Friday, May 29, 2009

Children -- The Growing Up Years

Preparing Your Daughter for Womanhood:
(Note: If your daughter is following along with this class, you may want to preview this first.)

As we've discussed before, understanding child development is important in the life of a home keeper. Babies start out totally dependent on their mothers. As they mature, they gradually grow into adult responsibilities. By the time they are grown, they are responsible for making their own choices, though -- as parents -- we want to be there to support and guide when necessary.

There's so much to teach our daughters (and our sons) that the task of motherhood can seem overwhelming at times. That's where we have to remember to surrender our children to the Lord and to depend on his strength. Also, we need the support and guidance of older women, who have raised their families, as well as peers, who are going through the same things that we are. We also have to remember that we will make mistakes, but those mistakes can be overcome with love.

Part of your daughter's task in growing up is to develop healthy attitudes about her physical, emotional, and spiritual nature. That involves passing through physical puberty and also dealing with the emotional passage that goes along with it. How we model our appreciation of our feminine nature and deal with our own physical and emotional passages sets a role model that our daughters will follow.

Some guidelines for helping our daughters transition from childhood into the teen years are

1) Be positive about your own life. Don't speak negatively about your bodily functions, especially not about menstruation and certainly not about pregnancy and childbirth. If we happen to suffer physical symptoms of PMS or painful periods or a painful labor or an uncomfortable perimenopause, we don't have to pretend that we don't. However, we can admit those things in a faithful way, without being the picture of doom and gloom. We don't want to complain or use words like "the curse" to describe what is happening to us during our periods, for example. Instead, we want to model thankfulness to the Lord that He has given us bodies which can serve Him. We also need to express wonder that God has designed the human body to be so amazing.

2) We need to realize that children -- especially girls -- are reaching physical puberty earlier and earlier these days. There are many theories about why this is happening, from hormones in our environment to better nutrition in our day than in times past to too much visually sexualized stimulation in our culture, which possibly affects brain chemicals that control growth. Whatever the reason, we need to be aware of how our daughters are developing emotionally and physically. We don't need to give too much information too early; yet, we don't want to be too late in preparing our daughters for the physical changes they will be going through, either. I have a friend who started her first cycle at a very early age, in the middle of the night when she was spending the night at another friend's house. Never having heard of menstruation, she was terrified that something terrible was happening to her. Looking back on it, I can see that it was obvious that she was developing physically ahead of the curve. Had she been prepared, perhaps, she wouldn't have been so frightened.

3) We all know that puberty can be an emotional time for a young girl. One minute, she may want to be a child; the next, she feels she is an adult. She may long to be held at one moment, yet need some space the next. She may need to bathe and wash her hair more often, and she might or might not experience some trouble with skin break-outs. In an effort to grow into her own self, she might be tempted to push her parents away at one moment; yet, she may want to cling to them the next.

Yet, we can guide a daughter to embrace all of the wonderful things about this time, as well. It's a joyful thing to be growing up to be the woman God made her to be. She can look forward to blooming wherever the Lord will plant her. Perhaps, marriage and children will be in her future. Perhaps, not. However, the Lord has designed her with a wonderful womanly nature, and she will discover in the coming years that He has given her unique gifts. In the meantime, this is a great opportunity for her to learn how to live in today and to make the most of today, without worrying about tomorrow.

4) Some girls experience very little discomfort during their monthly period. Others have a greater degree of discomfort, or even pain. If a daughter does have painful cycles or if anything seems to be amiss with her cycles, it's wise to consult a physician. Sometimes, the pain results from correctable physical problems.

Things that might help with pain in the moment are using a hot water bottle on the abdomen, drinking chamomile tea, and rest. Some women feel better after doing gentle stretches; others find that lying down is better.

Getting plenty of fresh air and exercise throughout the month, as well as eating nutritious food, can help.

Often women who don't have much discomfort during a period find it hard to empathize with women who do have a lot of menstrual distress. It's important to understand that every woman's body is different and to know that some women do have very real physical causes for more severe menstrual pain.

Do not be surprised if all of the women in your family frequently experience their cycles at the same time. There is actually a biological reason for this. Be patient with each other!!

5) When your daughter does start her periods, teach her how to keep track of them. This is important in case you do need to see a physician. Throughout her life, she will need to be able to tell her physicians the date of her last period, as well as what age she started her cycles. Also, for those who do have PMS or cramps, it's helpful to be able to predict when a cycle is coming in order to prepare.

6) For all women, whether they have little distress with their periods or if their periods are more difficult, the following things are helpful in taking care of feminine health:

a) Practice good hygiene.
b) Get lots of fresh air and exercise.
c) Cultivate an attitude of thankfulness.
d) Drink plenty of water.
e) Study enough about physiology to understand the workings of your menstral cycle, as well as what happens during pregnancy and menopause.
f) Understand your personal rhythms -- For example, you might be quieter and more reflective around your period and feel more active at other times of the month. With modern hygiene, a girl can be just as active as she wants or needs to be during her period; however, if you want to spend some quiet time, that's ok, too.
g) Perhaps, you will enjoy taking extra care of your appearance and your room during the time just before and during your period. Taking the time to create a special retreat for yourself and to dress in a way that makes you feel special if particularly helpful if you get the "blahs" around that time of the month. Also, just the activity of doing those light chores can help chase away the "blahs" or the "blues".
h) Watch your posture. Mothers need to help young girls with this. As they develop a more womanly figure, they may either exagerrate their posture to show it off or slump to hide it in embarrasment. Neither approach is healthy. Instead, aim for a confident, feminine, healthy posture, and walk and stand and sit in a way that promotes health for your body. Slumping or habitually throwing your body out of alignment is not good for your organs or your bones.
i) Avoid undue fear about your health; If you have questions, seek the aid of a physician. Do what you can to be a good steward of your health. Do what you can to overcome discomforts. Otherwise, don't dwell on your discomforts or imagine that they must be signs of something worse. Also, don't dwell on what others might say about their periods or their childbirth experiences, especially if they are of a frightening or exagerrated nature. Instead, as we mentioned above, be in awe that God has designed such a fearfully and wonderfully made thing as the body. Mothers can help a daughter with this by avoiding overly fretting about the daughter's health and by listening carefully to her to correct any misinformation she may be picking up from peers or other sources.

6) Be a listening ear for your daughter. Listen, listen, listen. One of the most important things you can do for a child (boy or girl) who is a preteen or teen is to keep the lines of communication open. You will need to instruct and correct, but you also need to make your child feel that he or she can safely confide in you. If you are not your child's safe place, she will go to her peers. While it's great for her to have some good friends her own age with whom she can talk (and you should encourage that, as well), it's not healthy for her to run only to her peers because she feels that she cannot talk to you.

7) At some point during her development, a girl will naturally experience an increased interest in looking attractive, as well as an awareness of boys. It's important that she understand that this is a natural part of growing up. It's also important that she understand the importance of purity, wholesomeness, and waiting for God's timing. Help her see that modesty and purity are not restrictive, but are actually a protection for her spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. Help her channel her thoughts and her energies into wholesome directions.

Since puberty comes so early in our culture, it may be quite some period between the time she becomes interested in marriage and motherhood and the time when she meets her future husband. Or, she might be someone who stays single. If a girl has a strong interest in marriage, she might despair of that day ever coming. Therefore, we must equip our daughters to prepare themselves for the possibility of marriage, but also to trust in the Lord and live a full life in the here and now. Learning godly contentment now will stand her in good stead all of her life.

8) Teach your daughter the importance of unfading, inner beauty. Also, teach her that every woman is beautiful in some way. Obvious physical beauty can be a great blessing. If your daughter is naturally physically beautiful, she will receive a lot of attention for that fact. Be happy about her beauty and joyfully acknowledge it. However, also teach her that her beauty is simply a gift and not the source of her worth. Help her to develop those inner qualities that are so important. Likewise, a less striking daughter may feel overshadowed by girls who are naturally stunning. To you, she is beautiful, and you can sincerely tell her so. You can also compliment her best features, such as a beautiful smile or lovely eyes. Again, teach her that looks are not the ultimate source of her worth. Help her develop those inner qualities which shine out and illuminate even the plainest face.

Teach your daughter to keep herself neatly, modestly, and attractively groomed and attired, and, then, to focus her attention off of herself onto loving others. Teach her how to enjoy life and how to spend her time on the most worthwhile things in life.

Early adolescence is a time when many children are insecure about their looks, and our currently looks-obsessed culture can add even more pressure. One sign of maturity is to have come to have come to terms with how the Lord made you and to appreciate His design for you and your life. In helping our daughters mature to this point, we need to demonstrate this maturity, as well. It doesn't help a daughter to hear us complain about a large nose or fat thighs, especially if our daughter also has those same features. Instead, dress in a way that becomes you, and, then, focus your attention on being thankful and loving others.

We may be on the other end of things than our daughters are. Just as our daughters are blooming physically, we may be seeing the first wrinkles creep across our face, fighting middle aged spread, noticing stretch marks from childbirth, or wondering why we can't get as much done as we used to. Places may ache that never used to before. We may be nearing the end of our fertility, which can be an emotional adjustment whether or not we actually want to have more children. We may be tempted to complain about how our body looks and functions as we are getting a bit older. It's important for us to come to terms with this in prayer and with the counsel of good friends, both for our sakes and for our daughters' sakes. They will imitate the way we approach the aging process. If we model a happy mature beauty for them, they will look forward to the various stages of life.


topaztook said...

If a girl has several difficult periods in a row, one thing she might want to have her physician check is her thyroid hormone levels. It is a very simple blood test, and I have no idea why doctors don't do it more often -- after I struggled with difficult periods (and other symptoms) for decades. My sister and I are both on the watch for this with our daughters and will make sure to address it *early*.

I believe I will definitely be on the other end of the spectrum from my daughter: she will turn 12 the year I turn 50. There will be some interesting hormones around here...

Buffy said...

Excellent summary of the challenges that arise, and very good advice too. I dread to think what it must have been like when women did not talk about these issues. I think some women must have been very ignorant about their bodies.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Buffy and Topaztook -- Thanks for your insightful comments.