by Jill Whitney LMFT
A daughter’s first period is a milestone for her—and also for her parents. It may be a dreaded event, heralding her budding sexuality and the turmoil of the teen years. Or it may be a happy thing, a source of pride because your cherished daughter is moving toward the woman she’ll become.
Parents may have mixed feelings—and girls usually do. Menarche is an unmistakable sign that she’s moving away from childhood, which may be exciting or terrifying. She’ll have to deal with the logistics of pads and tampons and the fear that they might leak and OMG people will see! She may have cramps, which of course are lousy. If she gets her period earlier than her social group, she may feel out of place; if she’s one of the last, relieved. She may—or may not—be proud to be growing up. Layer onto this the profound embarrassment pre-teens often feel for anything to do with bodies and sexuality, and you’ve got a hot mess of emotions.
Young women who’ve shared their experiences with me had a wide range of reactions to how parents marked the beginning of menstruation. Here’s what some of them said about celebrating a first period:
“It was good that it wasn’t a shock when I started menstruating. I was warned in advance and knew more or less what to expect, and it was heralded as a positive thing and my entrance into womanhood.”
“My mom baked brownies ‘to celebrate’ when I got my period, and I was utterly, thoroughly, and completely mortified.”
“My mother and grandmother made it seem like getting my period would be a glorious transition into womanhood, so I was terribly disappointed when there was pain but I didn’t suddenly become thinner and more attractive/adult looking.”
“My mom threw me a ‘puberty party.’ It was a surprise party, too. Never in my life have I felt more humiliation, especially because I didn’t understand why everyone was so happy I was ‘peeing blood.’”
“My mom threw me and my little sister a ‘period party’ when we started menstruating, and my father gave me a rose and told me he was ‘proud that [I was] a woman now.’”
The take-away: Depending on the kind of relationship you have with your daughter, it’s fine, and maybe nice, to acknowledge her first period. But don’t go over the top with making a big deal—and do not do not broadcast her news outside of close family. It’s her news, not yours. Let her absorb this new development in her own time without anything that might make her changing body any more embarrassing than it already is.
Jill Whitney is a licensed marriage and family therapist and mom of two twenty-somethings. She’s the author of a forthcoming book on talking with kids about sex and relationships and writes at KeepTheTalkGoing.com, in which this article first appeared.