When to introduce the topic of marriage to children

What you need to know:

  • There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to when and how it should happen. Each marriage is unique, and dependent on the couple’s choices and foundation

Marriage is a sacred institution that was ordained by God Himself. It is one place that you join and receive a certificate before graduation. This means there is no school where marriage is taught except through practicing it. You gain experience as you build it. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to when and how it should happen. Each marriage is unique, and dependent on the couple’s choices and foundation.

A strong marriage is built on Biblical principles, with Christ at its core. Children learn from parental examples, shaping their future relationships. Therefore, as they grow up, they can tell what kind of marriage they would love to build when they are ready for it.

Children inevitably encounter questions about relationships and marriage, prompting varied reactions from parents. Some children’s inquiries may arise unexpectedly, catching parents off guard. Rather than avoiding these discussions, it’s crucial to understand the origins of these questions and address them appropriately. Some of the considerations to give an appropriate answer should include the following.

Why that question at that time? Understanding why a child asks a question about marriage is key. Adapt responses to the child’s age and comprehension. Don’t be angry at them because they have asked. Be grateful to know that your child is intelligent and bold enough to ask such a question. It is your responsibility to give the correct answer. But first, find out the origin of the question. Why ask about marriage at this moment? Where did you get that information from? What do you think? What do you know about marriage? Is there a marriage that you admire and why? Parents should seize these opportunities to engage in meaningful discussions about marriage.

Age matters: Age serves as a determining factor in providing suitable responses, and tailoring information to match a child’s understanding. The information you give to a three-year-old is different from the one you give to a 20-year-old. Navigating these conversations requires sensitivity to the child’s age and emotional maturity.

Your confidence as a parent: This plays a pivotal role in initiating conversations about marriage. Even if children don’t express immediate interest, it is imperative to proactively engage them in discussions, ensuring they glean knowledge from trusted sources. Be very confident to talk about marriage right away when children are young into adulthood and let them learn from you first.

The right person to choose: As children grow, be ready to always teach them about marriage and talk about various issues. These should range from when one starts thinking about marriage, their background, signs of readiness to how to choose the right person. This information should not be packaged at once. It should be a gradual talk that needs you to always address different topics and show them in the right direction. Our children should exercise self-control and they should not rush to make uninformed decisions at proposal time.

Talk about the issues of emotional readiness and if your child feels ready enough to stay with that person for the rest of their lives. Personal goals and aspirations should match with their interests, and the person should have a clear roadmap for the future that interests their ambitions or open their mind to look at life from a bigger perspective that they should admire and get committed to, someone who loves you unconditionally and both of you are very patient with each other, a person who values your ideas and differing opinions to his/hers, consider their cultural values and religious beliefs.

Respond to curiosity: Children at any time will always be inquisitive about marriage and it should not be strange to you. If they ask about it, respond in a calm and nonjudgemental manner. Don’t dismiss their questions, intimidate them, and pretend all the time as if you have not heard or you are ignorant. Don’t make them feel embarrassed by asking. They also have curiosity about life matters that push them to be inquisitive.

 Open and transparent communication. As you mentor them on that path of relationships and marriage, fostering open communication lays the groundwork for healthy relationships. Parents should create a safe space where children feel comfortable discussing their feelings, concerns, and aspirations regarding marriage. By nurturing this dialogue, parents can instill valuable lessons about communication, compromise, and emotional intelligence.

Making informed decisions: Encouraging children to make informed decisions empowers them to navigate the complexities of adult relationships confidently. Rather than imposing rigid timelines or expectations, parents should emphasise the importance of introspection and discernment when considering marriage.

Therefore, as parents, it is our responsibility to guide our children through the complexities of relationships and marriage, fostering a supportive environment that encourages open communication from childhood to adulthood. Addressing these topics comprehensively ensures that no aspect remains unexplored, shaping future generations with wisdom and understanding.

Dickson Tumuramye, Executive director of Hope Regeneration Africa, parenting coach, marriage counsellor and founder – Men of Purpose mentorship programme