DAD TALKS ABOUT MENSTRUATION
As a society, we are taught that menstruation is a topic that only concerns women. However, more fathers are getting involved in their daughter’s well-being regarding their periods. We interviewed a father, who wished to keep his identity private, regarding how he was raised and how he now conducts himself as the father of a teenage girl.
Growing up, did any adult speak to you about the period and taught you how to be supportive of the women around you?
No adult spoke with me about this. I imagine during their period my sisters and my mother were going through a lot physically and emotionally that I could have accommodated or supported had I known what was happening.
Does it make you uncomfortable to speak about the menstrual period with your daughter?
Yes, it is uncomfortable, primarily because it’s so very different than anything that would have happened in my family growing up. I am glad we have the relationship we do because she does sometimes let me know when she has her period. This helps me be aware of her physical discomfort but also helps me create space when things in life produce an outsized reaction compared to her normal disposition.
Have you had a puberty talk with your daughter?
I have not. My wife and daughter attended Heart to Heart at Stanford and then continued the discussion over the next few years, and the conversation has remained between the two of them.
Have you spoken to your daughter’s mother about how to approach the topic?
We discussed attending Heart to Heart and agreed that it was the right approach for our family. It grounded the conversation in science, was led by a professional, and created the pathway for us to continue discussing as she has matured.
How important is it for dads to be supportive of their daughters when they are on their period?
I think it’s critical for young girls to have their fathers’ support. My daughter is a rule follower and pleaser by nature so when her period makes it harder for her to stay calm and not be anxious, my support and extension of grace to her have helped her not be as hard on herself for changes in behavior that she finds hard to grasp and accept.
Do you think it is important to have an open conversation about the period with the entire family?
I can see the benefits. We have a son who is nine, and I think it would benefit his relationship with his sister to understand that some things may be harder for her relationally or physically when she has her period. At the same time, he’s young at heart and I’m not sure that he could grasp the differences in male/female autonomy nor have the maturity to make accommodations. I am hopeful over the next year that we can have that conversation with him.
Do you think it is important for schools to involve boys in conversations about periods?
I think it would be helpful but it would have to be done in a way where young women felt comfortable with the forum and mode of communication.
Do you know how the period affects your daughter academically?
I am not aware and have not spoken to her or her teachers about it. I suspect that if her period was to fall in a time where academic expectations were high, it would make those challenges that much harder.
Do you think schools or the school provide enough information and support about this topic?
I would say no because when conversations have happened around sexuality at school, my daughter typically reports being mortified because it happened in a mixed-gender format. The embarrassment seems to overwhelm her, so I doubt she learns much or feels supported.
Have you read any useful literature that you can share with our audience as a recommendation?
Nothing outside of Heart to Heart, but I think that program is really great.
What do you think are the dos and don’ts for a father regarding his daughter’s period?
Be supportive when they don’t seem like themselves or are struggling. Whether we know she’s on her period or not is not necessary to extend the grace she might need to get through what she might be emotionally or physically dealing with. If you sense that something is wrong or doesn’t feel well, it’s good to ask if she’s ok. It isn’t ok to compel her to share something she doesn’t want to or to blame her period for any turbulence we might experience because that could give rise to guilt or shame.
What’s the one piece of advice you give other fathers of teenage girls related to their periods?
Accept that it’s hard and that we can’t ever really know how hard so be kind and patient with them.