Family Dynamics and the Menopause

I was asked to contribute to a piece in Hello Magazine about managing the challenges with menopause within the family unit. This was my advice.

How can menopause impact relationships with your children?

The family dynamic is complex and many elements of the familial relationship are unconscious, meaning that we aren’t necessarily consciously aware of the ways that we behave towards each other and of how we are impacted by subtle changes in others in the unit. In this complex network of interpersonal relating, changes within any individual can have an impact on the entire family dynamic. Without even speaking about the changes that you are experiencing, your family members will be able to feel that something is different and may not understand what is happening. Naturally, hormones change and fluctuate within us all but the hormonal change that happens through menopause brings with it many physiological and psychological changes. Not only are you experiencing a huge hormonal shift, but it may elicit questions about your identity. As women we identify as different versions of ourselves throughout our lives. For example, at some point in our lives our identity may be linked to who we are in our friendship group, that then may change to who we are in our relationship, and as a mother, leaving behind elements of our younger identities as we mature. At menopause, this brings more questions about our identity, who we have been and who we will be in the future. There may be a sense of grief at the loss of our ability to procreate and perhaps even around the choices we made when we could.

Going through such significant changes hormonally and psychologically may naturally cause us to feel more irritable, depressed, lonely, isolated, angry, frustrated, confused, bereft and unstable for example.

How can a parent going through menopause impact children?

Children learn how to respond to the world around them based on how their primary caregivers respond. If someone has a mother who is highly anxious about the world around them, the child will feel unsafe in the world, because it would appear to them that the mother feels unsafe. If a parent is going through menopause, the impact on the children in the house will be different depending on the age of the children. For older children such as teenagers, noticing that their mother is behaving differently may give cause for concern and worry, they may feel confused. For younger children, everything that we do as parents impacts their mental health and wellbeing. The aim is not to be perfect for them, but to provide a space where challenges and difficulties can be explored, where we can apologise or explain when we behave in ways towards our children that we shouldn’t have, but where we can educate our children that sometimes people experience challenges in life that impact how they behave and teach them how to manage when someone isn’t behaving in the way they usually do. We can use it as an opportunity to teach about caring, compassion and tolerance.

How would you advise explaining menopause to children?

When explaining anything to children, we have to deliver the information in an age appropriate way. How the menopause is explained will depend on the age of the children, how much knowledge they already have and how you feel about the experience yourself. Providing young children with too much information can be overwhelming and anxiety producing for them. However, not providing enough information to older children can be frustrating and anxiety producing. This is because they will sense that something is not right and will desire enough knowledge to enable them to make sense of what is happening in the world around them.

How can you navigate your relationship with children during menopause?

The best way to navigate challenges is to ensure that you are open and honest in an age appropriate way. Educate and inform them so that they are aware of what is happening in the world around them. Children need stability and predictability, if they know what symptoms you are experiencing and how your behaviour might change, they will feel more equipped to manage any unpredictability. Provide a space for open discussion regarding the difficulties that you as a family are facing. If this feels like too much for you to cope with, providing a space for your children to speak to someone else about how they are feeling will help them to manage the situation better. The worst thing we can do is to try to deal with it alone. In times of change, it’s important to consider the family unit; the impact that situations can have on them but also the support that they can provide for you when you need it.

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