Chicago-area moms help kids find answers with Puberty Potluck

Over the course of a couple of weeks, three friends asked me whether I knew of any good puberty books because they were “ready to begin the conversation” with their daughters. 

They were concerned that their daughters were starting to ask questions that they didn’t quite yet know how to answer. 

I wasn’t sure that a book was the best way to go.

That’s when it dawned on me: all of us are getting ready, in some form or another, to broach what is often framed as an awkward, uncomfortable but critically important conversation. What if, instead of starting this conversation alone, we did it together? 

Why not make it a puberty party?

I immediately crafted an email to my fellow moms and hit send.

That’s when I realized that I had neither consulted my daughters nor paused to consider what this would actually look like in practice.

Responses started coming in; some replied with an excited “Great idea!” or “We’re in!” while others replied that they didn’t think their daughter would be comfortable. One mom wrote that she loved the idea but when she brought it up at home, her daughter was “horrified” and refused to participate.

Horror was not enough to derail this train.

We set a date and dubbed the event the “Puberty Potluck 1.0.” We decided that we would all read a book with our daughters centered on the theme of girls’ experiences of puberty and use the Puberty Potluck as a space to share food and conversation about the book. 

The main goal was to provide our daughters with an opportunity to hear about puberty from multiple perspectives and see their moms talk openly and cooperatively about their own experiences. Another goal was to have fun and take some of the stress and anxiety out of the conversation.

When I told my daughters about the plan, they, too, were horrified. My older daughter told me that she didn’t need to read a book about puberty because she already knew everything about it: “It’s when you grow breasts and your vagina gets a beard,” she said confidently. My younger daughter simply refused to both read the book and attend the potluck. 

Fearing that I had made the first of many colossal mistakes related to parenting through puberty, I put off starting the book for days. Once we sat down to read it, however, the girls were hooked. There were parts I thought we could save for a later reading such as “how to insert a tampon” but the girls would have none of it. We read it cover to cover.

On the day of the potluck we set up a Question Jar on the coffee table where we would have our discussion. It provided an anonymous means for girls to ask questions if they felt uncomfortable doing so in the larger group. We also put a candle and some flowers in the middle of the round table that would allow the girls to fix their eyes on something neutral (and avoid eye contact) if they felt embarrassed or uncomfortable.

The kitchen table was set up with food and drinks to fuel changing bodies: milk, veggies, fruit and, of course, sweets. I had a special treat for each girl: a chocolate vagina lollipop.

As the girls arrived with their copies of Celebrate Your Body, they quickly filled plates. Once everyone settled, I suddenly felt the same way I felt in seventh grade right before I had to sing a solo in front of my entire middle school. My face was flushed, my palms were sweaty and my voice was shaky as I asked, “What did you all think of the book?” 

Silence makes me anxious so I glanced at the question jar, hoping that there was something in there for us to answer. It was empty. No one wanted to break the ice. 

Finally, one brave girl raised her hand.

And just like that, we embarked on our discussion, remarkable both for the content we covered but also for the connections that we created and strengthened in that room. Girls and moms took turns answering each other’s questions, sharing and validating each other’s stories, and reminding each other that no matter what experiences lie ahead, they will be bearable when you have friends and family to support you.

Of course, we talked about physical changes and period logistics. We even practiced demystifying the word vagina by yelling it at the top of our lungs. There were moments of serious silliness but we also tackled the important issues that go beyond physical changes. 

One question in the question jar, “What if all of my friends go through puberty first?,” hinted at some of the anxieties the girls had about puberty. 

The moms were able to share their stories of timing (some of us went through puberty earlier and some of us went through it later) and how whether you are the first or the last to start the process, it is easy to wish you were experiencing puberty differently. 

All of us who had already been through puberty were able to speak to the universality of these feelings but also to the importance of good friends.

After an hour of discussion, there was a brief pause at which point my older daughter looked at me and said, “Can we wrap this up and go play?” And whether the moms were ready or not, that was the end of The Talk. 

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This article originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.

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