“So… tell me the story of getting your first period.” That was all I asked at the restaurant where I was having dinner with some moms.
These women were so eager to talk about this crazy memory from their adolescence. It was like swapping stories of car accidents, each topping the next with an “Oh yeah? You think that is wild? Wait till you hear this one!”
Turns out, becoming a woman rarely goes as expected.
“My mom went out and bought a multiple choice book about sex and sat me down and quizzed me. I remember my mother’s trembling hands as she read out the questions and choices:
A. A man’s penis urinates in a woman’s vagina
B. A man’s penis ejaculates in a woman’s vagina
C. Both A and B
I just listened in stunned silence hearing my nervous mother say these verboten words and I wanted to die!”
“I had two older sisters so my mom just arranged to have my sisters tell me everything.”
“My mom never told me anything, so when I started to bleed I thought I was dying of a hemorrhage.”
“I didn’t even know I had my period. I thought I soiled my panties. I didn’t know old blood was not red. Who tells you that?”
I chalked up these stories as being an indicator of how things shift each generation. I assumed my friends and I lived in a more conservative time. I felt sure that moms of today would be motivated to handle this major milestone.
However, I've discovered that some moms have gone in a whole other direction. Some are hosting parties to celebrate their daughter's first periods. And there are even companies that sell first period kits.
I promise you, there is middle ground between shame and renting out billboard ads. Given that this moment in your daughter’s life is going to be eventful in one way or another – let's make sure it's an event that will best help your daughter through this developmental milestone in her life.
Here are my tips to anchor your approach to making a good menses memory:
1. Your attitude is contagious, but a smile and a hug is sufficient to convey your positive emotions. “You are growing up! Exciting! Welcome to womanhood.”
2. Match your daughter’s personality. If she wants to be quiet and keep things on the down-low, follow her lead. If she is talkative and excited, share that enthusiasm, too.
3. Be honest. If you have difficulty discussing such topics, just say it: “My mother didn’t do a good job of preparing me, and I am afraid I don’t have much practice in this area, so sorry if I stumble and am nervous, too."
4. If you’re a dad and feel the gender issue is a barrier to good communication, ask your daughter if she would prefer to talk to a female aunt or friend of the family instead. That should be her choice – not yours. If she’d prefer to talk to you, muddle through. You’ll be fine.
5. Educate. If you have not discussed menstruation before, you have some educating to do. A good book can help, but you still need to be available to discuss what they are learning and answer their questions. And there should be lots of questions.
6. Help with the practical. Girls are afraid of accidents, especially if they are away from home. Make a little supply kit they can keep in their purse, locker or camp cabin that has some pads or tampons, wipes and a fresh pair of undies. Explain they can dispose of their old pair in a garbage can or the sanitary waste box in the bathroom stall if need be. Remind them to change their pads or tampons regularly (every four hours) so accidents are avoided. It’s good practice for healthy reasons, too.
Also, remind them that periods are usually fairly light (and erratic) the first year. Keep a cardigan or sweatshirt in your locker so if a leak comes through your clothes, you can hide it by tying your sweater around your waist. Discuss which teacher/coach/counsellor at the school they might seek out if they needed help in such a situation.
7. Many kids today want to use a tampon right away. That is fine. Be sure to buy the right size and explain how to insert it from the pictures on the package. Take one apart first so they see how the applicator works and how to properly dispose of the applicator and used tampons.
Many girls fear losing a tampon inside, but if you draw their anatomy or Google a picture, they can see it is impossible. Though, some people can forget they have a tampon in.
8. Minimize fears while being truthful. Yes, they may have some cramps and aches, bloating or acne, but all those worries can be dealt with as they arise. Young girls don’t need the added stress of hearing about all the complications that may (or may not) come with menstruation.
9. Womanhood means the ability to get pregnant. If you have not started talking about sex, you will have to begin now for sure. You don’t have to have ALL this information and all these topics covered in one discussion. That would be overwhelming for you both, but you have a responsibility to let them know that if they are sexually active they could become pregnant and they need to use birth control.
Many opt to go on birth control to help with menstrual issues. Time to talk to the family doctor and it's time to stop attending your child’s physical. They need to have privacy with their doctor now for the best chance of open communication.
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