Our 4-year-old daughter recently found love at the Montessori snack table.
My wife and I found her crush on this young boy endearing and heartbreaking. Even for puppy love, our girl approached it with a great deal of thought, effort, and mostly all of her heart. Her innocent questions to us about why mommy and daddy got married (love and friendship) led her into a declaration of marital intent with this poor unsuspecting young boy.
The boy responded to her proposal by insisting that not only was he not interested in marriage at the tender age of 4 but also that they would not even live nearby one another as adults. This broke my daughter’s heart. She found herself unable to fully express her hurt even as she tried talking to my wife and me about this situation at length. Her sweetness and sensitivity are much of what I love most about her, but also what makes me fearful of her teenage years. My wife and I are somewhat hopeless romantics. This poor kid of ours did not stand a chance.
The one positive thing from this puppy love experience is that I found that my daughter is willing to talk with me, her father, about these feelings. I understand that she is just 4 and when she turns 14 things will likely be much different, however, these are the five lessons I have learned from this experience as a father:
1. Let her know it is OK and normal to have these feelings. It would certainly be easy to dismiss this whole thing as toddler angst; however, it was an opportunity for her to learn that she can share her feelings with daddy.
2. Don’t get emotional. Behind closed doors I would vent to my wife how I wanted to throttle this little boy. I made a point of not expressing that frustration with her.
3. Ask a question and let her talk. It’s often very easy to help a child complete a thought. We all do it. In this situation, I let her express what she wanted, how she wanted, even when it wasn’t quite decipherable. The more she talked, well, the more she talked.
4. Be honest with her. My wife and I plainly expressed that she is, of course, much too young to be worrying about marrying boys and should make many friends. It sounds silly, but I think that we have an opportunity at a young age to frame her idea of marriage, love and relationships.
5. Be the man that she will want someday. No one will ever be good enough for our little girl, but I can certainly set the bar for those young men that will undoubtedly darken my doorstep. They say that a girl’s first love is her father – we should take that seriously.