One August morning, I’m sitting in the living room of a friend’s family cabin in the mountains with my then 10-year-old, Hadley, and a half-dozen other mom-daughter pairs. I’ve been friends with a few of the women longer than I’ve been a parent, which means that I’ve also known some of these girls since they were round-faced, wide-eyed babies. On this day, they’re all rising fifth-graders (except one little sister, a rising fourth-grader), and I’m watching them lounge on the floor—their long, gangly legs stretched out in front of them—as they chat amongst themselves about a friend’s new puppy, their favorite music lyrics, and why they need a snack an hour after breakfast.
Then Julie Hughes, our guest and instructor for the day, gently summons our attention. We’re gathered for our fourth-annual mother-daughter weekend, but this getaway is different: Hughes, a midwife, is here to lead us through her five-hour workshop dubbed “Powerful Puberty.” (Earlier, my daughter asked, “Mom, five hours talking about puberty? Is there that much to talk about?”) Turns out, we both learn that day, the answer is “yes.”
Hughes, a mother of four children who range in age from five to 16 years old, feels like a kind, free-spirited aunt in whom you can confide. She’s a certified midwife who launched her business, the Life Cycle Lady, after searching for a class on puberty for her own daughter and finding nothing. “My goal is to normalize the process of puberty,” she says. “Every single human on the face of the planet goes through it, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s something [preadolescent and adolescent] kids should be talking about and celebrating with the people they’re closest with.”
Her other goal, she adds, is to equip girls with knowledge about their bodies and help them understand why these changes are happening. And sometimes, moms of today’s prepubescent daughters don’t quite know how to launch a conversation with their girls, or how to cover all the details. “Maybe you talk about physical changes, but there are emotional and social changes, too, and girls need to know about them all,” Hughes says.
The summer morning Hadley and I and our friends meet Hughes, she leads us through three “big” topics with an irresistible mixture of candor and warmth. She talks about the brain changes and the body changes that come with puberty and gives a specific and—there’s no other word for it—marvelous description of menstruation. I confess feeling a sense of relief as Hughes breaks down the details of female bodies; not only is she nailing the biology, but she’s also infusing the conversation with a sense of wonder. The message is clear: How amazing is your body?!
Activities for Growing and Changing
These three talks are broken up by activities that teach without being overly didactic. At one point, Hughes gives us stretches and breathing exercises to teach our bodies to relax when we feel worked up. We’re lying on the floor with our hands on our own stomachs and Hughes tells us to “notice the moment between the rise and fall of your hand with your breath.” She calls that space “your still, quiet place,” and she reminds us all we can visit that space just by putting our hands on our bellies. (A mom whispers, “I need this for my own life!”)
Later, the girls make “emotional storm jars” (water, glue, and glitter in mason jars). Hughes explains that the jars represent how our feelings can get whipped up when hormones are pumping wildly through bodies. By shaking the jars and watching the glitter settle, she tells the girls, they can give themselves an opportunity to “slow down.” There are art projects, time for mom-daughter pairs to talk privately, and opportunities for group sharing. Moms even tell stories about our 10- or 11-year-old selves, and I catch a glimpse of the girls my friends once were. When we’re done, Hadley sidles up beside me and wraps her arm around my waist. “Mom? That was …”—she pauses and grins up at me—“pretty awesome.” I completely agree.
Continuing the Conversation
Hadley and I took this class more than a year ago, and now we’re gearing up for the second round of Hughes’ workshops, called “Powerful Puberty 2.” A much shorter curriculum, it’s designed for middle-school girls (between the ages of 12 and 14). “I teach about body image, emotional health,” Hughes says. “It’s about how to be a good, strong peer to your group of friends without falling for some of the unhealthy pressures kids in this age group are facing.”
Of course, we might be taking the class online, given state and local restrictions on gatherings—and that’s OK. Though she still offers private classes for small groups, Hughes has created videos, framed as “mother-daughter date nights,” for both of her workshops. They include her “big talks” about puberty as well as shorter tutorials for the art projects, discussions, and tools she helps girls and moms develop to navigate puberty together, equipped with knowledge and even, yes, delight at the ways our bodies are built to grow and change.
Power Up! // Details
The Powerful Puberty Workshop costs $100 online or $150 in person (including art supplies) for each mother-daughter pair. Some scholarships are available.
The workshops are for women and girls only—Hughes calls it “a sacred space”—but she invites mother-figures (aunts, neighbors, friends, foster moms) to attend with their surrogate daughters. In these instances, she includes a free Zoom call for dads of daughters, so she can fill in fathers on the class content.
Hughes’ podcast, The Life Cycle Lady, covers everything from puberty to perimenopause (and all the cyclical rhythms of life).