My mom was a nut in many ways but I always knew that she loved me. One way she showed her love was by setting aside the time, when I was about nine years old, to tell me what a woman's period was all about. It was just her and me in the house, I don't remember where everyone else went, what happened before or what happened after. What I do remember is sitting on the nubby couch in the living room as she drew a rough sketch of the the female reproductive system. It looked like the head of a cow with horns.
I was lucky. Thanks to my Mom's example, I was able to provide the same to my own daughter. Sadly, I know a lot of women who didn't get the "wondrous mystery of becoming a woman" explained to them in any manner whatsoever or, worse, in a way that was traumatizing. Maybe they just started bleeding "down there" one day, and someone, usually their mom, threw them the necessary sanitary device and that was that. The underlying message was, "It's shameful and dirty, therefore you are shameful and dirty. Deal with it."
Younger generations get a lot explained in Health class at school. Some parents think that leaves them off the hook. Nice try, but I don't think so. Teaching girls about menstruation at around eight or nine years old, before they have their first period, is appropriate. If you wait until they are ten or eleven you may be too late. It is an act of love for parents to take the time and have the guts to tell their kids about what their bodies are doing as they grow and that it is all healthy and good. It teaches them ownership of their bodies and nourishes their self-esteem.
Regardless, for many parents this is a nerve wracking time. Usually it's the Mom who initiates this conversation. If you are a single dad you might ask a loving aunt, grandmother or friend to provide back up. To help out here are a few tips:
1) Make the first talk private, just the two of you. The individual attention your daughter gets from you is a treasured gift.
2) Do not plan to take too much time on the topic. Ten minutes might be enough, probably not more than half an hour.
3) Only answer the questions asked in the spirit in which they are asked. This talk is not to be confused with The Talk. Sex is not the subject and it is premature to talk about sex with an eight or nine year old child.
4) Make it comfortable. Have a cup of tea, milk and cookies available. Sit in your favorite comfy chairs.
5) Use visual aids. Books with pictures are nice. American Girl: The Care and Keeping of You is a good one. Show her the book and give it to her to keep after your talk.
6) Don't give in to the temptation of saying, "Yeah, it's gross and it can hurt like hell." There's plenty of time for that later. This first talk should be about educating her so that when the milestone happens she isn't scared, she's prepared.
7) When the talk is done, it's done. When you sense that her attention is waining and all her questions have been answered change the subject. Have something fun planned for after, watch a fun movie, go outside for a walk, swimming or ice skating, bake cookies, give yourselves manicures, something 'girly' if she likes that stuff or active if that's more her style.
8) Be ready to talk about this several times, not just once. Young minds need time to take this stuff in so they may need some clarification later. The good news is, it gets easier.
How did you learn about menstruation? Do you have any more suggestions for talking with our daughters about it? Please share in the comments!