Guest post by Jenny Hart
As a dad, you may be walking with your kids through puberty for the first time since you were a pre-teen! And some topics are undoubtedly easier to tackle than others. It's not uncommon, for instance, to feel overwhelmed, stressed or nervous when it comes time to talk to your daughter about menstruation.
Your daughter's experience with puberty will likely include a variety of emotions that you know about, but not in the same capacity: fear, excitement, confusion, frustration, relief and embarrassment. Many teenage girls rely on their fathers as their primary support system at home, which gives you and your partner an incredible opportunity to learn more about your child, as well as offer insight and guidance as she approaches this life change.
If you and your partner are preparing to have "the period" talk with your daughter, these 4 tips may be able to help you walk her through the basics of her first cycle:
1. Know the signs of puberty
In pre-teens, puberty will take place over the course of a few years, so you can start talking to your daughter about it when she turns 8 or 9. This will help her prepare for what's going to happen with her changing body, and you can build on her knowledge over time. Since your experience with puberty was different than hers, it's helpful to be prepared well before her first period to answer any questions she has.
Often, this begins with becoming aware of the signs and symptoms of puberty and her menstrual cycle. Symptoms range from unexplained mood swings and irritability to cramps, bloating and breakouts.
Knowing what to look out for can prepare you and your partner when she enters this time of transition. It can also relieve some of the stress you may feel when talking to your daughter. Understanding the signs and symptoms yourself can help you communicate them to her, along with why women have periods.
As a gay couple who may not be as familiar with the female reproductive system, your daughter will appreciate your research as she's navigating the physical, emotional and hormonal changes she's going through.
2. Research different feminine care products
After becoming familiar with the basics about menstruation, research some of the feminine care products that are available on the market with your daughter. There are plenty of options to choose from, including junior products, cloth pads and natural tampons. Knowing what's out there and doing research together will help you guide your daughter to the right products for her.
Many teens feel more comfortable with pads for their first few cycles, as they're external products that are easier to use at first. However, your daughter may want to give junior tampons a try so she can still participate in social activities like going to the pool or playing sports. Either way, choosing the right products is based on leak protection, comfort features and ease of use.
Above all, it's important that your daughter knows that every woman's cycle is different. She's the only one who can say what's right for her, and it may take a few months to find what works best.
3. Speak with care and confidence
As a parent, talking to your daughter about anything at this volatile age can be difficult. With all the hormonal changes that come along with puberty, your daughter may get irritated, embarrassed and upset easily, so every word carries immense weight and must be chosen carefully. Try your best to be sensitive to what she is feeling, regardless of what's really happening, and be thoughtful in your response.
During "the period" talk, it's also important to be confident and stay involved. The more you avoid talking about it, the more she will. This communicates that it's embarrassing and uncomfortable, which she may associate with herself, so stay engaged and make sure she knows that it's completely normal.
Be confident in your research and in your daughter's ability to approach this change with grace and success. If you start to feel unsure, let her know that you'll be right by her side to find any answers you don't already have. As a pre-teen, this is some of the best reassurance you can offer, as she likely just needs to know that she's not alone.
4. Ask for help
If you and your partner do end up hitting a wall in your conversation, don't be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to a close family friend, a trusted female role model or your daughter's pediatrician. One or all of these people can share firsthand experience or professional expertise with your daughter. You can all have the conversation together, or she may prefer to have conversations separately. As her dads, you are both a valuable part of her transition into womanhood, serving as an advocate on her behalf. So don't be afraid to speak up when it looks like she's struggling.
A female mentor can identify with girl-centric problems or fill in the gaps in conversation. Your research can go pretty far in this case, but there are a few things that only a woman can know about firsthand.
However, it's crucial that you don't shy away from these discussions, even if your daughter has an older woman in her life to talk to. Your involvement can help break cultural stigmas surrounding men and menstruation, as well as empower your daughter as a woman.
Together, you have everything you need to navigate this life transition with your daughter. Just be sure to keep communication open, honest and loving as you talk to your daughter about puberty and her period. The more support she has during this time, the more confident she'll feel walking into the next phase of her life.