When my eldest son was a toddler, I was trying to put on his shoes and he was messing about - pulling his feet away and kicking out at me - and I burst into tears. I distinctly remember thinking "I can't cope..." and it scared me.
I knew that on another day I would have grabbed his feet and made a game of it and I knew he must be confused that I'd reacted so differently. I was confused too. Thinking about it later that day, I suddenly realised my period was due.
I asked friends if they've had similar experiences. Mum of one, Joanna, says that as her period approaches, she warns her daughter that if she gets angry with her it's because of hormones not because of her.
While Susan said, "I'm far more grumpy with the children when it's that time of the month. I always apologise and explain that I don't meant to be cross. Last time it happened, Olivia told my mum I was 'feeling a bit tired'. I am conscious of it and do try to count to 10 first."
I'm not quite as self-aware as Susan. I never seem to realise my reaction is down to hormones until after I've reacted. My friend Sam is the same: "I normally give my two boys three or four times before becoming slightly cross, but when I've got PMS, I will ask once and then all bets are off. It's the only time I truly understand the saying 'Like a red rag to a bull.'
"'There's not even time for the red mist to descend before I snap and absolutely lose my cool. I know I'm unreasonable and yet I feel I'm in the right. It's unpredictable and intense. And then I'm left feeling guilty for shouting at the boys."
Mum of two Shelley knows the feeling too. She says, "I go way over the top about something I would normally not be bothered about. I have learned now though and when I feel myself losing it I start to scream and act silly. The boys laugh and it gives me time to calm down."
My sons know about periods - they've seen tampons in the bathroom and asked me what they're for - but I know the hormonal aspect is hard to understand. I want them to know that even though my behaviour may not necessarily be rational, it's not something they should be dismissive of. It's a difficult balance to get right.
And getting the balance right is even more important with daughters - you need to explain your own symptoms without making periods into a negative thing to be dreaded.
I asked Jo Macdonald - author and creator of the Preparing for your Daughter's First Period Ekit - for advice.
Jo says, "Explaining PMS to a child (or partner) can be tricky as we don't always fully understand it ourselves. The key thing to remember is that PMS is due to a variety of factors (not just hormones) such as tiredness, stress, lack of time out and self-care, etc.
"Talking to your daughter about menstruation in a simple, positive way is so important as it can have a huge impact on her own experience when the time comes. Gently explain to her that your body is very clever and wants you to take good care of yourself, just like you take care of her, and so just before your period your body does a kind of check-in to see how you are.
"Tell her that if your body knows you need a bit more rest or time doing something you love then your body can get grumpy. Help her understand that PMS is really a sign that mummy just needs a bit of quiet time and self-care, perhaps remind her how she gets grumpy and a bit teary when she is tired.
"If PMS strikes and you lose your temper then apologise and say 'I'm not cross because of you, my body is just getting grumpy because it wants me to rest a bit.'"
For me, I think the awareness is the main thing. Instead of letting my periods creep up on me as I've done for most of my life, I now make sure my due date is noted on the calendar so I'm pre-warned. I will probably pre-warn the boys too and, as they get older, we'll talk about it more. I'm also going to take Jo's advice and take better care of myself at that time of the month.
One thing that really did strike me when I asked friends about this is that many of us had been suffering, but none of us had mentioned it. If you're worried, talk to a friend or professional.
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