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Honoring the Sacredness of Your Daughter’s First Period

The spring after my daughter Anna turned 13 and got her period, I invited close adult women friends over for a ziti dinner to celebrate this turning point in her life. My husband took our younger daughter out of the house so it would be a special “older girl” event. We sat in a circle and shared memories of getting our periods and also shared favorite memories about my daughter.


While a little embarrassed, Anna seemed to enjoy it. Perhaps it wasn’t full of instruction or deep meaning like other rituals, but it made a special memory for her. I also hoped that it sent the message that she was welcomed into the world of womanhood and that the changes in her body were to be honored and celebrated, not something to feel ashamed about. After the celebration, my younger daughter Katie stated quite seriously that when it was her turn, she wanted macaroni and cheese, not ziti.

Soon it will soon be Katie’s turn, so I’ve been thinking more about menarche and how other families might be observing this important and often frightening time of life. Even though many of the taboos about talking about our bodies have broken down, menstruation is still generally talked about privately and in hushed tones. We usually use euphemisms and funny phrases like “on the rag,” “that time of the month,” or “a visit from Aunt Flo.”

Most girls nowadays learn about menstruation and puberty through a book, perhaps a talk with Mom, an older sister or friend, and at school assemblies. Yet as much as 10 percent of American girls are clueless about what’s happening to them when they get their first period, according to Elissa Stein and Susan Kim, authors of “Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation.” While the body-shaming of yesterday doesn’t happen as often (we hope) in America today, menstruation is treated as, at best, a problem of hygiene and mood swings.

The scant research on the topic shows that girls’ attitudes about menarche and menstruation seem to be overall negative. Kim McClive-Reed, LMSW, PhD, a social psychologist, notes that one problem in these studies is in the kinds of questions, since they’re focused on symptoms and worries. One study that asked more positive questions garnered an attitude that viewed menstruation as more of a normal, healthy part of being a woman.

Also, she notes, the age of menarche has gone down, which means girls are going through this transition at younger ages than ever. The studies show a correlation between negative attitudes and this downward trend in age. Perhaps this indicates a need for earlier preparation and education, and a re-affirming of the positive sides of this transitional time.

Why do we find it so hard to talk about menstruation? While some of the negative attitudes and taboos around menstruation are most certainly because of a long, entrenched history of body shaming and fear of women’s power and fertility, some of it certainly also comes from a feminist desire to downplay what might be seen as an essentialist, traditional understanding of a girl’s development.

In other words, we tend to want to show appreciation and positivity for something a girl has done (like obtaining her driver’s license or graduating from high school) rather than something that simply “happens” to her because she’s female. But even this well-meaning approach can have unwanted consequences: Marianne Williamson has reflected that growing up, she realized that she felt loved for what she did, not for simply being who she was.

While some of the approaches to menarche in different cultures are frankly frightening – like cutting open the abdomen to encourage fertility – many other cultures offer an array of more positive, life-affirming ways to mark a girl’s menarche. Best-selling wellness author Dr. Christiane Northrup supports the idea of a positive, personalized coming-of-age tradition for our daughters. She points to examples of positive rituals in indigenous cultures and shares examples of ways other women and girls have observed this turning point. A rite of passage acknowledges that this is a time when “explosive energies of individuation that are released at puberty require some kind of container in which they can be channeled constructively.” 

Northrup also believes this is a lack that teens feel acutely in our current culture. “In the absence of culturally-approved vision quests, meaningful coming-of-age ceremonies, or genuine tests of physical and psychological strength, too many young teens fill the void with drugs, alcohol, dangerous relationships, or compulsive consumerism.”

Some of the ways that other cultures, like in rural India, Bali, and Ghana, have celebrated menarche include ritual bathing, dressing the girl up in jewels and fine garments, having a feast or party, and showering the girl with gifts. In other cultures, girls might spend time with an older female relative. Still other traditions include physical feats, like the Nootka Indians, who, according to Stein and Kim, row the girl out to sea and require her to swim back to shore, where her family and friends cheer her return.

Perhaps we don’t have to have a big party to honor this time of our daughters’ lives, but simply shrugging our shoulders and treating it as nonchalantly as a nosebleed ignores the very real way that the experience of menarche lays the foundation for how a girl feels about herself for the rest of her life.

A mother’s attitude “sets the tone for how we embrace, or subtly (and not-so-subtly) reject, our awesome but culturally taboo creative powers as women,” notes Dr. Marcy Axness, author of “Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers.” A positive, affirming ritual, whether it’s formal or informal, can help convey the message that getting your period is a time to honor yourself and your own cycles, rather than something to be ashamed of or simply “deal with.”

I can’t say my daughter has come to be fascinated with her period and loudly proclaims when it’s her time, or that she’s become a blogger for The Red Web. But hopefully at least, she can look back at least one bright spot when she felt welcomed, loved, and honored, and can re-visit some of those rituals, either for herself, or perhaps, for her own daughter. I look forward to getting her input as we prepare to acknowledge her younger sister’s coming of age. And of course, we’ll have macaroni and cheese.

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Rachel McAdams didn't talk publicly about her pregnancy or her birth story. There are some things this working mama wants to keep to herself, but the fact that she needs to pump at work isn't one of them.

McAdams was recently doing a photo shoot with photographer Claire Rothstein of Girls Girls Girls magazine when she needed to take a pump break. Wearing Versace and a neck full of diamonds McAdmans did what mamas all over the world do every day, and Rothstein snapped a pic that is now going viral.

In an Instagram post, Rothstein explains that she and McAdams had a "mutual appreciation disagreement about who's idea it was to take this picture," but the photographer says she remembers it being McAdams' idea, "which makes me love her even more."

In her caption of the amazing photograph, Rothstein writes: "Breastfeeding is the most normal thing in the world and I can't for the life of me imagine why or how it is ever frowned upon or scared of."

The photographer added that she wanted to put the image out there to change perceptions about breastfeeding, pumping, and working motherhood.

McAdams decision to normalize pumping through this glamorous image is especially cool when you consider that she's not really a social media person, and spends a lot of days in much less glam attire.

She recently arrived for her first interview since welcoming her son in the spring wearing a grey shirt, baggy pants and sneakers, reportedly telling the interviewer (Helena de Bertodano for The Sunday Times U.K.), "I don't even know what I'm wearing today. The shoes are held together with glue. Isn't that sad? I need to get a life."

"I have clothes on and that's a good thing," McAdams told Bertodano during that chat. Her attire for that newspaper interview was a world away from the clothes she wore for the Girls Girls Girls shoot.

During her Sunday Times interview McAdams declined to discuss her son's name or birthdate.

"I want to keep his life private, even if mine isn't," she explained. "But I'm having more fun being a mum than I've ever had. Everything about it is interesting and exciting and inspiring to me. Even the tough days — there's something delightful about them."

Most of us will never look the way McAdams does in this photo while we're pumping, but we can totally understand that sometimes, motherhood means you're wearing sweats and sometimes it means you're pumping in your work clothes (even if for most of us, that doesn't mean Versace).

McAdams may be keeping some parts of her motherhood experience private, but by showing the world this part of her day, she's normalizing something that desperately needs normalizing.

Some mamas pump, and the world needs to know (and accommodate) that.

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To my children,

It's the New Year, and I have been doing a lot of thinking. I want to say, with all of my heart and all of my soul, that I am sorry. I want apologize for anything (and everything) I have said or done that made you feel less-than or sad or small.

I regret, so deeply, the hurt I delivered through harsh words or sideways glances, for steely eyes you didn't deserve and sarcastic replies you didn't understand. I'm sorry for being upset when I should have been more understanding, for resorting to frustration when I should have found more patience, for pulling away when I should have drawn near.

There were the times when you needed more from me, when you asked for more, and I simply couldn't provide. There were the moments when you wanted less of me, needed less from me, and I couldn't—or perhaps I just wouldn't—back away.

I start every day with a hope, a hope that I will be better than the day before.

Sometimes I succeed, but many times, I fail. Every so often, I fail in spectacular fashion. I think about all the times when I wasn't gentle enough or kind enough or attentive enough to you, about all the moments when I was too quick to anger and not quick enough to forgive.

You don't need me to tell you that I'm not perfect. Lord knows, you know far too well.

But I will say it to you, because I think it helps to hear me say it: I am not perfect. I make mistakes. I am human. I have flaws and cracks and blemishes; they are a part of me, just as they are a part of you.

Sometimes, my dear ones, my mistakes are small—like forgetting to pack your lunch or mixing up the dates for Tot Shabbat, or picking you up an hour late from a play date or accidentally switching your piano primer with your brother's, or sending a snack I know you dislike because I didn't have time to go grocery shopping and have no other food in the refrigerator. But sometimes, they aren't so minor.

Sometimes, my mistakes have to do with the way I've behaved, and the words I have said, and the way I have said them. For those times, and for all the times I failed to support you the way I should, or help you in the way you deserve, and love you in the best way I can, I am sorry.

I wish I didn't make so many mistakes. I'm a perfectionist at heart, but when it comes to parenting, there's still so much I haven't mastered. Even after almost a decade of doing this day in and day out, I still feel like a novice in so many regards and as green as I did on day one.

Precious ones, I've come to realize, no matter how hard I try, that I just can't get it right all of the time. I hope you can forgive my failings.

The older I get, the more I realize that life is a jumble of hits and misses. As many times as we try and succeed, we also try and fail. As much as we hope to do right, we often end up doing wrong. It is the story of the human condition—this mix of losses and gains, triumphs and defeats. It's all very messy (think sloppy joes and pancakes dripping with syrup kind of messy), and yet, it's all we know.

My darling ones, I want nothing more than to do right by you and be the best mother I can be for you. I want to love you unconditionally, support you unreservedly, and be present unambiguously.

In the New Year, I resolve to do better for you, to be better with you, and to act as if God is watching. You mean the world to me. You are everything to me. I love you, always and forever.

All my love,

Mommy


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People often say that having a second child doesn't much add to the workload of parenting. There's no steep learning curve: You already know how to make a bottle, install a car seat and when to call the pediatrician. And you're already doing laundry, making lunches and supervising bath time—so throwing a second kid in the tub isn't a big deal.

Except that it is. Having a second child doesn't just mean attaching a second seat to your stroller. Adding a whole new person to your family is more complicated than that, and it's okay to say that it is hard.

A new study out of Australia disputes the popular idea that after making the transition from people to parents, making the jump from one child to two is easy. The researchers found that having a second child puts a lot of pressure on parents' time and their mental health, and mothers bear the brunt of the burden.

When looking at heterosexual couples, the researchers found that before a first child is born both partners feel equal amounts of "time pressure," but once the child is born, that pressure grows, more so for mothers than fathers.

Basically, parents feel psychological stress when they feel they don't have enough time to do all they need to. One baby makes both parents feel more stress, but mom's increase is more than dad's. When a second baby comes, that time pressure doubles for both parents, and since mom already had more than dad, there's now a gulf between them.

The researchers behind this study—Leah Ruppanner, Francisco Perales and Janeen Baxter—say that after a first child is born, a mother's mental health improves, but after a second child, it declines.

Writing for The Conversation, the trio explains:

"Second children intensify mothers' feelings of time pressure. We showed that if mothers did not have such intense time pressures following second children, their mental health would actually improve with motherhood. Fathers get a mental health boost with their first child, but also see their mental health decline with the second child. But, unlike mothers, fathers' mental health plateaus over time. Clearly, fathers aren't facing the same chronic time pressure as mothers over the long-term."

The researchers say that even when mothers reduce their work time, the time pressure is still there and that "mothers cannot shoulder the time demands of children alone."

Adding a second child to the family isn't just a matter of throwing a few more socks in the laundry: It means a schedule that is already stretched is now filling up with twice as many appointments, twice as many school functions. Mothers only have 24 hours in the day, and as much as we wish we could add a couple extra hours per child, we can't.

Time simply can't change to help us, but society can. As the researchers noted, when time pressure is removed, motherhood actually improves mental health.

We love our lives, we love our kids, we love parenting, but there is only so much of our day to go around.

Ruppanner, Perales and Baxter suggest that if society were to help mothers out more, our mental health (and therefore our children's wellbeing as well) would improve even after two or three kids. "Collectivising childcare – for example, through school buses, lunch programs and flexible work policies that allow fathers' involvement – may help improve maternal mental health," the researchers explain, adding that "it is in the national interest to reduce stressors so that mothers, children and families can thrive."

Whether you're talking about Australia or America, that last bit is so true, but this research proves that the myth about second-time parenthood isn't. Even if you already have the skills and the hand-me-downs, having a second child isn't as easy as it is sometimes made out to be.

We can love our children and our lives and still admit when things aren't easy.

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We know life gets a little (okay, a lot) busy around this time of year so if you haven't crossed off everyone on your Christmas list just yet, here's your reminder that you've still got time. Fortunately, that Amazon Prime membership of yours comes in handy... especially for the holidays.

Here are some of the best last-minute gifts to get on Amazon. Also, that extra couple of dollars for gift wrapping is *so* worth it if it's available. 😉

1. Tape Activity Book

So your little can create just about anywhere—on the go, in the car or hanging out at home.

Melissa & Doug Tape Activity Book, $6.47

BUY

2. Instant Pot

Mama, meet your new best friend. 4.5 stars with nearly 30K reviews.

Instant Pot 8-qt, $89.95

BUY

3. Silicone Teething Mitt

Offer relief to your teething one with a mitt that stays in place.

Itzy Ritzy Silicone Teething Mitt, $8.99

BUY

4. Roomba

Give the gift of never having to manually vacuum again.

iRobot Roomba 690, $279.00

BUY

5. Magnetic Tiles

These are always a favorite for kids of all ages. Build endless possibilities and work on fine motor skills—win-win!

Magnetic Tiles Building Blocks Set, $31.99

BUY

6. DryBar Triple Sec

Perfect addition to mama's stocking, or paired with a salon or blowout gift card. Adds *so* much texture and volume.

DryBar Triple Sec 3-in-1, $35.99

BUY

7. Plush Animated Bunny

Plays peek-a-boo and sings for baby.

Animated Plush Stuffed Animal, $32.97

BUY

8. 23andMe

Learn everything you want to know about your family history, where you came from, and even information about your genetics.

23andMe DNA Test, $67.99

BUY

9. Boon Bath Pipes

Make bath time more fun. They suction to the wall and can be played with individually or altogether in a chain.

Boon Building Bath Pipes, $14.99

BUY

10. HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer

For printing all of those adorable Instagram moments—and for getting *all* of the photos off your phone.

HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer, $99.95

BUY

11. Board Blocks

Kids can sort, learn colors and shapes, and work on their hand-eye coordination.

Wooden Educational Geometric Board Block, $6.39

BUY

12. Ring Doorbell + Echo Dot

A great bundle for the techie in your life.

Ring Doorbell 2 and Echo Dot, $169.00

BUY

13. Pai Technology Circuit Conductor

For the little who wants to learn to code, this offers endless learning fun.

Pai Technology Circuit Conductor Learning Kit, $69.99

BUY

14. Kindle Paperwhite, Audible + Headphones Bundle

Bookworms will love this bundle. Enjoy a new Kindle Paperwhite, wireless bluetooth stereo headphones, and 3 month free trial for Audible for new users.

Kindle Paperwhite Bundle, $139.00

BUY

15. Wooden Grocery Store

We love this imaginative play grocery store, complete with a beeping scanner and hand-cranked conveyor belt.

Melissa & Doug Freestanding Wooden Fresh Mart Grocery Store, $179.99

BUY

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work.We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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