British artist Francis Wheatley’s depiction of mother and her children, probably not having a period talk / Wikimedia Commons
In a recent Sisterhood post, fellow contributor Frimet Goldberger writes about how her mother never had a menstruation talk with her until after she got her period.
“There was no big fuss made; she didn’t sit me down and explain anything to me. You were going to bleed every few weeks because, nothing — just because.” And later: “The friendship grapevine is how I learned about puberty, the birds and the bees and many other things not customarily introduced by mothers in the Hasidic community.”
Now Frimet, who is no longer part of the Hasidic community she was raised in, is wondering how to best talk about puberty and periods with her daughter. Here’s my advice: don’t have a talk at all.
My mom never gave me a period talk. Does this mean that I didn’t know about menstruation and, by natural extension, how babies are made until I got my period? No way. Just that we never sat down over muffin and smoothies, or whatever else people ate back in the mid ’90s, and had a dedicated conversation about what happens to girls when they become women.
Instead, she just answered many small questions along the way. The lesson happened over the years in teeny, tiny installments that made the whole period thing feel like a totally natural and normal, and therefore not at all embarrassing, part of life. It’s difficult to feel shame about something that you have only experienced, even second-hand, as completely ordinary.
Children are naturally curious, and most of us tend to feel a special kinship with our same-sex parents, if we have one, to talk about body stuff. So we should answer our daughters questions as they come up, and treat the topic with the same matter-of-fact demeanor that we would use when explaining why boats float or bread rises — as a matter of slightly perplexing science.
Then when the day comes and our little girls get their periods, ditch the science and celebrate that biological rite of passage with something special. You can take a page from the “Blossom” playbook and take the whole family out for a celebratory meal or do whatever feels right for her. It may not be a Bar Mitzvah, but it is a marker of adulthood nevertheless, and not one to be ignored.
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.