Nearly every birthday and Christmas, I fret over what to give my children. Will they like it? Will they use it? I try to recall what my parents did for me at the same age. It’s so long ago I can’t bring to mind specific examples, just a general – vibe of the thing. My expectations, my parents’ concern, pride and love.
It's similar to talking with our sons and daughters about their body and sexuality, really.
Girls can be told about the menstrual cycle and reproductive functions in a matter of minutes, but what matters a lot more is what they witness of the women in their life and the attitudes they have to their own body.
We can give them attitude
Body image, self-esteem, sensuality, sexuality, self-pleasure, self-respect, self-care – we want our girls to have all these as they mature. We don’t want them growing up too early; being sucked into obsession about their looks, or worse: self-hatred; eating disorders; depression or anxiety.
So let’s honour the almighty power of the mother figure (pardon the pun).
It takes a while
One of the key findings that became clear from the research project I volunteered with last year was that a woman’s understanding of her body comes from many experiences and conversations over years. Not just one talk or one school period (ok, no more puns).
So mothers/carers here’s the thing: if you want your daughter to be friends with her body and her cycle, she needs to see and hear about it many times over. A woman has 35 to 40 years to dance with her cycle, and a lifetime of being in her own skin. If you want your daughter to become a woman who is comfortable with her body, clear on what she needs for self-care and (yes, I’ll say it) has respectful and satisfying sexual relationships with exquisite intimacy, you are in the best position to help her develop that gift of healthy self-esteem.
Get in there
In all the programs I do, we always involve the parents of the young people we work with. We educators can be inspiring and open up conversations as we work with them for a day or a week or a series of sessions, but you are with them for a lifetime.
In November I’m offering another Celebration Day for Girls, to prepare and welcome 10 to 12 year old girls and their mums/carers to puberty’s changes and getting their period. We start with a mothers-only evening session. We go through the contents of the day program with the girls and reflect on what it was like for us when we were that age.
I love these nights, because the women who choose to enrol their girls in a Celebration Day are motivated, interesting people. They want to make a positive difference to their daughter’s experience of puberty and womanhood, and are willing to try something new (or follow up on that great workshop they heard about from other women!).
Everyone's approach is different
Some mums are confident talking about bodies and periods, and many mums aren’t. Some girls are curious and ask their mum about it, others say they are not ready, occasionally some are even hostile. Before one of our workshops, often girls will be giggly and say with a roll of their eyes that their mum is making them do the day. Most girls, though, really really want to know.
And the stats show that girls who feel positive about getting their period tend to have a better experience, both physically and emotionally.
Down the track after a Celebration Day, women often tell me that while they already had a good relationship with their daughter, sharing the day together simply opened up new conversations and ways of being together. This is deeply satisfying for me to hear; it’s a rich and rewarding experience to support girls and women on their journey.
Be kind to yourself
Just about all of us do a lot for others. Taking care of yourself, though, is a really important way for you to provide for those around you. Give yourself time out, even if it's just a few minutes. Be positive about your body. Your daughter will be a witness to your random acts of self-kindness. If she learns to look after herself, your gift will be long-lasting. As I said, it’s not the gift-wrapped present that she’ll remember, it’s the vibe of the thing that counts.
If you’ve already shared the day with your daughter, please forward this to parents of girls in your community. The greatest compliment you can offer a facilitator whose workshop you have enjoyed is positive word of mouth.
-Janoel Liddy is passionate about girls and women recognizing and acting on their needs to lead a satisfying life. She teaches puberty and wellbeing to girls and boys in schools, facilitates workshops and retreats and works with groups in TAFE, university and community organisations in training and events. She is a mother of two with her partner of over two decades and dances, cooks, reads and writes when she can and must.