It is hard to know where to begin with this topic and as I have had so many half-musings about it I’m worried I won’t make much sense but I’m going to give it a go.
I have PMS. There, I’ve said it. I don’t mean that I feel a bit off when I have my period, I mean that I feel really shit: physically and crucially, mentally too. The majority of the time I am a calm, patient and pretty controlled person. However, for about 4 days every six weeks or so, I’m really not. I become short-tempered, rage-y, impatient and very fed-up. I do not enjoy this version of myself and work extremely hard to appear “normal”. I try my best to react as I usually would even though I have burning desires to scream expletives and throw things. It is very tiring.
I try to warn my husband that I’m feeling a little crazy so that he can avoid winding me up/ lessen my load but as I still seem to appear pretty calm on the outside I don’t think he fully understands the depth of my potential wrath. We have been together 15 years and married for 10 of them and he has never witnessed me fully lose it until this month when I kind of did. Although it wasn’t an enjoyable experience for either of us I think it has given him a greater understanding of how I do feel and the effort I’m expending every cycle to keep a lid on it. This is good because in this mix there is also Little Bear who has the ability to try the patience of a saint, let alone a woman suffering PMS.
The last thing I need when my patience is already frayed by my pesky hormones is greater than normal provocation, less than usual compliance and a near constant requirement for attention. Yet, after two years, I’m now seeing a pattern emerging. When I have PMS Little Bear’s behaviour is definitely more difficult to manage. I am certain this is not just because I’m finding everything harder to manage as I can observe others becoming more frustrated with him and we have discussions about why he is behaving the way he is. It is not only this but I’ve observed physical changes in him at these points too. He is more tired, lethargic and generally appears under the weather. All of which makes me wonder: what is my PMS doing to him and why?
Evidently, consciously or not, Little Bear is hypervigilant to the changes in me. Despite putting all my efforts into trying to act normally, am I actually acting differently enough for him to notice? What is it that I’m doing? Is it the short temper? Am I quicker to react? Do I react to things I normally wouldn’t? It is very hard to say with any accuracy because clearly my slightly addled brain is not the best judge at these points. I know I certainly don’t feel serene inside so I’m guessing he can notice something different in my parenting. Why does this cause him to up-the-ante though? Most children, well Big Bear anyway, figure out that Mum is grumpy and do their best to placate, please and stay out of the way. Not Little Bear though, oh no.
I fear that it is because I go from being very predictable to not-so-predictable in my behaviour and this causes him anxiety. He usually knows exactly where he is with me and what I’ll do in any given parenting situation but what I might do on these days blighted by PMS does include shouting and losing my temper, where usually it wouldn’t. Am I scaring him?
Clearly I don’t want to frighten him or push him back to a place of fight/flight but I really am putting in 110% effort to contain myself. I don’t mean to lose my temper with him but in my defence I do have PMS, I feel totally rubbish and he is pushing every single one of my buttons. The other day he was driving me right up the wall and back again at tea time so in order to avoid shouting (or harming him) I took myself out of the room to calm down. I told him I was leaving the room and why. I told him I would come back, I just needed 5 minutes. Most children would be quiet, eat their tea and try to get back in Mum’s good books. Not Little Bear. I had been gone about a second when he started shouting. Mum. Mum. Mum. Mum. I’ve eaten some more, Mum. Mum. Mum, come here. I want to know if I can have pudding now. Mum.
He doesn’t know when to stop. He can’t read the pragmatics of the situation. He cannot control himself. He doesn’t want me to be away from him because he feels safer if I am close.
I know all this and yet I am being driven slightly mad. Every time he shouts “Mum” it is like a virtual peck to my head. I just need some peace.
Given that we are both trying our best but I am failing at the keeping my temper part it is clear that I am having a negative impact on the little guy’s behaviour. What impact are my failings for 4 days every 6 weeks going to have on him long term? Is the fact that I’m pretty consistent in my calmness the rest of the time enough to wipe out the impact of the bad days? Or am I, due to the blasted PMS, an inconsistent carer?
Or, is this nothing to do with my predictability; is it something to do with regulation? Usually, I help Little Bear to stay calm and not over-excited or angry and upset by co-regulating with him. If he’s getting more and more excited, I don’t get excited with him. I stay calm and through my body language and manner, help him to calm down too. When I have my period I don’t think my own regulation is good at all. I’m furious, whether I’m acting it or not, so my ability to co-regulate is probably rubbish. In fact, is it possible that we are co-regulating, just that he’s coming up to join me in dysregulated land not the other way round?
And how do I explain the physical changes I’ve noticed in him? There is more than regulation at work there. It is as though he is feeling what I’m feeling. The PMS Bible by Katharina Dalton says: “Children who cannot understand their mother’s mood swings, may react by developing psychosomatic or bodily symptoms such as a cough, runny nose, endless crying, temper tantrums or vomiting” but there is no real explanation as to why.
Could it have something to do with Mirror Neurons? Apparently we have neurons which fire not only when we feel something but also when we observe someone else feel it e.g. if we see someone gag because they have eaten something gross, our own stomachs can turn. I can’t find any research on it but is it possible that Little Bear is so reliant on me and tuned in to me because having a reliable parent is still a bit of a novel concept (and actually we are very close) that when I feel rubbish his Mirror Neurons make him feel rubbish too? Is this empathy at work?
Or is there something hormonal going on? I know that one woman’s hormones can affect another’s. In fact one of my friends’ cycles always goes completely awry when she comes to stay with me, probably because my hormones are so crazy there is some sort of hormonal force field surrounding me. Has Little Bear been sucked in? Again I can’t find any research on whether mother’s hormones can impact on their children or not but I’d be really interested to know. There must be a very clever person out there who knows more about such things (if there is I’d love to know your thoughts).
All I do know is that adoption and PMS are a less than desirable combination.
An adopted child needs calm, consistent parenting. When Bruce Perry said “the parent’s mind needs to be the child’s safe base” I don’t think he meant ‘excepting every sixth week when their mind is all over the shop’.
Despite my rageful state, I feel guilty when I lose my temper and I do try to do the repair part. I say that I’m sorry; I try to explain that I’m not feeling good and I try to give him lots of love. We muddle through. I congratulate myself at the end of each hormonally contaminated day that we have survived and that I have not harmed him. Then I collapse in an exhausted heap.
This month has been particularly bad. Note to any fellow PMS sufferers: never start an exercise regime around the time of your period and certainly not in the middle of the summer holidays. It is extremely foolish. Also, when feeling this rubbish, it is wise to abandon usual functioning (who cares if you haven’t tidied up or taught your children anything all day?) and the best and only solution is snuggling on the sofa.
I have been looking for a way to end this post that leaves me with hope rather than despair and as I should have learned by now, the way to turn in these situations is to Dan Hughes. He says this (not specifically about PMS but he might as well have): “You are not a robot. You have ‘bad hair’ days. Accept it, own it, and don’t blame your child for it. But let him know that you have less patience on that day and you might be a bit grumpy”. He goes on to say “if this grumpiness is the worst behaviour that your child will experience from you – and you have not abused, neglected or abandoned him – he is likely to feel more safe rather than less safe after such days”. I’m not sure this is totally true in practise but I shall cling on to it as they are comforting words.
Anyway, by next month the apparently amazing benefits of exercise will have kicked in and no doubt I will float through my period like some sort of serene goddess with nary a frown to blight my glowing complexion.