The concept of your little girl becoming a woman may be difficult to wrap your head around, may make you uncomfortable, and even cause you to break out in a cold sweat. But, there’s little to fear, fellas….the Chief Maxi is in!
Yes, the onset of your daughter’s menstruation can be an awkward time for fathers, as well as their young daughters, but trust me when I tell you that it is very, very important that you be there for her—especially as she begins menstruation.
Young women between the ages of 8-14 are frankly, fragile. They are caught between being little girls and women—and there’s very little time for that adjustment to occur. It happens seemingly overnight. Right before our eyes, our bodies morph — courtesy of curves where none used to be, hair where none previously grew, all married to a series of uncomfortable physical symptoms that can make us downright moody. It’s a lot to ask at this age when self-image is at the height of development. Self-esteem can be lost for many years with simply a sideways glance from a boy we like, or an unexpected, embarrassing incident which transpires in front of classmates.
The cult classic, Carrie did a real number on me and several of my friends—especially the scene where the uneducated and highly sheltered Sissy Spacek gets her period and panics. Instead of showing compassion or support, her classmates pummel her with tampons and maxi pads in the locker room shower. That scene was clearly traumatizing not only for the character in the movie, but those of us who had yet to start menstruating….me included.
My father didn’t prepare me for my menstrual cycle. I don’t think he knew how to broach the subject having raised three boys on his own. And…my father was all I had. I’m confident that the ‘birds and the bees’ talk with his sons was much easier than the day I got my period. So, to help you and your daughters alleviate some of the awkwardness around this special time, we’re offering a list of suggestions to prepare for this major milestone in a young woman’s life.
(1) Don’t turn over the responsibility to another woman or completely avoid it. One of the ancillary benefits of you helping your daughter understand that she is growing up is that you send a message of comfort. You can handle uncomfortable subject matter—and you aren’t afraid to talk with her. You show confidence and innate affection for her by challenging yourself with the sensitive subject matter. Extra cool dad points, scored. You may not have all the answers, but it is absolutely OK to say, “I’m not sure about that, honey, but I am more than happy to find out so that we’ll both know.”
(2) Separate the onset of menstruation from sex. While medically, a young woman is able to bear children after the onset of menstruation, there is NO need to insert a discussion about sex within a conversation about menstruation. You can if you want, but menstruation is biological. Having sex incorporates many facets including your spiritual, cultural and moral beliefs and values system which you can plan for at another time. For now, focus on her period. Getting your period (from a woman’s perspective) can be both exciting and daunting. Rest assured, plenty of your daughter’s friends are likely beginning to talk about it, so she’s not totally in the dark. However, wouldn’t you much rather have her learn about the facts from you rather than a classmate who regurgitates informationto her peers from unknown or unreliable sources without context?
(3) Become more familiar and comfortable with the ‘tools of the trade’ (i.e. pads, tampons, menstrual cups, washable pads, feminine wipes, sprays the like). Listen guys, you’ve had girlfriends and/or a wife or two, so you know that they use these items. That can’t be completely foreign to you. Don’t be afraid…most are made from cotton, string, plastic, cardboard—stuff you’d find in a Home Depot, so just because they come in pretty boxes, don’t let them scare you. While you are becoming more comfortable, feel free to walk an aisle of feminine hygiene products with your daughter in tow. Ask her a question about the variety of options to determine how much she knows. You’ll get a good idea about her level of understanding simply from asking her ‘why do women need all this stuff?’ She may think you are clueless, but thankfully, you’ll be the wiser. In the end, the more comfortable you are, the more comfortable she will be.
(4) Don’t distance yourself. I know, I know…she’s changing. She’s moody, sometimes downright bitchy, and she certainly doesn’t seem to want a hug from dad anymore….so she leads you to believe. Girls at this tender stage DO desire their father’s support. Simply saying, “you are so beautiful,” “you look really nice today,” “I like your hair that way,” “I still can’t believe how time has flown, and how quickly you’ve grown up..” really go a long way. Just noticing her provides self-esteem and confidence…just as it did when you cheered her on at swim meets, basketball games, soccer games, band concerts and stage plays. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to strengthen your relationship with your daughter—so consider taking advantage of it. And, if all else fails, invite her to go shoot hoops, take a run with you, or even a hike at a local park to just spend some time. Trust us…we like time with our fellas…Dad included!
(5) Consider purchasing a preparation kit to celebrate the forthcoming milestone and also give her added access to information, products, and gifts that she may actually like and can really use. I of course have to plug our company, Period Packs, as our mission is simple, to ‘welcome young ladies to womanhood.’ Inside all of our gift boxes is an amazing book, Period., that explains in simple terms the entire process of menstruation, what to expect, and things to start thinking about such as grooming and hygiene. There is also a nifty pullout Parent’s Guide in the back for you that can assist in planning a shared discussion together after she’s read the book, if you like. And, other companies similar to Period Packs do exist that also carry interesting products at a variety of price points, so there are options.
(6) Expect some overflow. Yep, blood. That’s the result of a menstrual flow, gentlemen and this you know very well. You may not like it or even want to know about it, but as your daughter ages, you are going to have to learn to be okay with it—just as you would be if you scraped your knee playing baseball, or sliced your fingers while preparing dinner. Same stuff….just from a different location. As your daughter begins to menstruate, she may have leakage onto her underwear, clothes, nightclothes or bed linens. DON’T panic. There is a fantastic product (eco-friendly no less) that has recently become available that helps remove blood stains quickly and nearly effortlessly called Ruby’s Red Wash. Definitely get some…it works. Or, blood does wash away in cold water with some help from an over-the-counter stain remover. For really nice clothes however, use caution as stain removers can bleach and sometimes harm fabrics.
(7) Consider going with her to her first OB/GYN appointment. Finally, if you are the sole parent, it is important to know that women should begin seeing an OB/GYN physician shortly after menstruation begins. An overview of a PAP smear (the test completed by the doctor to check the cervix for abnormal or cancerous cells) is included in the PERIOD. book, and most pediatricians today can perform these exams as well—just check in with yours first about the timing of such an exam.
Hopefully these tips will provide initial guidance. I can say with confidence that I wish my own father had helped me prepare. Since I was the only girl in a house with my father and three brothers, it was an incredibly awkward and isolating time. Dads today can really make a difference in the lives of their daughters–even in the most unexpected of ways. We hope you’ll tackle the topic of menstruation knowing that you and your daughter aren’t the first to walk this path, and of course, won’t be the last.