Puberty. Two decades past my own, and that word still makes me cringe; it sounds just as awkward as it feels, and like most people, for me it conjures images of phys ed changing rooms, growing pains and first period nightmares. Now that I’m a mother of four, two that are girls ages six and eight, I realize that I’ve got a few more puberties to deal with before I can put the concept to bed.
I was raised in a very open household, where nudity was no biggie and I got “the talk” at a fairly young age. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the changes that my body went through over the course of my teenage years, and I’m determined to make my daughters’ experiences as comfortable and empowering as possible. I’ve made a conscious effort to provide accurate and age-appropriate information about sex and body parts since my girls could ask about them. We live in a body confident household, where my girls watch me change and shower, where they learn how to take care of themselves and know they can feel proud of the bodies they’ve been given. I was pretty sure I had all my bases covered, and all I had to do was wait and hold on for the ride that would be puberty.
And then . . . It was Friday night, and I was on my own to put the kids to bed. My boys had already been asleep for a while, and the girls and I were hanging out, watching a movie. When it was over, we headed to their bedrooms to get ready. They grabbed their pajamas from the basket of clean laundry that is perpetually unfolded, and before I could even look up, my eldest, Emma, was in her room, closing the door. What would have seemed like a perfectly normal act to any outsider had totally taken me by surprise, and I stood in shock for more than a few seconds. This child, my beautiful baby girl who has never had a moment of modesty in all of her eight and a half years as my daughter, had declared her need for privacy. The child whose bum I wiped for years, whose body I’d bathed and carried and tickled, in one simple move, had made it very clear that I was not welcome to watch her undress. I can’t explain why it was such an emotional milestone for me, and looking back on it now, I feel a little silly for making such a big deal about it. But in that moment, I understood that she had entered the first stages of puberty, and it was in the same way I had when I was her age. So I took a deep breath, and put my younger daughter to bed first. I curled up beside her and hugged her tight. She ended up throwing her pyjamas on the floor; she usually prefers to sleep in the nude, despite the fact that I always provide her with an alternative. This kid doesn’t have a modest bone in her body, but I began to realize that it probably wouldn’t last for much longer.
The story could have ended right there. I could have, like my mother and many others, respected my daughter’s need for privacy and independence and accepted that she was growing up and needing me less. And that would have been a perfectly fine way to end the night. But I felt like her change needed to be acknowledged, and she needed to know that I would see her through this stage of her growth as I had every other before it. So I knocked on her door and asked permission to enter. I lay down beside her and took another deep breath. And then I started crying. No matter how prepared I thought I was for this moment, sadness and pride and trepidation and every other emotion every mother has felt when their child is at the threshold of a new phase of development overtook me. Emma looked horrified, so I started laughing instead. I quickly explained to her that I noticed she had done something different tonight by closing her door to change into her pyjamas. She asked if that had upset me, and I told her no, that being a parent is kind of weird because watching your kids grow up makes you happy and sad at the very same time. That missing the little person she was and being excited about the young woman she’s becoming makes me feel very emotional and that I can’t help but cry sometimes. And then we had a pretty awesome talk about puberty. I told her that I was the same age when I started closing my door to undress. We talked about how it would look and feel to go through puberty, and I told her that the first sign of my own body changing was that my nipples began to hurt and then grow. And I realized that the whole time I was teaching her about how her body would grow, she had thought it would be over the course of a few weeks. She seemed relieved when I explained to her that it would take years for her body to transform into a woman’s and that she would have lots of time to adjust to the changes as they happened. I ended our conversation by telling her that I looked forward to hearing about each change as it happened, if she chose to share it with me, and that if she didn’t, that was fine too. She would always be my girl, big or small. *sniff* *sniff*
“Puberty Button” image from Disney Pixar’s Inside Out.
I only have boys right now and I am saddened by the fact that the next one my not be a girl. I think I would really like to have just one girl. I think I would miss not being able to pass on my knowledge of puberty to a daughter. I don’t think I can do that with my boys well mostly because I don’t know how. I really on my husband to give my sons the talk and explain the changes they are going through. My oldest just turned 7 and he still sleeps with us and his little brother who is 19 months. I feel he will soon want to sleep alone, but as much as I want the space, I will be sad to see him go off to his own bed and into the first stages of puberty. Oh boy… Too much emotions for this time of day. Lovely read.