With Mother’s Day coming up, I have been reflecting on the experience of my own daughter.  With two mothers who are surgeons, Katie grew up with casual dinner table conversations about all kinds of biological process and organs and diseases.  Consequently, there is nothing that fazes her!

Many mothers, however, are not so comfortable discussing human biology with their daughters, particularly as their bodies are developing.  I will leave the birds and the bees to your discretion but I will talk about breasts.  Our society gives girls a mixed message about their breasts: on the one hand, fetishizing them in media, movies, and music, and on the other, positioning them as potential time bombs that can develop cancer at any time.

That means that we, their mothers, need to help our daughters have a realistic understanding of their breasts and the conversation is different depending on the age and stage of their lives. Ford Warriors in Pink, one of our Foundation’s partners, recently did a survey about these conversations, which showed that 63% of daughters are more likely to have conversations about their breast health if their mothers bring it up. And probably not surprisingly, 59% of mothers admit they’re more likely to have the conversation if their daughter brings it up.

So unless you’re a family of medical professionals who regularly discusses body parts around the dinner table, a more reasonable approach is to have your own conversation in the car. Particularly with teen-agers, the car is the best place to talk when they are captive and don’t actually have to look at you!

At adolescence, talk about the wonderful variety of sizes and  shapes that breasts come in.  And mention that the breast is not just decoration but has important work to do. Think about it…the breast is a miraculous organ!  It is the only organ that we are not born with.  The stem cells are there behind the nipples but need the hormones of puberty to blossom into breasts.  Then they sit around until they are needed for the first child.  With the additional hormones generated during pregnancy and childbirth, the breast becomes a factory, turning blood into milk, available not only to nourish a baby but also to pass on the mother’s immunity to the child.  Pretty amazing!

After the child is weaned, the ducts cells are cleared out and new ducts made ready for the next kid.  Finally, at menopause, the breasts go into retirement.  Wow, we need to do more to celebrate rather than fear this amazing organ.  However, with all of these changes that occur with a woman’s breasts, it’s no wonder that things can sometimes go awry and turn into cancer.

No matter what the age, encourage your daughter to get to know her own breasts, not because they might have cancer, but because they are an important functional body part that needs more respect.  This will open the door for further conversations as she ages about how to take care of her entire body, head to toe!

The most important message to our children is the major role that lifestyle plays in staying healthy and preventing all kinds of diseases from heart disease to breast cancer.  Encourage her to participate in sports, to exercise, eat healthy!

By starting these conversations at adolescence in the car, you will not only give her good advice but open the door so that she can approach you if she does have a problem or concern later on.  And where will that conversation take place?  Probably in the car!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Read more about Ford Warriors in Pink’s Breast Health Awareness survey at fordcares.com

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2 Responses to Mothers and Daughters: Starting the Conversation

  1. Kathleen Crookstom says:

    Susan this is a great read, I shared it with the Mother of my almost 11 year old grand daughter, I think she will be glad to read it also.
    Thanks for all your shared knowledge, your the best!
    KC

  2. Sherri Heitner says:

    Thank you Susan.
    Your thoughts & sentiments are always on target & spoken about in a timely way.
    As a person who has had multiple cancer experiences, my 27 year old daughter has had to deal with her mother’s treatments multiple times.
    From my personal experience these conversations about health & lifestyle can be tricky initially though once started, they do open the door for more dialogue.

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