When I took Sarah aside, I started the conversation with, “Has your mom talked to you about periods?” Her reply was, “Isn’t that the thing that grown-up ladies get?” It turns out that Sarah’s mom has not talked to her about periods, and she had no idea that she might start hers soon. Sarah and I have a very good relationship and I know she would be comfortable having that talk with me, but Sarah’s mom loathes the idea of me (and doesn’t mind saying so to her kids), and I didn’t want to step on toes and start drama, so I kept my explanation brief. I unwrapped a pad and showed Sarah how it works, I told her about how I started my period at my dad’s house when I was 13, and I encouraged her to ask her mom when she started hers, hoping that would start a conversation that she really needs to hear. But a few weeks have gone by, we’ve heard nothing on the subject, and I doubt that Sarah has asked her mom about periods.
Sarah’s mom is very paranoid about her daughter following in her footsteps and getting pregnant too young, and her approach to that concern so far has been to become furious with Sarah if she finds any evidence that she is interested in boys. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sarah felt apprehensive about broaching any kind of puberty talk with her mom. I’m worried that Sarah might not even know what a period looks like, how it feels, or what it means as far as fertility. My boyfriend wants me to tell Sarah about periods, and to hell with what his ex thinks about it; it’s more important that Sarah knows the facts. I want to tell Sarah too, but I also know that her mom would be pissed, particularly since she has apparently chosen not to share that information with her daughter. My boyfriend and his ex’s relationship is, unfortunately, not amicable in the least, so him asking her to talk to their daughter about periods probably wouldn’t go over very well either. How should we proceed? — Period Peace
First of all, it sounds like you really care about Sarah and want to do the right thing, so I commend you for that. It’s a delicate situation made more sensitive by the fact that, despite living with Sarah’s father, you aren’t married to him so you aren’t a stepparent and your clout and leverage is therefore limited. After all, talking to Sarah — or any kid — about puberty is a parent’s responsibility first and foremost. You aren’t a parent and without Sarah’s mother’s OK, you run the risk of offending her, overstepping your bounds, and creating even more animosity among the adults, which is as detrimental to Sarah’s well-being as her ignorance about her changing body is.
So, what the hell are you supposed to do? Your heart’s in the right place, for sure. And you’re certainly right that Sarah has to learn about the changes she’s about to face — and the sooner, the better. But is it your place to be the one to talk to her? I, personally, don’t think so. At least, you shouldn’t be the sole person to talk to her. If you and your boyfriend are truly unable to broach a conversation on the topic with Sarah’s mother, or you don’t trust that she would actually have “the talk” with Sarah even if she promised to, then your boyfriend needs to take some responsibility. It’s unfair of him to ask you to step into a parental role simply because he feels uncomfortable with certain aspects of the role. It’s his job to talk to his daughter, but he can certainly enlist your help and support.
In that vein, I’d recommend you approach Sarah together. Your boyfriend can introduce the topic — “[Your name] and I wanted to talk to you about some physical changes you’re going to begin experiencing soon” — and you can quickly take over with more specific details. You’d be approaching her as a team, so that if word got back to Sarah’s mother, she wouldn’t be hearing that you and you alone — some woman her ex-boyfriend lives with — taught her daughter about puberty. And if she questioned you about it, you could say truthfully that you were simply supporting your boyfriend since you can speak with more experience on the topic. As you and your boyfriend both talk to Sarah you should stress how important it is that she talk to her mother about menstruation and ask her to buy her the necessary products she’ll need when she starts her period. And then be sure to tell her that you’re always available to answer any questions she may have, but the first person she should try to talk to is her mother. If her mother is unavailable or unwilling to talk with her, you and Sarah’s father are happy to step in.
The most important thing is that Sarah know and understand that changes are afoot and that she has people who love her whom she can turn to with questions and support.