Your daughter’s first period will be filled with many emotions, for both you and her. How you discuss it, prepare for it and celebrate it will have a lasting impact and set the tone for your relationship as she steps into womanhood.
Puberty can be an awkward topic
In Western culture, the topic of puberty is usually a bit awkward. Sure, we mums roll our eyes at our children’s pre-teen antics. “She’s 10, with the attitude of a 16-year old,” we’ll say. We’ll complain about the back-chatting and the messy bedrooms. We’ll marvel at the growth spurts and the sudden interest in fashion. And, sometimes, we’ll grow quiet and then ask in a low voice, “Has your daughter, you know, started yet?”.
When does it begin?
The onset of puberty varies greatly, but girls in New Zealand usually experience the first menstruation between the ages 10-14. This is the earliest that adolescent girls have reached puberty in recorded Western history. A century ago, the average age of the onset of menstrual periods in girls was 15, while now it has dropped to 12. Scientists speculate that nutritional factors may be responsible for this change, but whatever the reason, the implication for parents is that we often need to start thinking about it before our daughters reach Intermediate school.
The bridge between childhood and womanhood
Undoubtedly, the menarche (first bleeding) is a momentous life event that marks the start of the journey into adult life and heralds massive changes for the female body. It is a natural initiation in the body and a sign that development is happening. But what do we tell our daughters and when? How do we prepare them for this lifecycle moment, this bridge between childhood and womanhood? Do we act as though it’s no big deal so as not to embarrass or freak out our daughters, or do we throw a big party?
How do we prepare them for this momentous moment?
To answer these questions, I scoured the internet, I canvassed fellow mums, and eventually I turned to the greatest authority in all matters pre-teen: my daughter. Luckily for me, the starting point of the discussion was provided by a hilarious advert for Hello Flo’s period starter kit. In case you haven’t seen it, a girl fakes her first period to fit in with her peers, and her mother punishes the lie by throwing her a big and embarrassing ‘first moon’ party. It sounds cruel and politically incorrect, but it’s funny to watch and you could just imagine Nigel Latta advocating the same strategy.
“What do you think?” I asked my daughter.
She didn’t hesitate. “Don’t even think about it!”
Support your daughter’s womanhood
We talked some more. Turned out a family celebration of the first period would be fine, and the more expensive the gifts the better… as long as the actual nature of the celebration was kept confidential. Perhaps first moon parties are more appealing to parents than to insecure pre-teens? While a girl may take secret pride from the fact that she’s become a woman, she might well need it to stay a secret. As parents though, we’d like to commemorate every milestone, show our love, reflect on how quickly children grow up. We want our daughters to have a positive view of their physicality, and we don’t want a natural function to turn into something dirty or shameful in their minds. The key, therefore, is to support our daughters in feeling part of an amazing club of strong, independent, and beautiful women, without coming across pushy or imposing.
What does it mean in practical terms? Prepare her months in advance by talking, talking, and more talking. Explain the biology, the physiology, the hygiene. Help her assemble a “starter kit” which she can hide in her school bag: a pad or two, intimate wipes, clean underwear, a lolly, one painkiller tablet. When your daughter’s first period arrives, congratulate her, love her, and take care of her immediate physical and emotional needs. Remember, your approach will have a long-term impact on her own attitude towards the subject.
MARKING THE BIG DAY
Even if your daughter loves surprises, discuss how she would like to mark the day, when it eventually comes. Would she like it to be a mother-daughter celebration? Just the females in the family? A first moon party (also known as a ‘red party’) for a few close friends? Will the theme reflect leaving her childhood behind, full of spirituality and red candles, or will it simply be a dinner at her favourite restaurant? It’s a good idea to plan a special gift for her, perhaps a piece of jewellery or a scrapbook she will always associate with this occasion.
No matter how your daughter decides to celebrate, make her feel special on the day. It’s probably the only time she’ll enjoy her period (no pressure!).
RITES OF PASSAGE AROUND THE WORLD
In many cultures, the first period marks a change in a young girl’s status. This is how they celebrate:
- Bushmen of Africa consider the menarche a sacred force, a time of psychic power when the girl has vast influence on hunting and the life forces. It is a reverent occasion, held in the same regard as a young warrior shooting his first big game animal.
- In Morocco, the girl has a family party, where she receives money and gifts. She may decide or be expected to wear a hijab (a head covering worn in public by traditional Muslim women) from this day forth.
- The Nootka encourage physical endurance by taking the young woman out to sea and letting her swim back.
- The Apache Sunrise Ceremony, an event several days long, honours all of the girls who entered womanhood in the past year. During the ceremony the girls must observe certain rituals, as well as re-enact the Apache Origin Myth about the first woman, known as Changing Woman, who is the personification of the earth and the natural order of the universe.
- Girls of the Ulithi tribe in Micronesia go to a menstrual house during their menarche. The women of the tribe bathe the girls and recite spells.
- In Japan, when a girl gets her first period, she celebrates by eating red rice and beans – the traditional festive food.
A NAVAJO SONG OF THE FIRST PUBERTY CEREMONY (EXTRACT)
A white shell has been placed on her forehead, she moves
Her feather of white shell, she moves
Above her a male blue-bird dances about beautifully, she moves
He sings: his voice is beautiful, she moves
By Eve Douglas