How do you talk to kids about periods?
How do you talk to kids about periods?
Brianna Bell, our guest blogger today, shares her story of switching to cloth pads and how she shared that experience with her daughters.
“Penny, can you get mommy a pad? I got my period,” I say, hoping she can hear me in the next room where she’s colouring.
“Sure!” She calls back. Her little feet pound on the kitchen linoleum, and then I hear her running up the stairs to my stash of cloth pads.
She returns with one heavy pad and one light pad, a triumphant look on her rosy-cheeked face. She passes me both, and then rushes off to return to her colouring.
I don’t think there has been a time that Penny, now almost seven, has not known what a period is. My oldest of three daughters, she was born curious and inquisitive, and I have always been happy to answer the questions she has.
I have made the choice to invite my children into my reproductive health journey, offering age appropriate explanations and honest answers to questions. After years of normalizing my period, each of my children approaches the sight of period blood, pads, and my cycle with nonchalance - it is what it is, they seem to think.
My open approach wasn’t exactly planned in advance. When Penny was around three she walked into the bathroom and found me changing my blood-soaked pad, a moment that was both transformational and startling for us both. The look of fear and confusion on her face confirmed my need to normalize menstruation, even at a young age. I quickly assured her that the blood she was seeing was normal, and explained to her that I had been bleeding for a few days every month, for a long time. She was reassured, and I decided then not to hide my period from her, offering openness and honesty instead.
Throughout the years our conversations have ebbed and flowed. Like any person who gets their period, my life does not revolve around it, and neither do my kids’ lives. But our open dialogue has led to many fruitful conversations, and I’ve watched as my kids’ comfort with my period and its natural processes has developed.
Once my middle daughter, Georgia, asked me why there was so much blood on my pad. I explained that looks were deceiving, and tried my best to find a practical way to explain what she was seeing. I took her to the kitchen and filled a cup with water, and then asked Georgia to drop some red food dye in the cup. Instantly the red dye changed the water to a deep red, and I explained that my period was similar. What might look like a lot of blood was actually water, and a mixture of other compounds to make it look like a lot of blood.
When I switched to cloth pads two years ago I shared with my kids why I was making the switch. We talked about the environment and why disposable pads weren’t a wise choice for the earth, and also that cloth pads were a less expensive option too. We picked out patterns and colours together, and discussed the importance of finding products that work for your body type. When we received our first shipment my kids carefully unwrapped the pads, excited to see the different colours and feel the soft textures. Later I found them laying their toys on the colourful cloth, as if they were sleeping on a comfy bed.
Since I started using cloth pads I have noticed a dramatic shift in the length and severity of my cycle, and I shared my findings with both Penny and Georgia. I’ve let them know that if they choose, they can have their own pad collection once they get their periods. I plan to offer them the freedom of choice, and will educate them on the variety of options available, from menstrual cups, cloth pads, or period underwear.
There are so many ways that open discussion has improved my relationship with my children, and offered them plenty of life lessons already. They’ve seen me comfortably negotiating my period, and have felt confident enough to ask me questions. I’ve been careful to explain that my period journey is not the same as every other person’s journey, and theirs may look different too. Regardless of how their period looks, or feels, they know that I’ll be there to navigate the experience with them.
Just because my kids are young doesn’t mean that don’t have the ability to understand and appreciate the different functions of our bodies. I’ve watched as open dialogue has led to them embracing the concept of menstruation quite easily. It's not something they consider gross or uncomfortable, because it's a natural topic to discuss for them. I feel confident that cultivating a space for judgement-free dialogue will lead us to deeper and richer conversations as they grow. When their time comes, they’ll be equipped with years of spectator experience, and ready to embark on their own reproductive journey.
I don’t know about you, but my first period was not awesome, probably made worse by the fact that I had so eagerly anticipated it. The short story: following 3 days of agonizing cramps, at the age of 13 and a half, it started.
Shortly thereafter, alerted to the true nature of my malady, my little brother and his friend mocked me, running around the house yelling “She’s on the rag! She’s on the rag!” Not exactly the sweet discovery of womanhood that I had imagined for myself. I felt humiliated and distinctly disappointed.
Fast forward close to 40 years, to me anticipating my adolescent daughter’s impending menarche. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I had unwittingly assumed that her experience would be like mine, at least on a physical level: i.e. that I would have some warning in the form of the cramps. It was not to be the case, on any level.
I am embarrassed to admit it, but I had unwittingly assumed that her experience would be like mine, at least on a physical level: i.e. that I would have some warning in the form of the cramps.
Early every summer my family visits a semi-remote island for a retreat from pavement, screens, work and the other common trappings of daily urban life. We simplify our lives and routines, and spend most of our time wandering the forests and beaches, playing board games and sleeping a lot. Being in an electricity-free environment I find myself acutely aware of the moon and tides.
This year, watching my daughter (I will call her S) on the beach not long after our arrival, a friend asked me whether S had started her period yet. I was quick to reply in the negative, noting that she is more than a year younger than I was when I started, and, while her body had begun changing, she had not had cramps.
So much for that! Trust the wise friend’s intuition: less than 24 hours later S’s period started. Due to my own persistent needs, fortunately I happened to have sufficient supplies with me to see her through. I was shocked by how wildly excited I was: I honestly wanted to shout the news from the rooftops.
The timing could not have been better. Having told me in the past that she did not want me to “do anything” to commemorate her first period when it arrived, she was surprisingly excited about the prospect, particularly with not just one, but both of her godmothers slated to arrive not 48 hours later. She couldn’t wait to share the news with them. One in particular has a strong inclination towards ritual and Goddess spirituality, and, S knew, would be literally Over the Moon.
Anticipating the arrival of our co-celebrants, we chose a secluded spot on a favourite beach where we gathered thirteen large stones and placed them in a circle and added the further embellishment of 13 large clam shells.
The Godmothers arrived in due course, bearing flaming red flowers for a floral crown, among other gifts and ritual preparations.
For all of the women’s circles that I have participated in (many), I have never attended a menarche ritual. As mentioned earlier, Godmother #1 had brought her extensive Goddess faith experience - not to mention deep love for her goddaughter - to bear and had prepared a thoughtful ritual for us. She asked Godmother #2 and me to prepare some thoughts to share on the topic of positive experiences of transition, what our cycles and the notion of becoming or being a woman have meant to us, and how they have helped us to find strength. (If you're curious - here are mine.)
On the chosen day and time (a full moon, no less!), we headed off to our special spot and opened our circle by calling in the four directions. Godmother #1 shared a beautiful reading, and from there we proceeded to share what we had written.
We then dialed up Sister Sledge’s classic We are Family on a phone and took a dance break. My daughter was then invited to share with us her thoughts and feelings. We all - at one point or another - shed a few tears at the love and wonder of this moment. One particularly lovely metaphor surfaced as we talked: that, as adult caregivers to this Moon Maiden, we pledged to be her “front porch”: a place where any question or need could be brought, which would be addressed and supported without question or hesitation.
One particularly lovely metaphor surfaced as we talked: that, as adult caregivers to this Moon Maiden, we pledged to be her “front porch”: a place where any question or need could be brought, which would be addressed and supported without question or hesitation.
We concluded our activities by each of the adult women inscribing a stone with our personal wishes for S, closed our circle and walked hand in hand down the beach.
As it happened, on our way home we were passing a group of women sitting on the front porch of a neighbouring cottage (I should add that we were all wearing dresses and that S was wearing her magnificent floral crown: we were not your average remote island sight).
"What were we all up to?", they asked. Looking at S, one of them asked whether it was her birthday. There was a slight pause, and then S replied: “No: I just started my period and we’re celebrating.”
The response was electric: the women were utterly charmed and delighted, and several of them raised their glasses in a toast. They were clearly moved, and I realized that it was entirely likely they had never before had such news delivered to them, let alone with such confidence.
It was not until later in the evening that it hit me that they had been sitting on a front porch!
I should also add that there were a handful of men around - S’s Dad included - who were informed in a similar manner by her about her news. One of them was so deeply touched that he would happily have joined in our circle, given the opportunity!
I am still mulling the impact that S’s menarche had on the others surrounding her: it’s almost like a kind of hope or reverence: it literally lifted up everyone who received news of it.
My gratitude is boundless that this will be her story forever, and my hope is that all who hear it will feel similarly inspired by the knowledge that, one summer on a beautiful island, a Moon Maiden was sweetly celebrated and in turn graced us all with her magic.