How I Used My Mood Swings to Strengthen My Parenting Skills

I’d been avoiding the feelings all day. Yeah, that wasn’t the best idea, but I told myself I had too much to do before picking my son up from school. So I pushed through housework and work-work, and when my computer crashed and the vacuum conked out, I spilled out more expletives onto our floor than could ever be cleaned up. My impatience and frustration built until my chest hurt. I plopped down on the couch and gave into my perimenopause-pause. My hormones were inviting me to take a break, so I took my time-out — if not for me, then for my 8-year-old.

Mood swings, irritability, and irritability at my mood swings are just a few of the perimenopause symptoms I noticed first. I could feel my usual laid-back personality inching its way into the danger zone, and was totally confused. I heard myself respond to my husband in ways that horrified me: “I think you’re old enough to find the cheese in the refrigerator without me,” I said like a woman possessed. It made more sense when I learned this time signaled a hormonal shift that’s marked by glorious things like the wonderful world of vaginal dryness, the greatness of night sweats, and, oh … an overuse of sarcasm. (Oops. Sorry, husband.)

For a long while (or a couple of years), I assumed I was feeling slightly anxious and impatient because I was a first-time mom. Not knowing how to navigate the perils, pitfalls, and poop that was living with a child, I stayed awake nights worrying and sweating without any help from my hormones — or so I thought. So what if my OBGYN referred to me as a “geriatric mother” — I could still navigate our 12 remotes and install apps on my phone without asking my younger nieces. When life with my son calmed down, but I didn’t, all the signs pointed to perimenopause.

My age, combined with long periods and emotional changes, made perimenopause my new normal. These effects weren’t always consistent, but could last up to 10 years, so I looked forward to the days I felt like the person I’d known my whole life. Then there were other days, when my body and my feelings were like a strange city where I could never quite get my bearings. And while my husband could handle the occasional spontaneous sarcastic comment or frustrated outburst, my sensitive son could not — nor should he.

“Hey kiddo, get in the car, okay?” I asked my son in a rush.

I thought I gave myself enough time to make my kid’s lunch, feed the dogs, feed my son, and change our clothes, but we were still late for school. As I raced to the car, I dropped my son’s backpack with a thump down the garage steps (which made me fear I’d cracked his favorite water bottle), and words that would easily get me a PG-13 rating flew from my mouth. Looking up, I saw my son through the front windshield staring at me. My 8-year-old was unusually quiet when I got into the car. I snuck a glance at the backseat and he was staring at his knees.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” my son responded in the smallest of voices. And then I sunk in the driver’s seat, feeling even smaller. Embarrassment and guilt took over the space where my frustration lived, and I wanted to go back in time and put myself in the calm corner. My frustration levels rise so fast and my kid is clearly not okay with that. While it is okay that he sees me as an imperfect human mom, it’s not okay that my mood swing has swung enough to disturb him — and maybe shake our trust. I apologized for my knee-jerk reaction and he relaxed a bit. Was there a way I could channel my big emotions for good?

Borrowing a technique I used for my kid during his tantrum-filled days, I’ve become intentional about taking pauses. The best results come when I’m aware enough to catch my mood change on the rise before it bursts out to the surface. So, sitting on my couch, I remind myself that stopping to breathe will help me ground. Hormonal shifts might be triggering these emotional jumps, but they’re still my emotions. Now, I take time-outs because feeling my big feels reduces their hold on me. Better still, I noticed an unexpected side effect of digging deep and staying connected: I’m even more sensitive to my son’s emotional needs.

When he comes home from school, I’m able to gauge his mood quickly, and at the appropriate time ask questions that help him uncover his feelings. When he’s worried about how his time on the playground played out, I’m ready. Cuddling on the couch, my son’s head rests on my shoulder and he fills the space with questions about friendship dynamics which turns into musings about if Sonic the Hedgehog were real. I have space for days to listen, validate, and listen some more. Our connection is stretching in ways I’d always hoped, but never really knew could happen.

Perimenopause is certainly keeping me on my toes with all its emotional highs and lows. My husband is learning to appreciate my new handlebar mustache (hair growth is a thing) and my son and I are learning to appreciate a deeper relationship. Perimenopause might actually be making me a better parent, because maintaining my connection with myself keeps me connected with my son — and that’s one side effect that’s totally wanted.


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