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After postponing childbirth, menopausal mothers are dealing with moody teens

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.

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I'm tired of doing everything for others, because right now my body is sore and no one is thinking of me. Trudy Green

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.

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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."

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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.

For mothers and daughters, going through menopause and menstruation together is an opportunity to connect as women, she says.

As well, it's a chance to "model how you want your children to deal with physical and emotional changes."

Margo Running, a 58-year-old childcare provider in North Vancouver, says it was a shock the first time she noticed men looking at her 15-year-old daughter and not her.

But instead of clinging to an image of herself as youthful, Ms. Running says, she focuses on the dignity embodied by elders.

"It's about the crone letting the maiden have the glory and yet realizing I've got the glory too, because this intense wisdom is coming to me."

Ms. Dimerman advises mothers to communicate with teenagers about the changes they're going through, "without using menopause as an excuse for bad behaviour."

The strategy worked for Julie Ovenell-Carter, a communications specialist in Vancouver whose son left at age 11 to attend the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. When he moved back home four years later, Ms. Ovenell-Carter was "smack-dab in the mood swings of early menopause," she says, "and we had to renegotiate our terms."

Ms. Ovenell-Carter, now 49, says she felt taken for granted when her son neglected to thank her for making dinner or assumed she should drop everything to drive him somewhere. "I was bursting into tears and being very quick to react to things that probably wouldn't have bothered me before."

After a few blowouts, she had a frank talk with her son about menopause and compared it to his emotional roller-coaster as an adolescent, she says, adding that their relationship quickly improved.

When things got heated, "I'd say to my son, 'We've both got to cut each other a little slack here.' "

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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