African American Tween

My talk with my mom about menstruation went something like this:

Me: “Mommy? We learned about periods in health class today. The teacher said we should get this kit. It comes with books and pads and stuff.”

My mom: “Okay.”

Uh, huh. That was the end of the conversation. She ordered the kit for me — it came with three books about puberty and an assortment of pads and tampons — and when it arrived, she handed it to me and we never talked about periods again. I was 13 when I finally got mine; I was at my uncle’s house on a weekend visit, and spent half of Saturday and most of Sunday with wads of toilet tissue stuffed in my panties, too embarrassed to ask my uncle for help, and later, too embarrassed to tell my mother about it. My mom didn’t find out, either, until after she realized I’d used up all the pads in my “kit.”

She was hurt. I could tell from the look in her eyes.

It’s a pain that I never want to feel with my own daughters — that much I know. I made a vow when each of my babies was born that I would be honest with them, that no matter how hard/embarrassing/uncomfortable the conversation, I’d do my best to make them feel like they could ask or talk to me about anything.


By age 5, when she was curious enough to ask, I told Mari where babies came from. By age 7, she knew about periods. A year later, after a round of pre-tween questions during a car ride with her cousin, Miles, she learned about wet dreams, boobies, pubic hair, and a bunch of other stuff the two were curious about.

Let’s just say we have an “Ask and Get Told” policy in our house.

Nick and I figure that if we just go on ahead and give them the correct info, we don’t have to worry about being forced to deconstruct the crazy locker room tales they’ll surely get from the friends who’ve been deliberately left out of the puberty/sex-ed loop. Like, seriously: Who wants their kid to think they’ll grow hair on their hands if they masturbate? Or that they can’t get pregnant if they have sex while they’re menstruating or their partner pulls out before ejaculating? Or that boys will do irreparable harm to their genitals if they don’t have sex when they’re horny? Or that if a girl has a big gap between her legs then she’s not a virgin? Or that having anal or oral sex isn’t real sex?


I had to make a hard gulp and a sign of the cross, though, when Mari asked me what an abortion is. That question? Totally unexpected. But it was natural for her to ask: I’d been reading the newspaper and she’d noticed a front-page story about an abortion doctor who’d been murdered by an anti-abortion activist, and she wanted to know what all the brouhaha was surrounding the crime. The word “abortion” was screaming at her on the newspaper and on the television and radio, and she had questions.

I thank goodness she felt comfortable getting answers from her mother. The way I saw it, it was the perfect time not only to define for her what it is, but also to get her on board with our family’s feelings on the subject. See, all-too-often, the assumption is that when you’re open with your kids about hot-button topics that you’re promoting promiscuity — giving them the license to cut up, act out, and get themselves into compromising situations. But for me and mine, it’s not about giving them permission; it’s about giving them information — information that will help them make good choices that fall in line with their family’s beliefs and values. Hopefully, my girls will make those choices not only with the information their parents shared with them, but in consultation with their mom and dad.

So how did I answer Mari’s “abortion” question? Nick and I told her exactly what it is in a way that’s meant for a 9-year-old’s ears: It’s when a pregnant woman decides she doesn’t want to have a baby and she goes to a doctor to take out the fetus. The fetus will not survive the operation. More important, though, was our follow up: Mommy and Daddy choose not to support abortion in our home, but we do know that it is a legal procedure and, by law, all women have the right to have one if they want. Our hope is that you and your sister would not have a baby until you’ve finished college, gotten a good job and are married.

This is our family’s “company line” and it’s infused with the familial beliefs we have in our family — beliefs that are in line with the morals and values we hold dear in our home. And I trust that the more we talk to our girls and give them honest answers and opinions and the room to really think for themselves, the more they’ll be compelled to be smart about the choices they make with their bodies.

(And if that doesn’t keep the boys at bay, their Daddy will get his NRA card, a rifle, and a rocking chair for the front porch. You know, to regulate.)

This post appeared on the MyBrownBaby blog on THE PARENTING POST.

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  1. I hear you. My mom showed me the plastic layered human body in the medical book then told me that a man loves a woman and a woman loves a man and God loves them and they have a child. That was it. I was 11. When I was 15, my boyfriend told me about the biology of it. I bet we could get a pretty powerful anthology of stories from women on this subject.
    Jo Ann Hernandez
    BronzeWord Latino Authors

  2. PREACH!

    Thank God for PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) or I wouldn't have known what to do when I got my period at 10. One of the consequences of being raised by your great-grandmother.

    I agree with Jo Ann about the anthology, lol.

  3. Lynn from For Love or Funny

    So true…despite my own embarrassment and discomfort about having "the talk" with my oldest, once I got started talking it was surprisingly easy. Thank goodness I started talking to her about it early. She got her period years before I got mine. She knew exactly what was happening…and we were able to celebrate her entry into "womanhood."

  4. Child I was raised by my grandmother so that was certainly a taboo subject. My girls are all squared away but we still talk about things and it's great. I'm so excited that they know they can come to me. Plus I had some great advice from women in the bloggyverse when it came to this subject. As the saying goes, "It takes a village to raise a child".

  5. I did not get ANYTHING about that subject from my mother growing up. When the day finally came she sent me to my older sister. I started very early discussing this subject with my girls. Now in the times we live in we have to have to oral sex discussion in elementary school. My girls were pretty devastated when I gave them the truth about that. I think parents must always be honest and tell thier kids everything with no sugar-coating. You are a great mom Denene!!

  6. That's crazy how similar our experiences were! Almost exactly the same except I was 10 and at great grama's when it happened and still my mama can't figure out why i didn't tell her. Hello, u didn't want to talk to me about it!

    Melina is gettin her talk early.

  7. My mom wasn't bad about it… but she did let a DVD explain it to us and then we asked questions at the end. She obviously wasn't comfortable about it but she tried. I don't have a girl (yet) but i know its gonna be uncomfortable but I'll be ready!

  8. Ooo…this was stand out chapter in my life too. It was called "it" on the school playground. So you know how this goes. I go to the restroom one day, see that something is terribly wrong, but soon realize it's… "IT" (dun da dun dun!) so I shut my eyes real hard, pray "it" away, open them and it's still there. After doing this 3 times, realizing it wasn't going to make a differnce, I finally go tell my grandmother what was happening. She was on the phone with FATHER DAN when she said, "Oh Lawd, Robert (my grandfather) take Nicky to the store to get some Kotex! She done started her monthly. Father Dan! Father Dan! my baby's baby not a baby no mo!" Talk about embarrassment! I had to see Father Dan EVERY Sunday! I felt really weird around my grampy for a minute there too. Heck! I felt weird about myself. And, I know it was the talk of the church! I just know it! On top of that, I was only 9!

  9. Christie-The ChatterBox

    My mother and I didn't have these talks either. Now we do but…um…at this point, I think I know everything. Being that she and I didn't talk is probably why I have trouble with the tough subjects with my daughter. I need to man up, eh?

  10. Me and my mom are open. even though we dont talk always because she is always busy on her job.My mom told that I have to tell her if got my period so that she can teach me what to do. To cut the story short i got my period when i was 13 i was so embarrassed that time, but she was there to comfort me. Thats why when i finish my schooling i want to be like her, working in elisa kits manufacruter, and I will be like her very responsible to our family.

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