Columnists

Ask Fiona: I'm a single dad – how do I talk to my daughter about periods?

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers advice to a single dad on talking to his daughter, and a couple considering using a sperm donor

It is difficult for a single dad to bring up his daughter alone but keep talking and be open and honest with each other

My eight-year-old daughter was looking at an advertisement for tampons on television the other evening and asked me what they were for. I'm a single dad, and this made me realise there's an awful lot about parenting I've never even thought about.

At what point do I need to start talking to her about things like periods?

I suspect she's too young at the moment for a full lesson about such things (and I don't even know if I'm competent to deal with them), but when and where do I start?

SL

FIONA SAYS: While your daughter is probably too young to be given instructions on the mechanics of sex and how to insert a tampon, she's not too young to start to understand the basics. She's probably already aware that boys and girls are physically different to one another, so a simple explanation of why wouldn't hurt at all.

You do need to start preparing her, as girls can start their periods as young as eight – although that is unusual, and most girls start between the ages of 11 and 15.

I'm sure it's hard for you to think about what is the 'right' time to talk to her about such matters but there are indications that her body is getting ready.

Typically, a girl gets her period about two years after her breasts start to develop.

Take opportunities like the television advertisements to start talking to her about it, and buy her some stick-on sanitary pads ready for when she starts.

You will need to explain to her about changing them regularly and, most importantly, about disposing of them (they shouldn't be flushed down the toilet).

Your daughter's main concern is likely to be what she has to do if her period starts while she is out of the house. Reassure her that she will probably see slight 'spotting' first, which should give her time to find some sanitary protection - she can always carry a pad with her if she's very concerned.

As a single father, you might have had a very close relationship with your daughter up to now, but as she grows into a woman, you might find she needs another woman to talk to. She will start to grow more aware of her own body and feel some things are private, so if you have a female friend or relative she's comfortable with, it might be worthwhile involving them early on. If this friend is alert to your daughter's interest in such matters, she can be ready to help when necessary.

You should be aware, of course, that hormone changes may affect your daughter in different ways. Some girls, for example, can feel more sad or irritable before their periods. Encourage her to be physically active and get regular exercise, as this can really help to lift her moods.

If you need help and advice about your growing daughter, do consider contacting the Family Planning Association (fpa.org.uk), where there's a huge section of help and advice for parents. As you can see, it encourages the idea of talking about our bodies and relationships from as young as three, which might surprise some people. There's a section for single parents, which you may find helpful.

Finally, while it's normal for her to be anxious about getting her first period and, once it starts, she may dislike the inconvenience it causes, do encourage her to be positive. Menstruation is a sign that she's healthy and that she's growing and developing normally - just the way she should.

MY SISTER'S MOOD SWINGS UPSET ME

My 14-year-old younger sister has really bad moods. One minute she will be laughing and carrying on, and then if we upset her in the slightest, she turns very moody and angry.

She goes very quiet and mutters under her breath if we try to talk to her, and she will also put me down and say very hurtful things. This has been happening for over a year now and it's really starting to get to me.

We're due to go on a family holiday soon and I don't even want to go because I know she's not going to change. She's very rude to my mum and has no respect for her nor me, and she is beginning put it over my dad.

I've spoken to my parents about it, but they don't understand how I feel, and they say they're going to do something about it but nothing ever happens. She is nice towards others, and if I didn't tell you, you'd think she's a lovely girl, and it's really hard for me to see her treat everyone else so nice but treat me like dirt.

I've been reading online, and it could be that it's just hormones and will settle down soon - but is there anything to help stop this problem now? I just want my old nice sister back.

MG

FIONA SAYS: Chances are, these mood swings are indeed hormone related and will, in time, settle down, and she'll go back to being her usual, happy self. However, I'm afraid to say this lack of respect for you and for your parents could be something else entirely.

It may be she's being influenced by her friends for some reason – or just going through a rebellious phase. Whatever the reason, please encourage your parents to act quickly, as she could become even more difficult if she's not challenged.

I should add that no one automatically deserves respect – it's something that should be earned – so make sure you're worthy of what you want from your sister. Lead by example and call her out if she's rude to your mother or behaves badly in some other way. She needs to understand acceptable behaviour and, if she sees a bad example from you, she's more likely to copy it.

I DID EVERYTHING FOR MY BOYFRIEND – SO WHY DID HE LEAVE?

My boyfriend and I lived together for three years and I did everything for him, I love him so much. It was never enough though and he was always losing his temper with me and telling me I was useless.

Now, despite everything I did for him, he's left me and I feel a total failure. Clearly, I didn't do enough to keep him and I feel as if my life is no longer worth living. What should I have done and is there any way to bring him back?

LV

FIONA SAYS: You have had your self-confidence undermined so badly by this man that you can no longer recognise how bad he was for you. In any caring, loving relationship, the giving and taking are balanced, but with him, all you did was give and all he did was take.

Even if you'd given more, it wouldn't have made any difference, because what was needed was for him to start giving too. It seems he wasn't willing to do that, and I'm afraid there's no real future in a relationship where one partner has so little respect for the other that all they do is take.

Instead of trying to rekindle things, try instead to recognise that you are a loving, caring person who deserves to find someone who loves and cares for you in return. Think about what YOU want from life and start looking for someone who is willing to share, not someone who just expects to take.

Please don't compromise, as you deserve better than you have had so far.

SHOULD MY PARTNER AND I USE HIS BROTHER'S SPERM?

My partner and I love each other very much and we have been together through the break up of his marriage and other difficult issues. We know we want to stay together and we want children, but his ex-wife didn't and insisted he had a vasectomy.

We've talked it over and his brother has said he's willing to give us his sperm so we can have a child - but is this legal and will the baby be OK? I don't want to ask my doctor, in case we are breaking the law by doing it.

PJ

FIONA SAYS: While it's not illegal, it really is very unwise as there are so many other, better ways around this.

For a start, it's possible your partner could have his vasectomy reversed – it's a more major operation but he would then, in theory, be able to father more children.

Until you become pregnant, no one can possibly tell you whether or not your baby will be OK. Once you are, various tests will help to find out.

Were you to use a specialist clinic, though, any donated sperm would be screened for genetic abnormalities or incompatibilities, as well as any sexually transmitted diseases.

Potentially, your husband's brother could still be the donor if you did use a specialist clinic for the process.

You should also consider the long-term issue of the child finding out that their uncle is actually their father, and how you would handle that.

Do please discuss things with your GP; they are by far the best person to help you with this, even if you do decide to go your own way about it.

Finally, if you can, look at the website for the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority (www.hfea.gov.uk) – it will give you a lot of useful advice as well as information on the legal issues involved.

If you have a problem and you'd like Fiona's advice, email help@askfiona.net

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