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Motherhood and menopause

With many women having children later in life, mothers can find themselves still in heavy-duty parenting mode while trying to cope with menopause too. Author, journalist, and menopause advocate NIKI BEZZANT shares her thoughts on how this can impact your parenting, and what we can do about it.

Niki Bezzant was 49 when she realised she was experiencing the symptoms of perimenopause (and possibly had been for some time). But she didn’t know anything about it.

She is now the author of This Changes Everything: The honest guide to menopause and perimenopause (2022) and her latest book The Everything Guide: Hormones, health, and happiness in menopause, midlife and beyond (2024). She has interviewed hundreds of women about this stage of life and says two things stand out: how alone women can feel in struggling with their symptoms and the effects on mental health.

“Menopause is hugely impactful on our mental health and can be really, really devastating for women at this time.”

 It’s one of the symptoms that can have a big impact on parenting, she says.

Other impacting symptoms can include struggling to get enough sleep, and having enough energy to function at a normal level and cope with all the things that are coming at you.

“And then the physical symptoms can be really debilitating,” Niki says. This includes hot flushes, anxiety and issues with memory and brain fog, amongst others.

What’s going on?

Women are often at ‘peak juggle’ at this point in their lives, Niki says.

“Most of us have got work – we’re probably at the height of our career if we’re working. We have got family life – so we might have young or teenage kids. We may also have older parents who need support as well. And we’ve got all the other things in life – we’ve got relationships, community, commitments with family. We’ve got – you know, just life.

“All of that stuff is piling up on us and then you throw on top of that this hormonal turbulence, which is what perimenopause is.

“So, it’s this kind of crazy dense soup of a time. And of course, parenting is a part of that.”

Unexpected depression and anxiety, low mood, mood swings and ‘rage’ can be symptoms of perimenopause (the precursor to menopause) and are difficult things to manage when you’re parenting and have “multiple people pushing buttons”, Niki says.

What’s more, women can often be going through this while they have teenage children -particularly daughters – who may be going through their own hormonal fluctuations with puberty.

“It can be really, really challenging for everyone in the family,” Niki says.

“There are these changes going on inside the brain with menopause and perimenopause, which are to be expected. And they are temporary. But it’s very frustrating when you’re going through it and feel like you’re losing the plot a little bit.”

How to cope

Niki says coping during this stage requires help from everyone surrounding the woman and requires them learning more about perimenopause and how to help.

“And that’s not just in a home context, but that’s in the workplace and in wider society. It’s really great if we can (all) understand a bit about this life stage and what it means.

“It helps people to develop some empathy and to be a bit more supportive.”

Mums will need to reduce their load and take extra good care of themselves, Niki says.

“I think it’s a really big thing just saying: ‘Hey look. I need to change how I’m doing things here because I’m going through this transition, and I need to get a bit of extra support.”

Niki says this is a great time for women to focus on their health overall and how they want to live for the next 30, 40 or 50 years.

“It’s an opportunity to really re-look at how we are looking after ourselves. And if we’ve let that slide because of family responsibilities and parenting and all that stuff over the years, it’s a time to refocus on our own health and be a little bit selfish.”

She says the key places to start are with good nourishing food, exercise, finding ways to manage stress and prioritising sleep.

But what if you still do have a moment of rage and snap at the children unfairly?

“It’s important to be kind to yourself. Give yourself a little bit of grace. There’s a lot of power in voicing what’s happening. Even in the moment, or right after, if you’re blowing up at the kids, there’s a lot of power in just saying: ‘Look. I’m having a menopause meltdown here’ or ‘I’m having a moment. This is not me; this is my hormones making me behave this way. I’m sorry.’”

This holds for any blow-ups at your partner too, she says.

By educating those around you and acknowledging the effects of perimenopause in situations that arise, you’re also helping to normalise this hormonal change for your children.

“It would be wonderful if the women and girls after us don’t have the same experience that we’ve had – which is that we don’t know anything (when we get to perimenopause)…If our daughters could get to menopause and understand what it’s all about and feel empowered to look after themselves and get the support they need.”

Be gentle with yourself

It’s time Mums cut themselves some slack, Niki says.

“We can be really hard on ourselves as women throughout our whole lives and as mothers – that we’re not doing a good job, that we’re dropping balls, or that we’re not conforming to some standard that we’ve set ourselves that’s very high and unachievable.

“It’s nice to be a bit kind to ourselves, give ourselves a break and understand that this is temporary and you’re not losing the plot. You’re not a bad mother. You’re not an awful person because you blew up at your kid. It’s just this turbulent time that you’re going through.”

Read more: How to cope when your babies fly the nest >>

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