We’ve all been through the “Hormone Wars,” both our own and our children’s. Some of us have been through the wars more than once. It’s true that hormones will wreak havoc with our bodies, our families, and our relationships. Because these wars are a given, it’s important to identify, own, and plan for them.
Mandy is 13. She’s been having menstrual periods regularly for a couple of months now and she is perpetually annoyed by them. Her mom had prepared her, but going through it and talking about it seem to be two different things.
“Mama, this is gross. Yuck. Can I just do something to stop my period?” Mandy pleaded with disgust. “Aw, baby, I know it’s unpleasant, but you know, it’s just part of being an adult woman.” Mandy protested, “But I’m only 13. It’s not fair. I don’t like it.”
Her mama had given her the Biblical reasoning for women’s periods, the Adam & Eve story. She had also given her the medical reasons. They hadn’t, however, really talked about the mood and attitude changes with having her period. Now was the time for that talk.
Mandy’s mom agreed to be aware of the time of the month for her daughter. She would give her discreet prompts and encourage preparations. Medical research concludes that the emotional impact of menstruation can be improved when teens and women increase their physical activity and use a hypoglycemic diet, which is low sugar/low caffeine intake the week before menstrual flow begins. Mom suggested her daughter jog, walk the dog daily, or get into sport or workout as regular health conditioning. She also agreed to have healthy low sugar/low caffeine snacks and meals for that preceding week.
For issues of mood and attitude, mom offered to cut her daughter some slack, as long as Mandy did not cross the disrespect line and corrected her slip-ups. As with all emotional fevers, active listening is your go-to response when your child has mood or attitude issues. Mandy did not like the bottom line. It is what it is. She did, however, appreciate her mom’s efforts to understand and to adjust.
Eleven year old Cindy lays sideways across her bed, doodling on a large, blank pad. She starts with a dot in the middle of the page and then swirls outward until she is making big, sweeping marker strokes. She presses so hard at the end that she rips the paper. She balls it up and throws it at her bedroom door before falling back on the bed in a heap of tears. Shortly thereafter, her mom knocks on her bedroom door.
“Go away. Nobody’s home,” she fusses at the sound. Mama quietly opens the door and peeks in.
“Well, Nobody’s just the person I was looking for.” Her attempt at humor falls on deaf ears.
“What do you want, Mom? I’m busy.”
“Well…I can see that,” she replies as she reaches down to retrieve the balled up paper at her feet. She unballs it and flattens it out. “Honey, what’s going on?” She slips onto the bed beside Cindy.
“Nothing. Leave me alone. Everything,” Cindy spits out in rapid fire. Mom let the silence between them linger. “Why did she have to ruin everything, Mama?”
When Cindy called her mom “Mama,” she knew her heart was heavy. They stayed in the room and talked for a half hour. Mom used her best active listening and, as she saw Cindy’s emotional fever come down, she offered some adult perspective and wise counsel.
At Cindy’s tender age, Mom wants to consider several factors. First, where is Cindy in her dawning menstrual cycle? Moods often magnify as a woman’s body begins her monthlies. Second, where is Cindy in her development? Erik Erikson tracks psychosocial development. At age 11, Cindy should be struggling with doing well and getting things done, called industry, or developing a sense of not-good-enough, called inferiority. Arnold Gesell tracked developmental, cyclical moods and found most 11 yr. olds loving but defiant. Third, how long has her daughter been in a funk? I follow what I call “the six-week rule.” If a difficult behavior occurs for less than 6 weeks, then it’s likely just a mood. If it occurs for more than 6 weeks, it might be a symptom.
With her tenderness, compassion, and active listening, mom is on the right track. But she needs to monitor whether Cindy’s behavior identifies a mood or a symptom.
When we go on vacation each summer, we buy a new jigsaw puzzle and lay it out on a table smack in the middle of our rental. At one time or another, each of us has put at least one piece of the puzzle in place. Some of us spend more time than others, but all contribute and the puzzle is complete before we pack up to head home.
The cover of my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, has a picture of a home with the puzzle almost all together. As Christian parents, we are all daily picking up random pieces of our family, looking at them from all angles, measuring, trying them out in a place, removing them, trying them out in another place. We look for clues by examining the picture on the box. That would be our ideal picture of how our family should look to the world.
But in our real world, we can't depend on what our family "should" look like. We are who we are. Our jigsaw pieces are three-dimensional, fluid, ever changing shapes. We are left to capture each piece in time and find a fit. We mold our shape to the shape of others in our family. Each of us is ever changing shape and yet fitting together as family in a unique, engaging, loving way.
Oh, for sure, there are times when individual pieces just don't seem to fit the puzzle. Think teens with hormones just trying to figure themselves out. Think terrible twos who are just figuring out how to say "no." Good luck trying to fit them into your concept of your family puzzle. The best we can do is change only that over which we have control. As Christian parents, we make every effort to be healthy, godly role models for our children. We can do that, and what we do and how we are has an enormous influence over our children, but they'll never tell you that.
The second thing we can do is be there for each of our children. Be there with time, with activity, and with heart. When little Tommy is out of sorts, set healthy boundaries, hold and nurture him, and use your go-to active listening to help him sort out his own feelings. Share your wisdom and find teachable moments.
As we go through life, individual puzzle pieces frequently fit together, occasionally . Savor those times. When all the family puzzle pieces align, even just for a moment, praise God, for He is at work in your home. Families are a puzzle.
Me and roller coasters don’t get along. I’m closing my eyes and white-knuckling all the way. Once, when our daughter was 14, we had all gone to a theme park and I wanted us to get a charcoal caricature of our family. Rachel got an attitude and refused. We negotiated that I would ride the Rebel Yell roller coaster with her if she would sit for the family picture. “Twice!” she grumbled. Overcoming my terror because the outcome was worth it to me, I agreed.
Is your son or daughter entering the teen years? Hang on. You’re in for an emotional roller coaster ride.
Angst and attitude are part and parcel of teen life. While it seems personal, take heart. It’s not only you, but most everybody who catches teenage heat. For a response, you have several options. “Hold on, buster. This is my house and you will can the attitude!” While this response is in every parent’s mind, keep it there. Don’t let it come out of your mouth. With such a response, you are just trying to match your teen’s power play with your own. You might get compliance, but it would be out of fear and at the expense of relationship.
“What? Is that attitude I hear? Where is that coming from?” is heartfelt and a step in the right direction, but at the risk of your teen feeling shamed. Don’t be surprised if the response is a verbal shut-down or a flippant, “Whatever.”
“Wow! This isn’t like you, son. What else is going on?” is more on track. You are calling attention to his attitude but also recognizing his angst. He may still not want to talk, because of his mistrust and unspoken recognition that he crossed a line. “Why are you trying to be nice to me?” sometimes is the response. Hang in there. He’s slowly cracking the emotional door to see if he wants to let you in.
When teens, and children as well, are given an essay question like “What else is going on here?” they may not have the words or want to answer it. If you get a blank stare or “Leave me alone.” To the essay question, make it a multiple choice question. You know their lives well enough to come up with 3 or 4 options as to what might be fueling his angst. When you get some acknowledgement, shift to active listening. Trying to understand his feelings is at the heart of helping him get through his angst. The good news is that from the angst and attitude of teen life comes the development of an individual identity, your goal for your teen as he prepares for adulthood.
Everybody has them. They often control the inner flow of our bodily functions. There are everyday hormones, growth hormones, and sex hormones. Hormones also contribute to the seasons of our lives. Coming of age, teenage hormones often get a bad rap. In fact, adolescent growth and sex hormones are awesome! They pave the way to adulthood. They usher in the developmental life stage of creating an individual identity.
For girls, the obvious hormone invasion is menarche, that magical moment when menstrual flow begins and physically a girl becomes a woman. For boys, the event is more gradual, cracking of the voice as it deepens, beard and other hair growth. Hormones are also about attitude. Getting cocky, sassy, challenging authority, finding and testing boundaries.
The other life stage that is hormone-laden is menopause, in the 45-55 age range for women. The best cognitive reframe I've heard for the hot flashes women experience in menopause is describing them as "power surges." Male menopause doesn't have the obvious flag, but nonetheless is characterized by industry, expansiveness, finding life meaning. This can result in dramatic directional changes in career, relationship, and values.
When adolescent hormones and adult mid-life hormones are all in the mix in a family, hold on. In Chapter Six of Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I explain how hormones will wreak havoc in families. The answer, however, is not to avoid them. Rather, try embracing them. Plan for them. Talk about all the changes. Use active listening to understand the feelings behind the actions and respond in ways that respect boundaries and enhance the family experience. Hormones. Ugh! but they don't have to be.