Have you heard of demetrescence? It's the second transition as a mother when your kids become teens and here's the important reason why we all need to know more about it

Our experts share insight into this little-known transition

Mother sat with teenage daughter on a beach
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You might not have heard of demetrescence but if you're a mum of teens, you could already be going through it. Experts share insight into this life transition.

Recently, awareness has emerged about what happens during matrescence - the process of becoming a mother. Matrescence encompasses the seismic shift in every emotional, hormonal and social experience and identity that comes with having a child. Usually accompanying matrescence is an increase in the mental load and kinkeeping - another term that's little-known but probably all women are doing. 

Now the process of matrescence has entered mainstream conversation, the term 'demetrescence' has entered the discussion. Another key life stage, demetrescence is the second big transition of motherhood and if you're parenting teens, there's a strong chance you are in, or about to start the process.

Parenting expert and GoodtoKnow resident pannelist Sarah Ockwell-Smith coined the term in her new book, How to Raise a Teen. In a snippet of the book shared to Instagram, Sarah shares what mothers need to know and six key facts about demetrescence - and we've added a seventh. We've also spoken to women's health advocate Clio Wood, to get her opinion on demetrescence and how it affects women. Sarah says "The standardised mean age to give birth in the UK is now 30.9 and the average age to begin Peri-menopause is 46. While our bodies change we may experience insomnia, crushing tiredness, forgetfulness and rage, all the while our teens are raging too.

We may also be the sandwich generation, caring for elderly parents, while the needs of our teens increase and our mental load sometimes feels so heavy that it may break us. And yet, this motherhood transition is not spoken of - it has no name - so I gave it one; Demetrescence." 

7 things you need to know about demetrescence

  1. Very little is known about demetrescence. Sarah writes "While the word matrescence has been in use since the 1970s, it isn't the only transition mothers must face. They go through another transition when their children are older. We don't talk about this one though."
  2. Learning to let go. This second transition involves 'letting go' of children who are becoming adults, after so many years spent keeping them close. Sarah shares "Just as we learn to yield to the attachment needs of babies, we must learn to once again be on our own, only now we are not sure who we are without them."
  3. There's more than letting go. As the parenting expert points out, there's so much more to this stage than simply letting go. She adds "We must do this 'letting go' and identity searching alongside the heavy mental load that raising teens and young adults brings. We do it as we feel the physical effects of our age, sometimes we do it alongside caring for elderly parents and sometimes alongside the physical and emotional challenges of the peri-menopause and menopause. And where there was once support for new motherhood (albeit scant), there is now none. There are no 'teenatal' classes and no 'teenternity' leave."
  4. Finding a word for the process is hard. Sarah continues "De-matrescence feels wrong. The prefix 'de' indicates 'moving away from' yet there is no moving away from matrescence, it remains a permanent part of our identity, physically and emotionally. This stage is something new, it needs a new word, but something related."
  5. The term has roots in Greek mythology. As the parenting expert explains "Demetrescence comes from the Greek Goddess Demeter - goddess of the harvest and mother of the kind and beautiful Persephone. One day Persephone was captured by Hades, god of the underworld and stolen from earth to be his wife. Demeter's grief for her daughter caused crops to fail and plants to wither and die. On seeing Demeter's grief, Persephone's father Zeus spoke wit Hades and bargained for Persephone to return to earth."
  6. Demeter's story is a metaphor for the second motherhood transition. Sarah explains this, saying "Hades agreed, but only if Persephone had not eaten from the fruit of the underworld - the pomegranate, but she had already eaten six seeds. Hades demanded Persephone remain in the underworld for one month for each seed she had eaten. So for six months she lived on earth and Demeter's happiness saw crops flourish and flowers bloom. For the six months she returned to Hades, the fields were barren as Demeter grieved, even though she knew Persephone would return." This is how their story mimics the process of demetrescence.   
  7. You're not alone. It's always a relief to know you aren't alone when you struggle with complicated feelings - anxiety over something that's only just been give a name is even more difficult. GoodtoKnow deputy editor, Heidi Scrimgeour, shares her demetrescence story. Heidi says "Thank goodness someone has given this stage of life a name because it feels so huge and the stakes are so high and yet it's so difficult to talk about because we haven't had a word for it. Imagine trying to talk to friends about what you're going through as a perimenopausal woman or as the mother of an adolescent if you didn't have those words. I was completely unprepared for this season of life, even more so than when I first became a mother. At that stage of life you might have felt unprepared but by comparison so much is put in place to ready you for new parenthood, from antenatal classes and postnatal checks to friends sharing well-thumbed copies of their favourite parenting books and well-meaning strangers warning you that you'll have your hands full. But no-one warns the mother of an adolescent what she's about to go through; how her hormones may spin out of control at just the moment she was expecting to finally feel like she'd nailed motherhood, or that navigating new terms of engagement with your child when they go to Uni can make you feel so adrift."   

Those commenting appear relieved to have their feelings validated by the word. One person wrote "I’ve had therapy around this - and felt slightly embarrassed about it. Now I know it’s a thing and not my imagination or me being lame."

Another adds "I was caught by surprise that this also extends to children who you didn’t birth. I have one biological child and three incredible step kids. Watching the eldest graduate uni and her her first job was both a mixture of pure pride and gratefulness that I am part of her life, followed by crashing sadness that this era is over. Looking back there’s so many things I got wrong and a few I got right, but mostly how privileged I feel to be part of their growth. It’s a part of me I never knew existed until it’s gone."

We spoke to Clio Wood women's health advocate and author of Get Your Mojo Back, Sex, Pleasure and Intimacy After Birth about her thoughts on demetrescence. Clio shares "The one thing that becomes increasingly obvious as we settle into parenting, is that although it changes, it doesn't necessarily get any easier.  The challenges or toddlerhood morph into the tantrums of teenagers and the stress, guilt and identity issues that this entails for mothers.

Coupled with the onset of perimenopause, juggling responsibilities of caring up - for aging parents - as well as down, and performing at work (in what is likely to be a senior or substantial role by this age), it makes midlife motherhood a pressured time affecting our self-perception, health and sexual wellbeing. Naming this could help us acknowledge the strain demetrescence creates, make it easier to describe to our support circle (friends, family, health professionals) and in turn receive help."

For more on midlife parenting ,we share how to talk to a teenager, and nine ways to let them take positive risks. If your teen will not socialise, we speak to experts who share what you can do.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.