Care and Feeding

What’s the Most Natural Way to Have the Period Talk?

I don’t want to do it awkwardly like my mother did.

A mother talks with her daughter.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

In our family, we are very open about sex, gender, and bodies. For example, our 7-year-old has known since toddlerhood where babies come from. I think we missed the boat on one topic, though, and we don’t know how to reverse course. Starting around 2 up until the last year, our daughter was phobic about blood, so much so that the very idea of it would make her freak-the-f*** out. So, to avoid terrorizing her, I hid my period from her. I had hoped to introduce this aspect about our bodies when it came up, but by the time her phobia was resolved at 6, she was no longer walking in on me in the bathroom. I am grateful to have this measure of privacy back in my life, but now I don’t know how it will come up naturally. I don’t want to do the weird awkward “talks” like my mom, but I also don’t want my kid finding out from her peers on the playground or during some poorly executed health class at school about menstruation. How do I broach the topic naturally at this point?

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— Missed Opportunity

Dear Missed,

Seven is actually a great time to learn about menstruation, since some of your daughters’ peers will start their periods in the next few years. I don’t think there’s any way to avoid a little bit of awkwardness, as there would be with anything you deliberately bring up, but I don’t think it has to be a huge deal, especially now that she no longer fears blood!

Instead of showing her a used tampon or menstrual cup as you might have at an earlier age if she hadn’t been phobic, you can start by bringing up the blood phobia and then segue from there into a discussion of basic reproductive biology, aiming for a sciencey, aren’t-bodies-fascinating tone. If you need an assist, there are lots of good books and online resources out there aimed at younger kids, too.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

How old is too old to have a child? My husband is 43 and I’m 35. When we got together, he had a child already, who is now 12 and lives with us 50 percent of the time. We now have a child together, who is about to turn 2. We always assumed she would be our only child together, but now that she’s getting more independent and we’re starting to forget the newborn days, we’re starting to want another one. We’re pretty nervous about the chaos that will ensue, so we’d like to wait about a year before we start trying, hoping that if our daughter was more like 4 when the potential new baby was born, we could handle the whole thing with less misery. But that would mean my husband is 45 when the baby is born. He’s worried that that’s just too old. Being 60 with a 15-year-old sounds rough. Does this mean we should try sooner rather than later? Not try at all? Help!

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— Too Old?

Dear Too Old,

60 is the new 40, haven’t you heard? In all seriousness, unless you or your husband have serious chronic health conditions or major health problems in your family histories, I don’t really see what would be so bad, or so unusual, about having a 15-year-old when you’re 60. There are shifting cultural norms about the appropriate age to do various things, and they also vary in different parts of the country—for example, in Brooklyn where I live, it’s really normal to see men who could plausibly be their toddlers’ grandfathers at playgrounds. It is what it is!

On the other hand, if you guys are stuck on the age thing as a barrier to your having another baby, I think it might be worth spending some time together hashing out all your worries and fears. If you can set aside time and specifically earmark it for this purpose, that would probably help a lot. I don’t think the decision to have a child should be taken lightly, but I also don’t think it’s ever going to be a totally logical and rational decision—if it were, the human species might cease to exist. So with that in mind, give each other space and time to think it through, and try to hear each others’ concerns without judgment. If you can do that, you will meet the future with happiness no matter what you decide about adding to your family.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My mom was murdered 15 years ago. My daughter is 2, so this obviously hasn’t come up yet, but eventually I know I will tell her why her grandma isn’t with us. But how? When? I don’t want to traumatize her by telling her too young or providing too much detail (or not enough, if that makes her have to fill in the blanks?), and I don’t want to lie to her or withhold information by waiting too long. I also don’t know how I should expect this to impact her and what follow up I should do to help her manage the information once I do tell her. Should she speak to a therapist? Should I bring it up every so often to check in on how she’s processing it? Maybe this will all be intuitive once she’s old enough for me to have this conversation and this whole question is unnecessary. It’s just been on my mind lately.

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— It’s Hard Enough for Me to Have This Conversation With Adults

Dear Hard Conversation,

I don’t think it will ever be intuitive, or easy, to have this conversation with your daughter. But there are some predictable developmental milestones that can guide you as to how and when to talk to your daughter more generally about death and loss, and then the loss of your mom, and then finally, the tragic circumstances of your mom’s death.

Speaking to a counselor or therapist will help with the specifics, but probably the most important thing to remember is that your daughter’s ability to comprehend these big concepts will grow as she does—it’s not a conversation you’ll have once and then be done with. For starters, there are a lot of books that introduce the concept of death to kids as young as your daughter is now, and while I’ll leave it to you to find the ones you think she’ll like and that you won’t mind reading a thousand times, I like The Tenth Good Thing About Barney and, when she’s a little older, Death is Stupid.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter, “Veronica,” almost 4, has long been interested in looking pretty—dresses, nice shoes—even though we have tried to raise her without any emphasis on looks or conventional beauty ideals and do not let her watch princess content. By nature, she loves twirly dresses, which is great (so do I!), but a not-great dynamic at her previous school has made her particularly looks-oriented when it comes to forming friendships. From what I can tell, this friend, “Callie,” only ever talked about clothes, hair, and body parts—whether they were “pretty” or “gross.” Regularly, my daughter would come home from school to report that Callie had said her clothes were gross, or her belly was yucky, or her shoes were not cool. Callie also loved to declare whether Veronica was her best friend that day. That became part of Veronica’s daily report too. In my limited observation of her social encounters, I’ve seen Veronica try to replicate this dynamic—for example, asking the girl she just met at the playground whether they’re best friends, and continuing to ask when the confused girl ignores the question.

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Veronica’s at a new school now and has voiced great uncertainty over whether such-and-such is her best friend. I tell her it takes time to makes a best friend and it’s normal to be uncertain right now. Any time I have seen her interact with girls at the school (which isn’t often), she tries to connect by talking about clothes or hair. I don’t tell her not to say these things, but I do tell her that there are many other ways to make friends—talking about pets, things you like to do, etc.—and that many people do not want to talk about their bodies. (I do say unequivocally that it is impolite to comment negatively about someone’s appearance.) So, what’s your read on this situation? I know Veronica’s only one month out from the Callie dynamic at her previous school, and hopefully she will reorient her way of connecting to other kids, but I want to make sure I’m guiding her correctly.

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— Girl Mom

Dear Girl Mom,

Wow, thank goodness you got Callie out of your lives. What a creepy 4-year-old! (OK, that’s mean. We feel very bad for Callie, and are concerned about whatever’s going on that’s shaping her in this way. But also, she’s not our problem at the moment.)

I think Veronica will continue to shake off the precocious mean girl stuff as every passing day gets her closer to forgetting that Callie ever existed. It sounds like you’re doing a very good job helping her with deprogramming, but that it will take a bit. In the meantime, be reassured that kids say completely wild things to each other all the time and mostly are unscathed by it—it would be very memorably awkward for me and you if I asked whether we were best friends the first time we met, but 4-year-olds’ concepts of time and reality are a lot more fungible.

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— Emily

More Advice From Slate

My 16-year-old daughter is out (as bi) to her friends and immediate family, but not to her grandparents. While I was having dinner the other night with my mother-in-law, she asked point-blank if she’s gay. Not knowing how to answer (and frankly, new at this), I answered with the truth. I told my husband via text about this and my daughter read that text and now knows about my revelation. I feel terrible. I apologized to her for violating her trust, sharing information that wasn’t mine to share. She’s furious with me for “outing” her. I asked her how I should have handled it, and she said I should have lied and said she is straight. I told her that it wasn’t fair for her to ask me to do that and I need a better way. This is where it stands today. How can I answer these sorts of questions in the future?

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