As a parent, you will likely have multiple conversations with your children or even grandchildren about their bodies as they mature and grow up. From teaching the anatomically correct names for body parts when they’re young to talking about puberty during their adolescent years to having more serious conversations regarding sex, birth control, and STDs during their teen and young adult years - there's a lot of ground to cover.
While it’s not uncommon for these conversations to be met with giggles or eye rolls, the more open you are about these topics, the less uncomfortable your children will become when questions about their changing bodies arise.
But what about your changing body?
How to Talk About Menopause
All women will experience menopause, although the degree of symptom severity and disruption to our quality of life will undoubtedly vary. Some women never break a sweat, while others struggle with a myriad of symptoms ranging from hot flashes and moodiness to weight gain, insomnia, and other issues. In fact, there are currently 34 recognized symptoms of menopause, many of which can start years before menstruation ends – during a period of time known as perimenopause.
Figuring out how to talk to children about menopause is a good idea, as it may help to alleviate any concerns about any physical or behavioral changes they could notice. But while plenty of books on the market outline how to talk to children about a girl's first period, few tell you how to talk about a woman’s last one. Unsure of how to talk to children about this transitional time? Here are a few guidelines that can help open the lines of communication and demystify the process.
Strategies for Talking About Menopause with Your Family
We’ve already noted that this conversation explaining what menopause is to your loved ones may be a tricky one, but there are ways to make the discussion a little bit easier:
- Know your audience: Don’t give kids more information than they can handle. Young children who do not know about hormones or sex don't need to know that your estrogen levels are declining or that you are losing your libido. Instead, present the information and maybe even explain the term ‘menopause,’ in a less clinical, more simplified way. "Mommy's body is feeling tired, hot, grumpy, etc.," and reassure them that your mood has nothing to do with them. Teenagers who are going or have gone through puberty can probably handle more direct information about what you’re feeling because they know what it's like to experience the ups and downs of hormonal changes. They may even empathize. Adult children can grasp a more in-depth conversation about the good, the bad, and the overwhelming aspects of menopause. The more candid information you can offer, the more likely they may be able to navigate their own journeys or the journeys of their spouses.
- Try to KISS: Yes, you should of course cuddle and kiss your kiddos, but we're talking about the acronym "Keep It Simple, Stupid." There is no need to offer a textbook definition of every menopause symptom or elaborate on why these symptoms are occurring. The simpler the explanation, regardless of age, the better. Along with keeping it simple, keep it light. Remember that a bit of humor goes a long way in taking the awkwardness out of a situation, yes, even when you’re explaining menopause.
- Offer plenty of reassurance: Remind your children that what you are going through during menopause is a natural part of life, and while it’s sometimes inconvenient or downright disruptive, it’s nothing to worry about. Assure them that you are not "sick," and talk to them about how you are handling your symptoms. That could mean explaining to young children that you are taking certain “medicines” to feel better. For older children and adults, you can be more specific about natural remedies, supplements, hormone replacement therapy, antidepressants, and any other things you’re doing in order to better manage your menopause symptoms.
- Don’t forget the boys: No, your sons aren’t going to go through menopause, but their girlfriends, partners, friends, wives, and daughters will. Admittedly, it’s not the most comfortable chat to have with your son, but if you raise him to understand the unique way that a woman’s body functions during the menopause transition, he will be more equipped to be a strong, loving, patient partner and friend if and when the time comes.
- Let them know they can help: On the days when you aren't feeling your best, tell your children and explain how they can help. If you are exhausted, ask them for some help around the house. If you are feeling grumpy or weepy, tell them and ask them to be patient with you and, more importantly, not to take it personally. When you communicate honestly, you are helping your children understand your needs and acknowledging that you’re all in this together, which can help to build family support in other areas, too.
- Stay positive: Finally, remember your children are listening, even when you aren't speaking directly to them. Girls are particularly perceptive to the way you talk about your body. If they continually hear you refer to yourself as "overweight" or "old," or if they hear you bemoan the normal changes that come along with your aging body, they will learn to dread what is inevitable. Conversely, if they hear you speak about the positives that come from growing older and see you take charge of your menopause symptoms handling them with grace and confidence, they will know that menopause is not the end of the world and may even be the start of a pretty great new chapter.
Why It’s Important to Explain Menopause
Communication with children and your family about menopause is critical to removing any shame or stigma associated with this completely normal time in your life. By letting them know you trust them enough to handle what you are going through, you are giving them a safe space to ask questions without fear of embarrassment.
And when the time comes for them to deal with their own hormonal issues, whether that means puberty or menopause, they will be well-informed and feel comfortable enough to turn to you for support.