in your 40s

The perfect storm in your 40s: are you in it?

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There is much about motherhood and parenting you aren’t told before you get into it and it’s too late to back out, but one warning that certainly isn’t issued is that if you have kids in your 30s, you’ll  be caught in a perfect storm of hormones and stress in your 40s.

My mum was of the generation of women who mostly had their kids in their 20s. I organised her 40th birthday party – by that time I had almost finished my second year of uni, hadn’t lived at home for two years and was well past the hormonal angst of being a teenager in high school.

When I turned 40, my youngest hadn’t even finished his prep year of school. When he was born, my husband had just turned 40 – we were a long way from being empty nesters.

So here I am now with two kids in highschool in their early teens, dealing with a critical stage of their development and the busiest and most intense stage of parenting, at a time when my hormones are flipping out and our family finances are at peak need.

It’s a perfect storm ladies, with lots of hormones, stress, and pressure from all angles, and some days I wonder if I’m gonna end up like George Clooney at the bottom of the stormy sea.

How you show up in life in your 40s is different to your 30s

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the median age of mothers when I was born in 1971 was 25.4. In 2017, it was 31.3 years, with the fertility rate of 35-39 year-old women having more than doubled in the 30 years to 2017, and tripled for the 40-44 year age group.

What the statistics don’t mention is the difference that extra decade makes for the women in those stats.

We know women have been delaying having children because they have more opportunities for work and careers, and that most women continue to work in some capacity after they have children.

As a result, they hit their mid-40s with kids in tow and an intense work-life existence that would have been easier to deal with in their 30s before their hormones started to shift.

There’s no forewarning that perimenopause can make adolescence seem like a fun Disney movie. Sure teenage hormones make you antsy but someone else is largely doing all the work for you – the adulting part. When you’re a teen, you can take your hormonal tantrum to your room and dinner will still be made. When you’re a mother in her 40s, you have to have your hormonal tantrum at the stove top. Best you remove any sharp implements ahead of time.

When your hormones start to pack up for retirement, you’re still left holding the (now bigger) baby – you’re feeding, clothing, soothing, driving, supporting and teaching a child who is experiencing their own hormonal shifts. It can be a pretty volatile mix.

Meanwhile, your body has a serious issue with the amount of stress it’s under and simply doesn’t want to play that game.  It’s a time when you may experience a combination of physical, emotional and mental symptoms that make things much more difficult than they used to be.

Perimenopause – the 3-10 years before menopause, so pretty much the tail end of your 40s – can bring with it, among other things, disturbed sleep, a lower tolerance for stress, anxiety, depression, and forgetfulness or an inability to focus. There are many ways it can show itself to you and at a time when you most need to have your wits (and energy) about you, you find yourself in deficit.

At a time when you need the patience of Mother Theresa and the energy of a toddler, you feel as old as Mother Theresa and as patient as a toddler.

Oh the irony.

Surviving the storm

If we’re to stay afloat during this time, it helps to recognise we’re in the storm in the first place. From there, we can consider what we need to not just survive, but ride the waves like an experienced sailor.

Here are some ideas:

Make sleep a priority. Disrupted sleep patterns are common and while it can sometimes be complicated to fix, depending on what’s actually happening for you personally, you can at least make it a priority to do something about. Nobody functions well on crappy sleep.

Create some white space. This is time in which you have nothing in your schedule – it’s free time to do nothing. It’s giving yourself a break literally, so that your system can just take it easy for a minute or so and not be under pressure all day long.

Test your hormones. Go see an integrative GP or one who specialises in women’s health and get your levels checked so you know what’s going on and how you can best support your system. Combine that with a naturopath if necessary and work on nurturing yourself.

Check your stress. Consider what is most stressful in your life and look at how you can minimise it. Check your diet, your movement and consider meditation. Check your schedule and offload commitments you don’t really need to keep. Cut back any pressure you can.

Read up on it. By all means Google it (and if you do, be prepared for an onslaught of ageing ads that Google and Facebook will then throw into your searches and feeds) but here’s two resources that will cover pretty much everything – Dr Christiane Northrup (find her here) and Dr Sara Gottfried (she’s here) both have enormous amounts of information on the subject, including books.

Above all else, be kind to yourself and try not to sweat the small stuff.


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