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Talking marriage with a four year old

Erin Zammett Ruddy

When do you start talking to your kids about love? Dating? Marriage? Is four too young? Not in my house, apparently…


This is a conversation that took place while I was lying in Alex’s bed with him reading But No Elephants:


Alex (touching my hair): “You need a haircut, mom.”

Me: “You think?”

Alex: “Actually, no, you have really nice hair. I want to marry you, mom. But I can’t because you’re already married, right? (defeated) Oh, why can’t you marry two people?!”

Me: “Uh, that’s right, bud, I’m already married to daddy. can’t marry your mom.”

Alex: “Ugh, I don’t know who I’m going to marry!”

Me: “You have lots of time to figure it out, bud.”

Alex: "Like 10 years? Will I just go to New York City to look for someone? Will they be sitting alone? Do they wear nametags?”


The conversation ended as abruptly as it started. But the next morning when Nick and Nora were at swim class, Alex wanted to pretend I was his girlfriend. I thought that sounded harmless (he’s four not 14, right?) Here’s how our date went:


First he offered to take the recycling to the garage “because you always have too much to do, so I’ll help.” He got all the way down there but then got scared so I had to follow him to turn on the light. He cleaned the table with water and a paper towel to make it nice for our date. Then:


Alex: “Hey, Erin, get over here and look at my pirate puzzle.”

Me: “Um, that’s not how you talk to girls, Al.”

Alex: “Sorry, that’s just how I roll. Hey Erin, after the puzzle I’ll take you to my cousin Andrew’s house and introduce you.”

He did the puzzle while I ate my omelet and we chit-chatted. I asked him about his mother (I couldn’t resist) and he said, “oh, she’s not here, she’s at book club. She goes like every night.” He didn’t break character once and he seemed to really grasp the concept of being kind and considerate to someone you are dating (apart from the hey-you-get-over-here comment). He also used my name constantly, which I'm sure was most of the fun for him. It probably sounds a little Oedipal or whatever, but I think it was cute and harmless. I just hope I did a good job of answering his questions. Clearly, it's on his mind and I want him to be able to talk to me about anything, especially this stuff, especially as he gets older and is dating people other than his mother.

At this point, though, I think it's more about showing our kids what a healthy and loving relationship looks like rather than telling them. Nick and I make a point of being kind to each other in front of the kids (and when we're not, we make a point to talk about it), we compliment each other, we laugh a lot, we hug, we try to be on the same team about stuff. And my kids definitely know that Nick and I have a life that doesn't involve them. I'm pretty sure Alex thinks that life involves Chinese food, inappropriate TV and staying up late (he wouldn't be entirely wrong) but at least he knows it exists. 

How do you talk to your kids about this stuff--or plan to? How do you show them what love is? Have any of your kids been asking?