The Public Elementary School’s “Changing Bodies” program has parents talking. There is A LOT to talk about. Are 10-year old children ready to know all this grown-up stuff about sexual bodily functions? Are parents ready to talk about it all?
I was stunned to read the pamphlet that accompanied materials for girls. It said that while most mothers feel they have covered the agenda of changing bodies adequately, their daughters, once menstruation actually set in, felt predominantly unprepared.
There are two possible explanations for why this enormous gap exists between how mothers feel they have prepared their daughters, and how much their daughters disagree. One explanation is that not enough talk has gone on. In other words, it’s not enough to discuss the monthly cycle; more detail is required about all the corresponding symptoms: bloating, cramping, hormone fluctuations, etc.
Another explanation for why daughters complain that their mothers left them unprepared is that perhaps, the menstrual passage is a little bit like death: it’s a shock no matter what, and nothing can prepare you for it.
In all likelihood, both possibilities are operating: mothers may not get into enough detail about changing bodies, and even if they do, nothing can fully prepare us, ever, for how our bodies change.
Whatever the case, we also have to respect that children’s bodies are personal and private to them. We don’t want to be invasive. A delicate balance is required.
I saw some girls jumping rope recently and thought “what a great metaphor for how to handle the matter of changing bodies”. The game was called “Double Dutch.” Two girls hold the rope at each end and swing it, while the third child has to jump in and hop to the rhythm of the swaying rope. If the girls fall out of synch, the rope gets tripped up and the jumping girl is OUT.
Just as in Double Dutch, parents can wait until their daughters and sons want to play the game of talking about it all. Chasing children around the house plying them with information to make sure we don’t become one of those unfortunate statistics on miscommunication and ignorance is going to lead to discomfort all around. That rope of conversation first has to be swung, by the child, and then, we have to gracefully jump in.
Children may indicate they are ready for parents to jump in on conversation in different ways. One child may start to talk about the school program while another may be seen reading the pamphlet in broad daylight, clearly in her parent’s view. We can always do what the children do and ask “can I play?” If they’re ready, they will say yes, and if not – and they may never be – we can always buy a book.
Double Dutch is fun. And it’s tiring. It takes practice. You get tripped up sometimes. The nice thing about it is that you always get another chance.