Dear Dr. Markham,
My wonderful 11-year-old daughter is entering a difficult time and I want to know how best to help her. She's begun to hit puberty and is seeming sad and angry and confused by it. Physically, she's still in the beginning stages... she has breast buds, a few pimples and occasional hormonally-fueled mood swings. I don't see her getting her period for another year or so. Socially and emotionally, she's being thrust into a world she's not ready for... she's beginning to hear her classmates talking about exploration of their budding sexuality (in the form of crushes, kisses, etc.). She has several times bemoaned these changes and said she longs to go back to a simpler time. All of this seems very natural to me.
However, recently she's begun to feel very disturbed, and even traumatized, by all of this. For example, she recently stumbled across a section in an age-appropriate chapter book she was reading which included a teenage kissing-scene, and she promptly handed the book to me and tearfully asked me to keep it out of her sight until she's older. She also played a video game at a friends' house that depicted the implied (not actually seen) lovemaking of two characters, and tearfully told me how disturbed and haunted she was by the image. And when I talked with her recently about what it will be like when she gets her period, she burst into tears and ran into her room, shutting down and shutting me out.
I've been talking with her about puberty and adolescence for the last few years, and have gotten her all sorts of great books about it. When she was 8 and 9 and 10, she was delighted and curious about it, and we had great, open conversations about it. Now, it seems like such a source of pain to her, and I need to know how to help her through this. I know she'll be fine in the end, but how do I help her now?
I think part of the problem is she has limited access to me, her female guide to all of this. I share custody of her with her father, my ex-husband, and I only see her half of each week. It seems that just when we've begun a great conversation and rhythm, it's interrupted by the visitation schedule -- and she won't talk to her dad about this. My husband is wondering if she's more sensitive to this because she has very little exposure to media (we have no television and limit computer screen time at our house -- she does watch some television at her dad's house, but mostly sports). She's also been through a lot of change in the last few years (divorce when she was 2, moves, my remarriage when she was 9) and there may be still more coming up (entering middle school next year, another possible move, a possible baby brother or sister) and I worry that's impacting her ability to contend with the change she's experiencing in her own body and place in the world.
I dearly wish there were some sort of ritual in our culture that would acknowledge her initiation into this world! I've heard of moms holding a special tea or other celebration when a girl gets her first period or turns 12 or 13, but my daughter has told me this would be "mortifying" to her.
How can I ease this transition for her? How can I help her with her fear and pain, and at the same time show her how to honor and celebrate what's happening?
Many thanks for sharing your wisdom!