Jeff, a dad of two daughters, made a decision when his oldest girl started developing breasts. Aware that his ex-wife wasn’t comfortable talking about sex or body parts, he got some sanitary pads and explained to both girls all about menstruation and what to do when they got their first period. “Sure, their faces were red,” he recalls, “but ever since then, they’ve come to me with questions and talked with me about their boyfriend problems. I guess I proved myself to them.”
Does this story inspire you? Wig you out? A little bit of both?
If you’re a dad, you may feel at a loss as to how dads can help with periods. Many dads and moms make the assumption that dads and stepdads should steer clear when a daughter starts physically maturing. But, like Jeff, we dads have a whole lot to offer as our daughters move through puberty. Here’s what Jeff and others have discovered: The more regularly you provide the facts, the easier it gets to do it. Plus, these conversations have a wonderful way of delivering a vital resource that every girl needs: accurate information about love, sexuality, abuse, safety, self-respect, conception, desire, and what’s happening with her body and emotions.
We dads have far more influence on our daughters than we think, and that’s why it’s crucial that we don’t express (or have) an “eewww—GROSS!” attitude about menstruation and other puberty-related topics. The basic biological setup of females is as easy to understand as household plumbing, and there are many useful books, including The Period Book: Everything You Don’t Want to Ask (But Need To Know) and Growing Up: It’s a Girl Thing—Straight Talk about First Bras, First Periods, and Your Changing Body. For your sons, there’s What’s Going on Down There?: Answers to Questions Boys Find Hard to Ask.
However, we can’t stop with explaining the location of the scrotum and clitoris. That would be like installing plumbing in a bathroom and then never using it to brush your teeth or take a shower. We have to understand—and articulate—the value of human sexuality and how people use (and misuse) it in the world.
Fathers can talk to daughters about these things. Not just with a one-time-only Big Talk about the birds and the bees, but with lots of little chats arising easily in the ongoing learning opportunities everyday life provides. Each time, I promise, it gets easier. And each time, we show our girls we’re go-to dads they can count on.
Joe Kelly is author of Dads and Daughters: How to Inspire, Understand, and Support Your Daughter When She’s Growing Up so Fast and other books.