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Menopause, puberty coincide in more homes

Who just slammed that door and burst into tears? Mother or daughter?

As women wait longer to have children, their menopause is more often coinciding with the onset of puberty in their kids. The effect can be a lot more squabbling and extra strain on the family as a whole. Depending on the volatility of the pairing, clashes can range from occasional flare-ups to constantly simmering conflict to complete meltdowns.

"It's the irritability factor, times two," 45-year-old Chris Niederer said of what she and her 14-year-old daughter, Madeline, are experiencing. "Everyone in the family is definitely aware."

Even though the Niederers, including father John, 16-year-old Zach and Michael, Madeline's twin, are a very open family, the key to getting along is "being really conscious of moods and realizing that some of it is internal stuff we can't help," said the mom from Minnetrista, Minn., adding that many of her girlfriends are in the same boat: "We talk about how erratic and impulsive they are, but it's so much easier to see that behavior in them than in yourself."

Online discussions of the topic call the condition "hormone house" and "Mother Nature's practical joke."

The number of women having babies in their mid-30s has risen significantly in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1996, women age 20-24 had the most babies, followed by women 25-29. By 2010, women in their early 30s were having more babies (97 per 1,000 births) than those in their early 20s (90 per 1,000). Since menopause typically occurs between ages 45 and 55, that means a whole lot more clashing of reproductive stages in families nationwide.

"Menopause and puberty are a lot alike, they're just going in reverse," said Dr. Donna Block, an Edina, Minn., gynecologist with more than 25 years of experience. "One is ramping up; the other's ramping down."

Symptoms common to both cycles of hormonal upheaval -- on top of changing bodies, personalities and emotions -- include more susceptibility to depression, the need for more sleep, acne problems and greater appetite (not exactly the kind of mother-daughter sharing desired by either side).

The mythology in the past was that every menopausal woman acts crazy, said Dr. Gretchen Van Hauer, a psychiatrist for Allina Mental Health who has been practicing for nearly 25 years. Women began taking pointed exception to that notion during the women's movement in the 1960s and '70s, claiming no connection between menopause and emotional volatility. "Now I'd say the pendulum has swung to the middle between the two" attitudes, she said.

Less stigma is attached to both menstruation and menopause than in the past; a recent episode of the popular prime-time sitcom "Modern Family" featured a mom and her two teen daughters having what a little brother called their "monsteral" cycles at the same time. The dialogue poked fun at old stereotypes while acknowledging the reality that, yes, guys of the house, the ladies are going through something right now.

In real life, too, moms and daughters of this generation are much more vocal about what they're experiencing.

"I did not talk with my mom at all about any of this," Niederer said. "But I can with my family, not only with my daughter and husband, but my two teenage sons. We took those commercials about talking to your kids about drugs and applied them to everything else, too, like how our physical changes are affecting our emotions."

Niederer said she's lucky that Madeline is generally even-tempered and mature for her age. That way, she knows that if there's an outburst, it's very likely to be purely hormonal.

"We can be emotional, but we still have to find ways to be respectful to each other," she said. "We need to figure out when to deal with it and when to walk away."