Is It Time To Retire The Phrase 'You Don't Know True Love Until You Have A Child'?

A Mumsnet thread sparked debate after a child-free user shared their gripe with the popular phrase.
Ekaterina Goncharova via Getty Images

Whether you’re a parent or not, chances are you’ve come across the phrase “you don’t know true love until you have a child” at some point in your life.

While some parents can understand the sentiment behind this, for those without kids – whether down to choice or not – it can actually be pretty problematic.

Especially when it implies you won’t experience real love unless you have children. Spoiler alert: you can and will.

Mumsnet user Lottie05 recently took to the site’s ‘Am I Being Unreasonable?’ thread to discuss why the commonly-used phrase has been bothering her since watching a TV show where a couple discussed how much they loved their kids more than each other.

“I don’t think I want kids, not 100% sure, but I don’t want to feel that I have to or else ‘I’ll never know true love’,” they said.

“Also it just bothers me because it’s like, do I not love my boyfriend, parents, brother, friends or family enough? Do they not truly love me? If this statement is true then surely it means that people are only ever really loved by their parents. Isn’t that kind of depressing?”

They added: “Why would I want to have children if it means that I will forever be second to the man I married? Aibu [am I being unreasonable] for feeling this way?”

So what did others think about this? The post received hundreds of comments – many of which came from parents trying to explain what they think the phrase means.

Some pointed out that the love parents have for children is different to romantic relationships. But that doesn’t mean those relationships are any lesser.

“I wouldn’t agree with the phrasing ‘real love’ but for me it is a different love than the love I feel for DH [dear husband],” wrote one parent.

“Just like the way I presume you love [your] boyfriend in a different way than you love your parents.”

Another added: “I love my wife, my mum, and my child all completely... but in somewhat different ways. Yes a child is very different to the others but it doesn’t really make the others lesser for what they are.”

Some parents described their love for their children as more of a “protective” and “unconditional” love, rather than a “true” love.

One parent-of-four explained: “I think if you’re talking about unconditional love then yes, I feel that more with my kids than anyone else, as in I’d forgive them [for] pretty much anything, in a way that I maybe wouldn’t my partner or my other family.

“But in terms of love I absolutely adore my kids and my partner and my wider family and my friends. It’s all love and it’s all subjective but I wouldn’t say it’s really a different love aside from the unconditional aspect.”

Of course, there were also those who thought the phrase was just a load of rubbish. Some even argued that the unconditional element isn’t a given either.

“It’s bollocks,” wrote one user. “Even in this thread people [are] banging on about how the love is unconditional and protective. But there are a lot of parents who don’t feel that way. I’m not just talking about outright abusive ones – a fair few in my family have fallen out over dumb shit and have no relationship with their kids for various reasons.

“So it might be unconditional for SOME but not everyone – it really isn’t a given.”

Another person responded: “I think the statement is nonsense to be honest. Don’t let it change the way you view your relationships.”

Even parents agreed the phrase doesn’t ring true for them: “I have two children and I love them so much but I don’t think that statement is true. Every love is different.”

The phrase can come across as annoying and patronising for those who are child-free by choice, but it’s perhaps most difficult to hear for those who have struggled to conceive.

A 2018 survey by World Childless Week found the phrase elicited feelings such as anger, sadness, hurt, frustration and pain. Yet almost 70% of respondents said someone had previously told them “you never know true love until you have a child”.

One person who had struggled with infertility described hearing it as “like a dagger to the heart every time”.

With a new World Health Organisation (WHO) study showing one in six people globally are affected by infertility, and more people choosing not to have children, perhaps it’s high time we kicked this well-known saying to the kerb.

What do you think of the phrase? Let us know in the comments below.