I don’t want my daughter to feel embarrassed about her body. I don’t want her to have to slink into a drugstore and covertly buy a box of tampons, praying that she won’t run into anyone she knows while carrying them down the aisle.
Life is difficult enough for young people.
This morning I was going to write a humor piece about the time I went to Walmart to buy Preparation H for hemorrhoids. To my chagrin, the only medication they had for such an affliction was a large bulky tube of something called Anusol.
I wanted to die, picking up that thing and walking to the checkout counter. I hadn’t had the forethought to get a basket, so there I was holding my tube of Anusol for all to see. It wasn’t very comfortable.
I’m pretty sure I could have put a great spin on this story and given a few people quite a chuckle at my expense. But then as I was walking my dog this morning, I started thinking about it. Why had I been so embarrassed in the first place? This is the type of bodily affliction that happens to pretty much everyone. It’s just another one of those awkward things that come with owning and operating a human body.
A few days ago, I picked Sophie up from school and as soon as she hopped in the car, I could tell there was a question brewing in that big brain of hers.
“Hey kiddo,” I said — my usual greeting for the 9-year-old.
“Mom.” She said matter of factly, “I have a question.”
“Okay, lay it on me.”
“Well, my friend told me at school today that she was wearing a bra. And I want to know why you haven’t bought me a bra yet.”
And there it was. This moment that I have been dreading ever since holding this baby girl in my arms for the first time, almost ten years before, had unexpectedly fallen out into the now stunned silence of the car.
I don’t remember when I first started wearing a bra. I think it must have been some time before I needed one because, well, peer pressure is a bitch when you’re in middle school. It’s the same with Sophie; she doesn’t need this undergarment, not yet at least. But I’m not going to shrug it off and ignore her queries. I want to be as open as I can in hopes of normalizing our bodies and bodily functions.
So as my daughter and I sat in our little car, her smelling of that distinct school smell, I turned towards her and asked if she had any questions about bras or growing older.
It’s no secret that we should be speaking candidly about puberty, sex and all the other uncomfortable conversation topics that crop up when parenting adolescents. And I had always thought that I’d have no problem being that mom who wouldn’t shy away from any subject.
But as time wore on and I saw my kids growing, I realized that I was indeed avoiding these talking points with them. Sophie once walked into the bathroom after I had gone pee. The toilet hadn’t flushed completely, and she screamed, asking, “MOM! Why is there blood in the toilet? Are you okay?”
I assured her I was fine and told her I’d explain when she was older. I cut the conversation off before it had even started.
How can we prepare our children for what’s ahead if we are too afraid to inform them of the realities of growing older?
As uncomfortable as it may sometimes be, as adults, we have to be the ones to initiate these conversations with our children when they are ready.
Arm them with knowledge
When we arm our sons and daughters with knowledge about their bodies and the bodies of their peers, then we are giving them the gift of understanding. We take the guesswork out of their changing bodies.
No longer will they have to sift through our boxes of tampons under the sink, wondering what is the purpose of these alien tools. I’m sure the conversations with their friends will still happen — it hasn’t been that long since I was a kid, after all — but at least the information being shared will come from a more educated place.
Don’t let the internet do your job as a parent.
One of my biggest worries is the idea that my children may resort to finding their information on the internet if I don’t provide them with answers. I do not doubt that my kids will eventually start looking up nefarious websites related to the topic of sex. I’m not that naive. But as far as the details go, I want to give them the correct information.
I don’t want them to learn about sex from some patriarchal porn site that glorifies women dressed up as infantilized girls. There is so much misinformation on the internet. There is scary shit happening on the web every second of every day. I want my children to feel comfortable coming to me first if they have questions — then they can merely laugh at all the insane news they collect from uncredited websites.
Open the lines of communication.
I want my kids to feel comfortable talking to their parents. I know that in a few years, once we are well in the murky depths of the teenage years, there will be an innate pushback to sharing details about their personal lives with me. However, if I open the lines of communication now, while they are pre-adolescent, I have a much better chance at opening those lines of communication than if I avoided the awkward subjects altogether.
Gone are the days of “figure it out yourself.” No longer can we rely on our children to glean information by a shoddy trial and error process. I see generation after generation of young girls ashamed of their bodily functions because an adult in their life failed to tell them at a young age that there is nothing to feel immoral about.
We no longer live in a time where talking about our bodies should be a taboo conversation topic.
The more we open up the conversation with our children, the more comfortable they will be to keep that conversation going.
Whether the topic is sex, periods or puberty, it is our responsibility to explain and teach our children in straightforward terms. Not only will arming our kids with this knowledge make for a less confusing segway into their teenage years, but it will also help them accept themselves and the incredible human bodies that they care for.
Previously published on “A Parent Is Born”, a Medium publication.
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