You cloth diaper your baby, use reusable products throughout your house, and you’ve tried to create a more sustainable lifestyle for your children. They will begin to make their own choices at some point. When you’ve directly modeled an action and they understand how easy it is (like washing kitchen towels), or when it just doesn’t occur to them that there is another way to live (like cooking meals from scratch), they will probably follow your choices to a great extent.
What will happen when they don’t have a direct model, though? What will happen when they don’t want to talk about their choices? What will happen when reusable products make your child stand out among peers?
What will happen when your daughter reaches menarche (her first period)?
For those who think this is far, far in the future, if your little girl is six years old and you find yourself surprised by that, just know that twelve will sneak up just as fast. It helps to think through now what you will do to help your daughter become familiar with her body and her options for menstrual products.
Creating familiarity was my strategy. My daughter (and everyone else in my house) knows that I use cloth pads. It’s just part of our life and not hidden or whispered about. Some of us grew up in households where the natural functioning of our bodies was not a welcome topic. If that was the case with the family you grew up in, you have the power to change that with your growing family. If your daughter is comfortable asking you questions about your period, she will be more comfortable asking you about her own period.
My daughter is generally quite private. Despite my efforts to be the radically open parent (or maybe even because of them), my daughter hated talking about puberty. I persisted, but I wasn’t annoying. I tried to keep the door open and knock on that door occasionally as I could see that puberty was coming. She did ask questions, though, and I answered her questions as she asked them, so I knew it was working just to be available.
I told my daughter how we handled potty training. When she was a toddler, I showed her where there were underwear in her drawer in addition to diapers and explained how underwear work. One day, she told me she planned to wear the underwear all day, and she did. That was it. Potty trained.
When she was about twelve years old, we did the same with cloth pads.
I have a lot of cloth scraps in a rainbow of colors. My daughter chose a time when we were alone, and together we drew the shape of a basic cloth pad that snaps around the underwear with an extra layer in the center. We cut out half a dozen and sewed them. Then, she stuffed them into the back of a drawer so her brother would never see them.
For a long time, that was it. I occasionally knocked on the door and talked to her about changes, but I didn’t push too much. When the time came, she just used the pads on her own. By making sure that she had access to what she needed, I tried to be sure that she could be as private as she wanted to be.
That was not it with cloth pads, though.
Be Open to Options
My daughter is a dancer. She spends a lot of time in leotards and tights. The cloth pads were uncomfortable for her, but also she hated how bulky they were. “Please just let me use tampons,” she said. I asked her to trust me that we could find a way to use reusables, and she did.
We kept looking for better options. We did the research together. She was completely unwilling to use a menstrual cup, but she decided to try natural sponges. These actually worked really well, but she still needed some kind of pad, so she finally tried Lunapanties. These start with the same long oval as the Lunapads that snap around your underwear. Rather than being held in place on a pad with rickrack, though, they are held in place on underwear by tucking the pad under elastic. No extra bulk snapped around the underwear.
I tell you what my daughter chose not because it is the solution for every girl but because it was the solution that finally helped my daughter embrace reusable menstrual products. I adore Lunapads because they helped my daughter relax and stop worrying about accidents. My daughter washes her own sponges and puts her pads in the same bucket with mine for wash. She’s less sensitive about her brother knowing now. She’s comfortable talking with friends about what she uses. And, she’s committed to reusables.
In the end, what menstrual products my daughter would use was not my choice. I certainly tried to influence her choice, but I recognized that she would do whatever she wanted to do, so I tried to keep the pressure off and the conversation open. My low-level persistence in talking about it and my openness to hearing and trying to understand what wasn’t working for her paid off.
My advice to you cloth diapering mothers who think this choice is far in your future is to start now with the openness. You don’t need to talk about periods or cloth pads necessarily. Just learn how to hear what your daughter needs and answer her questions. Create a pattern of discussion as a foundation for later. If you can see that puberty is coming, inform yourself about the full range of options for reusable menstrual products and talk to your daughter about those options. I’ve known girls who loved choosing their own fabrics for pretty pads, but my daughter is far less interested in pretty. Figure out what is important not to teen girls in general but to your daughter specifically. Tell her why it is important to you that she choose a sustainable option, and she’ll probably be willing to follow your lead.