Puberty: Have the Conversation

There is a legend about a tribe in Africa. When a woman is pregnant she wonders out to the wilderness until she hears the song of her child. When she hears the song, she goes back to her village and teaches the song to the rest of the women in the tribe. During the child’s life, in good times and bad, the women will sing the song to the child to remind her who she is, and who she belongs too.

I love this story. It illustrates the beauty of women coming together to raise children. This month our village is talking about puberty. Share what has worked for you when preparing your daughter for this season of life. Here is just a few of my thoughts…..

Puberty- even the mere word makes grown women shake. We all remember- the acne, cramps, embarrassment, the first time we tried on a bra, and the weight gain. The Awkward Years.

Throughout my research of self-esteem, I have found time and time again that girl’s confidence decreases during these Awkward Years. During this time the female eye is opened to the world around her. In grade school, we were once a homogenous group but by the time 6th grade rolls around puberty has set us apart from one another. The whole purpose of puberty is to ready us for reproduction, the dilemma of it all is that it comes at a time when our mental and emotional development are not ready to understand these changes.

Have you thought about all the changes we really go through during the years of puberty? The school day changes as we move from elementary school to middle school, friends change, family relations change, development happens, we smell different, look different, and behave different. The brain is experiencing great change and hormones make it difficult to remain calm in such a state of confusion, and in our girls, these stressors tend to manifest themselves through a decrease of self-worth.

Which leaves us with the biggest question of all- How do we, as a community of females, help our daughters grow from little girls to women who will one day hold up half the sky?

I mean seriously- How do we get our girls through puberty without a complete loss of self or a serious dent to their self-esteem?

I will never forget the first time my mother came to me with a bra. I remember looking at the contraption and wondering what exactly it was supposed to do and why was it needed to do whatever it was supposed to do. But I never asked.

And can I please add (I love you, mom) it was a second-hand bra and too big? It was the most uncomfortable thing on the planet and it never occurred to me to ask my mom how to adjust it. I assumed that all girls went through this. I didn’t know it was okay to ask questions.

The absence of a conversation is the stumbling block of puberty.

Gracefully Strong takes a proactive, educational approach to all things self-esteem.  We work to own the conversation before we find ourselves caught in the conversation. We strive to be real and talk to our girls about the events in life and give her time to prepare for them. To be proactive means to teach our girls “brain tools” for life and then give her time to get comfortable using them.

This goes for puberty too. She needs time to understand and process what is coming her way.

To avoid the conversation of puberty is a choice made from un-comfort and fear. However, if we take a proactive approach to puberty, we soften the awkwardness that is to come. When we emphasize that puberty a natural part of life, self-worth will not be shaken, but strengthened. I will admit, this conversation can be hard to have with our girls. To me, it felt like a huge responsibility was now being placed on my daughter’s shoulders and I didn’t want to put it there. In fact, I was a bit angry about it.

However, in my work with girls and their moms and in my conversations with doctors and counselors I have learned, the sooner we start this conversation, the better. Having the talk earlier gives our girls time to build resiliency and that is the key. Preparation builds resiliency. And when I say talk to your girl, I am not just talking about the act of menstruation. But of bras, and the tenderness that happens when she starts to develop. Talk about the acne, what happens if your period comes at school and you aren’t prepared for it, and the weight gain. Talk about the weight gain. Let’s not wait for the inevitable doctor visit when she steps on the scale and sees those numbers. Those ridiculous numbers that send us in a downward spiral. Share with her most girls gain weight at some point during puberty. Let her know all females go through this awkward, albeit at different times, but we all go through it. As one friend put it, every woman on the face of this planet goes through it, it unites us. So why not let it bring us together?

When it was time for Daughter and me to talk I chose to talk in the car. She was locked into the seat next to me. Without her phone, without an escape, but she wasn’t facing me and she had the freedom to look out the window. I think I started the conversation with “Hey, Daughter- remember when we use to talk about how one day your body would start changing so you could decide if you wanted to have a baby? Well……there are a few more things I need to tell you…..” And here is the thing-we laughed about the awkward. There was a time or two when she said “Stop, this is weird.” I validated the weird and then said “We are going to get through this talk so you can process everything and the weird will start feeling normal.”

From there we would just have a small series of talks. I did not do it all at once. I talked for about 10 minutes and then was silent. She digested everything and the next week, we talked again. I also talked to Husband. It is awkward for dads too. I let him know that the talks had started. I asked him watch his words around her There will be no comments on weight, oily hair, or acne. Puberty is not a time to crack jokes about Daughter’s body.  No complaining of her mood swings (she doesn’t understand those either).  Do not lean away from her during puberty, if anything, lean in. If dads lean away from their daughters during puberty- a time when things feel completely out of control- it will hurt her. She will wonder what she did wrong. Just ride the rollercoaster, Dads, it will stop eventually.

I am happy to report, Husband is still riding the roller coaster. Sometimes he is barely holding on, but he is committed to leaning in.

Talking about puberty before it happened, gave Daughter room to understand and process. When it happened, she was prepared. Still a bit bewildered. But she had enough time to truly understand the why and how and she handled it well. Let me just add- in all those talks- I learned how Daughter communicated, how she processed information, and most important I learned what type of bra she wanted to wear. No underwire!

As a by-product of these talks, I also prepared myself and when momma is prepared, the family is prepared!