When I told my 12-year-old daughter, “Honey, I want to talk about your period,” she didn’t recoil in shock. She didn’t ask for her mother. She didn’t walk away. Most importantly, she wasn’t embarrassed.
She’s 17 now and I’ve talked to her about this article to make sure I remembered it right. I asked her why she wasn’t embarrassed by my question back then.
“Because we talk about everything,” she said, “and I’m not embarrassed by a natural thing. Yeesh, Dad. It happens. People need to get over it.”
I gotta tell you, I’ve messed up a lot of things as a parent, but having hard conversations with my kids is not one of them.
My own father’s blunt and matter-of-fact approach made difficult conversations easier.
My father gave me “the talk” about the birds and the bees while we were cleaning chickens. I don’t mean with two-in-one shampoo so that their feathers were fluffy. I mean the type of chicken cleaning that takes place on a farm.
Even at the time, it seemed odd to have such a conversation while putting chicken livers in a bucket. But that was my dad. As we talked about sex, he used all the appropriate words, and I remember him taking great pains to explain everything to me. He made sure I knew how the human body worked. Nothing was off limits.
My father never let feelings get in the way of what had to be said. When he needed to talk to his son about how the world worked, he was blunt and matter-of-fact about it.
He showed me how to be the kind of father who doesn’t run from hard conversations, and he gave me a way to run toward them.
I offered my kids a shortcut by giving them a code word that made difficult conversations easier.
It has always been important to me that my daughter knows I am here for her. I don’t want her to avoid the hard conversations with me. I want her to seek them out. I want us to be blunt. She can be mysterious with her friends. With me, I want her to be comfortable, and yes, that includes body talk.
My parenting approach here is simple and effective, and it’s an approach I use with all my children. If she’s worried about something, I let her know she can talk to me about it, and that she can count on me when and if she wants my help.
When she was 12-years-old and just starting to menstruate, there were so many questions my daughter was too afraid to ask: What happens if she bleeds through during school or at a function with friends? Where can she get help? What is she going to do if things go bad in front of people and she’s embarrassed?
So, I told her, “If something goes wrong, like at school, just call and say biscuit. You don’t have to say anything else. I’ll head up with a bag that we can pack tonight.” Her response was immediate. Her eyes softened and she sighed in relief.
I approach almost all the hard conversations with my children the same way. Things that they leave unsaid are the things I need to say first to get our conversations going. And I remind them that there’s no topic of conversation that’s off limits. Having raised three children, there’s not anything I can think of that would embarrass me, make me squeamish, or that I’d call “yucky.” They’re just a part of life.
From Taylor Swift and sex and drugs to school shootings, I feel like teenage girls have enough to worry about without dumping body issues on them. So, when I talk to my daughter about her period, I don’t use terms that imply her natural body is somehow unclean or that it should be talked about in hushed tones. Instead, I try my best to be a beacon for body positivity.
Five years after I offered her the code word “biscuit,” my daughter has grown into a woman that speaks her mind and knows that she has agency in her life. When I showed her this essay, she was embarrassed by my talk about being a Swiftee; but she can’t imagine being embarrassed talking to me about menstruation or something similar, and she has no problem asking me to pick up a box of tampons while I am at the store. That’s a parenting win in my book.
There are a lot of fights my daughter is going to have when she leaves my home. Being comfortable in her body shouldn’t be one of them. I hope she remembers that whenever she needs help or a reminder that she’s beautiful, dad is just a phone call and a code word away.