Conversations with Preschoolers

Can I say how much I love having a preschooler?

My life is peppered with the most fascinating conversations. Watching Sally learn and figure things out is beautiful, and often also quite humorous.

Let me offer this exchange by way of example:

“I’m going to marry Daddy when I grown up.”

“Oh no you’re not! I already married him. You have to pick someone else, because he’s taken.” 

“Then I’m going to marry Bobby.” 

“Sorry honey, you can’t marry your brother.” 

“Why not?”

“Because . . . you just can’t.” (I still haven’t figured out how to explain this one.) 

“Do boys marry girls and girls marry boys?” 

“Usually, but sometimes boys marry boys and girls marry girls. It’s up to you.” 

“Oh, okay. I pick a girl. I will marry Jessica.” (Jessica is a friend from her preschool.)

“Well you don’t have to decide yet. You have to grow up first, and then you can decide if you want to get married, and if so who you want to marry.” 

“Yes, I know that. (Like, duh mom.)

Yep. Preschoolers are the best.

Do you have a conversation to share?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Karen

    My older son, Andy, was seven and his brother Aaron was almost four:

    Aaron: I’m going to marry Katherine, Ellie, and Maggie when I grow up.

    Andy: you can’t do that. Some of them have to be your ex-wives.

    [Maggie's mom and Ellie's mom were divorce lawyers]

  • Slow Learner

    “Why not?” “Because he’s already part of your family, you can only marry someone from another family.”
    That’s what I’d go for, anyway.

    • Aaron

      “Because your family is a beast that demands growth, that it may one day consume the entire world! And if you marry within the family, its demands are not met! And you don’t want to make that beast ANGRY.”

  • Rivka

    I have had to explain to both of my kids why they can’t marry a parent. My standard explanation is that marriage is a way of bringing someone into your family. Mommy is already part of your family, so there is no need to marry her. We are already always going to be a family.

    When I tried the “I’m already married to Daddy” line on my 3.5-year-old son, he quickly answered, “Could that change?” Then he explained to me that the rule about only marrying one person “doesn’t make sense, because if one person is making dinner and one person is resting there needs to be someone to look after the children.” He was prepared to marry me so that he could be that third person. ;-)

    My 7-year-old has been very involved in our family’s marriage equality activism – it really appeals to her sense of justice. The other day she said something about “When I get married, my husband or wife…” I just said, “You’re not sure which one it’s going to be, huh? You’ve got plenty of time to decide.”

    • Rae

      I like the explanation of adding people to your family – when you think about the place that marriage has in our society, getting a marriage license is much like granting that person rights that your immediate family probably already has (power of attorney, inheritance, child custody in case the biological parent(s) can’t care for the child).

      I also think this meshes very well with the “You can only marry people from other families” explanation offered above.

      • Steve

        Yup. Marriage is about creating legal ties to people you aren’t related to.

        This is also a reason why it’s so absurd when anti-gay groups go on and on about procreation. Marriage is more about de facto than biological parents. For example when you marry someone who already has children you automatically become their legal parent.

  • Lauren F

    I don’t have a lot of “conversations” yet, since he’s only two, but this morning we had the following exchange that I loved:

    Me: “I’m putting peanut butter on my English muffin.”
    Him: “Yeah! J-i-f: peanut butter!”

    He knows his letters, but he doesn’t quite know how they work yet. :)

  • Jason Dick

    Here’s how I might try it, because ultimately I think the best answer comes down to genetics.

    “Everybody has little mistakes in their genes. Some of the mistakes come from their parents, some are brand new. But most of these mistakes don’t do anything: you’re protected by the fact that even if you get a gene with a mistake from mommy, daddy will probably have given you a good copy that works and you’ll be fine.

    But what happens if both you and your brother have the same mistake from mommy? Then, if you try to have kids, that kid will get the mistake twice and something can go wrong!

    A long time ago people noticed that when people married their brothers or sisters and had babies, those babies often had all sorts of problems. And so today people think marrying your brother or sister is very icky, even if you don’t have babies.”

    I don’t think this explanation is *completely* correct, but I think it’s understandable for a kid. They might object to the idea that people still think it’s icky even if they don’t have babies, but then I’d just respond, “Well, that’s okay. You’ll probably think it’s icky too when you get older.”

    And if they become overly-worried about the mistakes, you might mention a mistake that every human (and indeed every primate) has: the inability to produce Vitamin C.

    • Ibis3

      Aside from other problems with it, this explanation makes marriage all about having kids. And we all know the issues with that (if it’s about children, why do same-sex couples need to get married; why is it okay for people to have kids and not be married or vice versa; why can’t brothers and sisters marry and adopt kids etc. etc.)

      • Christine

        It is, however, a historically accurate framing of the origin of the taboos against incest. Whether or not it is appropriate for a given child will have more to do with how they are presented with other concepts that are too complex for them. (Are they generally given an idea which is accurate, but may confuse the issue, or are they generally given a false explaination which gives a more accurate impression overall).

  • Amanda

    My sister reports that my two-year-old niece asked her a laundry list of questions about her current book, then told her mother to come sit on her lap… and now my sister would kind of like her daughter to stay two forever :)

    My older son didn’t talk much until he was past four, so what I remember most about his childhood is things he made [i]me[/i] say. Sentences like “We don’t wear potatoes in our underpants.”


    Alrightie, then!

  • Therese Norén

    When I had a similar conversation with my six-year old daughter, we talked about that some girls fall in love with boys and some with girls, and that some boys fall in love with girls and some with boys.

    “And there are people who fall in love with both girls and boys. I do.”

    “Yeah Mom, *eyeroll*, I kno-o-ow.”

    Best coming out conversation I’ve ever had.

  • Mandy

    My favorite conversation I’ve had with my preschooler went like this:

    Me: Honey, I love you more than anything!
    Her: I know Mom. That’s kind of the idea.

  • Nicole Introvert

    I remember that my brother was just convinced he was going to marry our mom until he was about 4. It really didn’t matter that he thought that. I don’t think it really needs explaining. Soon enough it will be outgrown.

    • Anat

      Around the time my brother was 4 or so my father went on a business trip that lasted several weeks. Before going he told my brother something along the lines of ‘now you are the man of the house, take care of your mother and sister’. That night when my mother went to sleep she found my brother in her bed. To her surprised question about what he was doing there he responded, ‘Daddy said I’m your husband now!’

  • revsharkie

    I was visiting my sister at Thanksgiving time when my nephew was four. My sister unpacked the Christmas decorations and left the box they came out of on the living room floor. Cameron went immediately to it and said it was his airplane, and he was going to fly in it. I asked him, “Could I get in and fly with you?”

    He replied, “No. You’re too wide.”

  • Rilian

    When I was little (about 4), we were staying at my aunt’s house and they were talking about whether my parents or my aunt and uncle would sleep in their room. I said, “What if daddy and grace sleep in the bedroom, and mommy and mike sleep on the couches?” And my mom said, “Grace wants to sleep with mike.”
    “Why?” I said.
    “Because Mike is her husband,” my mom said.
    “But why does everyone have to sleep with their own husband?” I said.
    And my mom said something like, they don’t have to, they just want to.

  • sylvia_rachel

    When my DD was about three, she asked me, totally out of the blue, “Mommy, when two girls get married, do they both have to wear a dress?” I explained that people can pretty much wear whatever they want for their wedding, because it’s their wedding, but yes many girls do choose to wear a pretty dress for their wedding. We went to several weddings close together that year, so DD was kind of obsessed with the whole thing, but the only part that really registered was the DANCING. So she would have these endless games of “wedding” with her dolls and stuffed animals and trains (the trains also went to school, and had naps and show-and-tell), which pretty much consisted of (a) fancy clothes! and (b) dancing!! XD

  • Annie

    One of the kids I babysit had a doozy the other night
    Kiddo: Can I have some milk?
    Me: No, you just brushed your teeth. I could get you a drink of water though.
    Kiddo: How come?
    Me: Because milk has sugar, but water has no sugar so I’d be happy to get you a glass of that.
    Kiddo: How about grape juice? Because Welch’s grape juice has no added sugar!

  • MrPopularSentiment

    When I was a kid, I decided that I would marry both my dad’s girlfriend and her daughter. They will NOT let it go – both of them keep asking me when our wedding is going to be, and I’m nearly 30 now! And I keep trying to explain to them that I’m not still trying to marry Harrison Ford, either, but they just won’t hear of it.

  • Lucreza Borgia

    Me: “What did you learn in school today?”
    Small Child: “Things I forget!”

  • Tracey

    Tried to explain adoption to my 4yr old niece:

    Me: I want a baby, but since one isn’t growing in my tummy, I’ll be a mom to a baby that grew in someone else’s tummy.
    Niece: Aunt Tracey, a daddy can’t have a baby in HIS tummy.
    Me: I know. It would be a baby from a lady’s tummy.
    Niece: Well you can’t have my brother.
    Me: I know silly, your brother already has a mommy.
    Niece: Ok (just checking, right?)

  • Emma

    I remember my mother trying to explain my Aunt Sarah and her spouse, Heather, to me when I was little. A tricky thing to do, since I didn’t really understand why people of the opposite gender wanted to be married.

    Also, this gem from me after my mother first explained where babies came from: “If you and dad have two kids… that means you did it TWICE” (horrified look).

  • Aimee

    My daughter mostly wants to have a baby when she grows up (cause cute I guess I dunno) and she has a lot of concern over this need for a man to “put a baby inside of her” and keeps asking which man is going to do it – daddy, grandpa, uncle J, etc. I’m just… rofl – I obviously explained things far too simplistically for her. She also thinks that every time someone is getting dressed up they are getting married.

  • Mafrin

    Miss 5 “sure, I want to get married, but I don’t want to fall in love”
    Me “why not?”
    Miss 5 ” too messy!”

  • Ismenia

    I recall a boy in my reception class (age 4-5) saying that he wanted to marry his (male) best friend.

    My nephew once talked very earnestly about wanting to marry a girl in his class and have children. He was very specific that he wanted two children, a boy and a girl, and was discussing names for them. It was the fact that he was so serious that made it adorable. My sister was giggling but I don’t laugh at him when he’s being serious. I used to hate it when adults did that.

    When I was 6 I became very concerned that I didn’t want to change my name when I got married (I didn’t know the word “sexist” then but I was very aware of it nonetheless). Someone told me it could be avoided by marrying someone with the same name. Conveniently, there was a boy in my class with the same surname, albeit with a variant spelling. I sought my grandparents’ advice on how to tell him that I wanted to marry him. My grandma suggested fluttering my eyelashes at him but this seemed silly. Eventually I decided that I didn’t like him much anyway. I discussed the problem with my mother who told me that I could get married and keep my name. I said that I would do that. I stuck to it. People are surprised that I made up my mind when I was six but it is true.