
- My spouse and I are having a disagreement
- None of my pants fit
- My joints hurt
And because of some combination of the above, my anxiety sky rockets. And unfinished homework becomes a hill to die on.
I’m getting pretty good at realizing when my hormones are out of whack. I can sometimes remove myself. If not and my behavior goes sideways, I explain to them exactly what happened and why. Not as a excuse, but as an explanation with a proper apology. This shows my kids that we’re all flawed, and that repair is an important part of as strong relationship.
Apologize. And do it properly.
It’s taken a while, but I’m finally learning to say I’m sorry. Full stop. A proper apology should never include the word ‘but’.
“I’m sorry I screamed at you, ‘but’ you were being really rude.” Not an apology.
That’s justifying my bad behavior. For the most part, I now apologize this way:
“I’m sorry. My behavior last night wasn’t appropriate. I hope you can forgive me.”
And if they can’t in the moment, that’s okay.
At another time I’ll broach the rude behavior in a collaborative way.
“Hey, you were pretty rude to me on Friday night. You must have been feeling rotten. Can we talk about it?”
And guess what? My kids now regularly apologize to me.
They will now give themselves time to take a beat, and apologize when they are ready. Sincerely. This was a big aha parenting moment for me. Proof that my kids are learning way more by watching how I conduct myself than from me telling them how they should be conducting themselves.
For more on how to apologize properly, check out this podcast with Brené Brown and Dr. Harriet Lerner: Apologize and Why It Matters.
Remember, it’s developmentally appropriate.
Tweens and teens are supposed to be rude, pull away, misbehave, and have meltdowns. Their bodies are hormonal tornadoes. They’re figuring out boundaries, and learning how to become autonomous adults.
They’re not behaving this way because you are too easy on them. They aren’t bad kids. You aren’t a bad parent. Things are going to get messy. That’s part of growing up and raising kids. It’s developmentally appropriate. This has also become one of my mantras.
Yes, inappropriate behavior, rule breaking, and particularly safety concerns all need to be addressed. That said, they should be addressed in a calm and caring manner. And yes, you can lay down the law and impart consequences while being calm. They’ll be easier to stick to and have more impact.
Do I still flip out? Yes. But I’m getting better and learning to embrace the mess. That’s where the biggest opportunities for connection and understanding lie.
Go easy on yourself.
It can be challenging to not beat yourself up, especially when your anxiety ramps up. But as Kathleen Kelava said on our podcast with her, “unskillful parenting is a gift”. We’re going to fuck up. And modelling how to manage our messes is an invaluable opportunity for our kids. They’re learning that perfection doesn’t exist. That being human means being flawed. And perhaps most importantly, they’re learning how to forge meaningful relationships, which all need rupture and repair to thrive.
So the next time you flip out, take the bait, set the bait, or throw a tantrum, don’t waste time beating yourself up. Instead, be curious. Practice your apology skills. Remind yourself that you are a guide. That you are enough. Find the opportunity for connection. And if it doesn’t happen right away, keep trying. Trust me, the pay off is worth the vulnerability and the effort.