Q: Our 4-year-old daughter has been talking a lot about having a "boyfriend." Recently, while playing with some neighborhood kids, she and a boy of the same age kept going off into a corner of the yard "to be alone." Should I be worried about this?
Jim: Our counselors at Focus on the Family have addressed this issue in the past. In essence, there's no reason to be overly concerned about this type of behavior. Your daughter is simply engaging in childish make-believe.
However, it's worth asking yourself exactly why her playtime activities are so heavily focused on dating. Her behavior strongly suggests that she's imitating attitudes and actions that she's seen modeled elsewhere.
If I were to take a guess, I'd say she's probably gotten this preoccupation from the media. Much of the TV programming aimed at tweens, while not sexually explicit, is focused on male-female relationships, dating and so on. If you're allowing your daughter to watch TV shows of this nature, it would be a good idea to put a stop to it until she's older. It' also possible that her preoccupation with boyfriends has come from her peers (who may themselves be viewing programs aimed at older viewers), or from an older sibling who has entered the dating years.
Whatever her inspiration, if the behavior continues, we'd suggest you gently take your daughter aside and ask her where she learned about such things. Tell her how glad you are that her group of friends includes both boys and girls, and encourage her to spend time playing with both. Then explain that girls don't have to have "boyfriends" until they're much older. A simple conversation of this nature, without making a big deal about it, will likely do the trick.
Q: My husband and I were recently married. We're both senior citizens who lost our spouses over the last few years. Now that we're remarried, we're noticing that we bring up our prior spouses often. We're struggling with how to stay focused on each other and the people we are, and not how our previous spouses did things. Can you help?
Juli: Congratulations on your new marriage! With all the books written on marriage, there are not many that address your unique situation.
The spouses that you lost are an important part of your histories. Not talking about them would be like not mentioning your career or your children. It would be stifling and unnatural. You'll never forget the years you spent together, nor should you. However, your statement about staying focused on each other is key.
Although you will talk about your previous spouses, avoid statements that could be interpreted as a comparison. For example, there's a big difference between telling an endearing story about how Bob could never fix the faucet and saying, "Bob always made me laugh when I was sad. I miss that."
It would be helpful for you and your husband to have an open conversation about which statements are distancing or hurtful to the other. Maybe you're sensitive when your husband talks about how beautiful his first wife was. Let him know those triggers so that he can be sensitive to them. You both need a safe place to process things that may be difficult for you to talk about together.
Finally, give yourselves permission to invest in this new marriage. There can be a lot of hidden feelings of guilt and grief that keep you from enjoying what you have together. You might feel that your marriage is in some way a betrayal of your former spouse. Your adult children may have feelings and opinions that reinforce that fear. The truth is that you and your husband are God's provision for each other today. Enjoy and invest together!
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.)
(Submit your questions to: ask@FocusOnTheFamily.com)