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“You Don’t Know What Love Is Until You Have Kids”

Because love comes in all shapes and sizes.

Copy: Serena Faber Nelson

Photography: Andrew Faber

It was like every other networking function I’ve ever been to. With a glass of champagne in one hand and a spring roll in the other I was desperately trying to figure out a way to inhale them both simultaneously when the introduction was made to another guest. The small talk started. Then the questions came. They started innocently at first, “That’s a beautiful wedding ring. How long have you been married?” Then the expected follow up question, “Any kids on the horizon?” — to which I gave my standard answer “No, but we have a dog, she keeps us busy.” That’s when the bombshell hit. “Well you should really hurry up and think about that. You just don’t know what love is until you have kids.”

Excuse me? I don’t know what love is? I think I just choked on my champagne, spring roll smoothie.

Luckily I could make a quick escape before having to respond. But for the life of me that one comment stayed with me on replay for the taxi ride home and then for weeks longer than it should have. In fact, if my life was on YouTube there would have been hundred of autotune mashups of “U Don’t Knowz Wat Luv Iz” doing the rounds. (Yes, I’m sure they would have been catchy.)

As time progressed the comment stuck with me. At first I was insulted, then angry, then worried that she was right. Was the life I was leading just a warm up before the ‘real game’ of parenthood? Were all the meaningful relationships I had established across 30 years to become insignificant at the sight of a sonogram? But the most important question of all – was this lady for real?

Now before anyone starts typing furiously into the comments box or sending me emails, I must stress had the comment been “You don’t know what parenting is all about until you have kids,” I would have been completely fine with that. Hell, I would have high fived that. You see my whole experience in parenting is limited to providing fresh water, regular exercise, hugs and daily brushing to a Border Collie. I realise if I did this with kids they would probably be taken away by the authorities on me (although they would have the silkiest hair in the whole neighbourhood). You see, I agree that until you actually experience a major life event like having children, you can’t possibility comprehend the nuances of it. Same goes for getting married, travelling solo overseas, moving out of home or getting your first job. You can’t possibly understand these things until you’ve lived them.

But not knowing what love is until a bouncing baby comes along? Please.

Tell that to a devoted daughter who looks after her mother day in, day out, in palliative care. Tell that to the brother that cares for his intellectually disabled sister, helping her make her way in life. Or to the couple struggling to hold their marriage together while they wrestle with infertility. Tell that to the many happy couples who share tender moments as they plan their lives together. Or to those who have loved fiercely only to have their heart broken. These people know what love is.

We only have to look at the world around us to see love everywhere. Look at Mother Theresa. Or Oprah. Or the Dalai Lama. Each of them have changed the world in their own way through love without having families of their own. They knew love – sans kids.

Like it or loathe it, you want to know why ‘Love Actually’ grossed $250 Million worldwide? It’s because it embraced the idea that love comes in many forms – gay, straight, unrequited, platonic… even schoolyard puppy love got a look in. There was no rulebook or checklists about who you had to be to experience love. It was – in the words of Wet, Wet, Wet – all around.*

Now this article wasn’t to shoot down the messenger. I’m sure that this woman thought she was doing me a favour, trying to get me join the club of motherhood – something which she enjoys and obviously wants others to experience. And maybe I will one day. But to anyone in her position I’d ask you to think about your words carefully.

You see in the world we live in at the moment it seems there are far too many people willing to put limits on what others can feel. And love – if anything – should be the one thing that has no limits. It should be something celebrated and embraced no matter what form it comes in. Whether that love is between a mother and child, a spouse and their partner, a friend and a neighbour, or even a girl and her dog, the emotions they all feel are true and should be worn with pride. And no one should be allowed to take that away from you. Or in the words of Johnny Castle, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

Maybe there will come along a day when we feel another type of love, upon the birth of a child, or the blossoming of a relationship, but that will never mean that first love didn’t exist.

So when Valentine’s Day rolls around this year take time to count the many blessings of love you have in your life – in any which way they come to you. Loved, and be loved. And enjoy every minute.

And if I do end up having children one day – dogs make great babysitters, right?

* I realise I’ve referenced two Hugh Grant movies within one paragraph and I apologise.

Copy: Serena Faber Nelson

Photography: Andrew Faber

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Comments (35)

35 responses to ““You Don’t Know What Love Is Until You Have Kids””

  1. Tina Ramchandani says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this, and that I’m not the only one who hears this from people. I think it’s an unfair thing to say to someone!

    • Thank Tina. As I said, I’m sure many people say it with good intentions – just like when married people encourage singles to ‘settle down’ or people abroad tell everyone to ‘travel and experience life.’ But sometimes the words just don’t come out right, so its a good reminder to realise everyone has love in their life – it’s just different.

  2. Taylor says:

    I hope that you can hear the applause from east Tennessee all the way in Australia. I probably would have said something not so nice to that lady. I hear this from other people all the time about how my feelings towards Addison will change when we have kids. While I agree that Add will be sharing attention, it doesn’t mean that I won’t love her anymore.

  3. haley says:

    its just a different kind of love thats all 🙂
    just like your first love
    or the first time you saw that cute little ball of fluff in the window and know that you cant go home with out them
    or when they tell you that your pregnant and you meet that tiny little person for the first time
    its all love, just different

  4. Lisa Jay says:

    Yes it’s true, love can be experienced in many forms. To take it further, love isn’t even relient on a relationship of any kind to exist. Love just is. The bible says God is Love. Even if someone doesn’t believe that God is love, it still inspires the idea that ‘love is’ not ‘because of a mother & child’ or a ‘man & wife’ or ‘a couple’ etc… Love simply is. It is part of the human experence for every single person. So to say that anyone does not really know love because they haven’t known a particular type of relationship doesn’t make any sense.

    • Lisa! I love your comment! ‘Love simply is’. That’s so true, and part of why I wrote this post today was because too often (especially around this time of year) I see good, kind, wonderful people lamenting the lack of love in their life. They feel pressures from others and from society to conform to what love is ‘meant to be’ and none us us should need to do that. ‘Love simply is.’ Thanks for such a beautiful comment x

  5. Beth C says:

    Thank you. That was very well said. I would never presume to tell someone — a stranger, no less! — what she should do or how she should feel. Not every woman is meant to be a mother. That doesn’t make us any less of a woman or less capable of feeling love.

    • Thanks Beth. I think sometimes we feel so happy with our lot in life that we want others to have the exact same thing, thinking it will make them feel just as happy. But we all have our different paths, and ways of experiencing love 🙂

  6. Maggie says:

    Serena! You should’ve told her: ‘You don’t know what Soda-love is until you’ve had Soda!’ 😉

  7. This is just another reason why I know we are meant to be friends! Funny thing is, my husband was on my facebook this morning and read this post before I did. He said, “Did you read Pretty Fluffy today? It’s a good one!” We were just talking about this a few weeks ago, because we so often are faced with the exact {word for word} comment. It just doesn’t seem fair to me when people say it to us. We may be young and we may only have a shih tzu, but who is to say that we don’t know love. I try not to be offended when I hear it, but it is so hard not to be. My husband and I are almost positive we aren’t going to have kids, but I don’t feel we should be made to feel guilty. I have a lot of love to give, and I’m okay with sharing that love with my husband and all of the animals we plan to rescue. I just want to say, I really feel that I love my Coco Bean as much as I could a child, and THAT is a great feeling : ]

    Very well written Serena! I love your blog so so much!
    Sarah

    • Thanks so much Sarah – and thanks to your husband too! You’re right to feel proud of the love that you have for each other and for Coco. Like I said, some of the kindest, most influential humanitarians of our time did not have children and they surely knew love. Never ever let anyone make you feel guilty about the love you give and receive. I can see just by what you do and create online that you have a whole lot of love in your life and are very generous with it! And frankly, who wouldn’t love Coco’s little face that much?? xx

  8. Katrina Roe says:

    Serena, thanks for writing this post. Having children is an experience so profound and so defining that it can knock you for six. But so can any experience of overpowering love. All the examples you quoted of love are examples of self-sacrifice for another. For some people, and I suspect for that lady you spoke to, having kids is the first time they’ve truly sacrificed something of themselves for someone else, hence the reason she said, ‘You don’t know love until you have kids.’ She’s just misunderstood her experience as something universal and didn’t realise how offensive that would be. We’re probably all guilty of assuming that we know what will make another person happy. But at least, when we make that mistake, we do so wanting the best for them, even if we might be wrong about what that is.

    • Thanks so much Katrina! When writing the post I also thought of ‘coupled up’ people who try to get single friends to ‘settle down’. I wracked my brain to think if I have ever been guilty of that because it’s true when you have such a rewarding experience in life you want to share it with everyone you know. The reminder for everyone (myself included) is the things that bring love to our lives and make us happy are very individual things and we should never assume that they apply to others. xx

  9. What a fantastic post! I have been hearing the same lines lately too and I have 2 fluffy kids. I thought I had already felt love, while maybe they are talking about a different kind of love that we might not yet have experienced by bringing a baby into the world, but certainly doesn’t mean we haven’t felt it in many different forms already.

    • Thanks Monika! Yep I think that sums things up well, that it’s all still love ‘just different’. In fact it’s quite fabulous to think just how many types of amazing love exist! Like the sort we have for our fluffy kids 🙂

  10. lucy says:

    Wonderful post…inspiring and refreshing and a great read!!! I agree whole heartedly!!!

  11. Katrina Roe says:

    PS. Jesus and the Apostle Paul (who wrote that famous passage about love that’s always read out at weddings) didn’t have kids either and I think they both taught the world a thing or two about love. 🙂 Love your work.

  12. I don’t think she meant it the way she said it. I think it’s a very different kind of love to have kids than it is to love your husband. just like I love my dog very differently than I love my husband. I don’t have kids (yet) and I am in no rush. I would have been more pissed that she was telling me to hurry up! I would have been like “oh thank you but we are enjoying our sleep and being able to have sex at any time of the day right now, kids can wait.” : P

    • That’s very true. Like I said when I really thought about it, I did think her intentions were pure, but the wording just came out wrong!
      I’ve been privy to the “hurry up” comments as well – I’ll have to note your response for next time 🙂

  13. I applaud you!!! I fit in to the absolute unconditional love for my dog & cats category, the love for my husband category & unfortunately I also fit in to the fertility issues/desperately trying for a baby with no success category. Nearly every day I get asked why we don’t have kids & to be honest I don’t really want to tell them how long we have been trying but when I tell them I have 3 gorgeous furkids, if they are not animal lovers, they just cannot begin to comprehend that love. I have also had people tell me that I am using them as a crutch until I do have children. I will not tell you what thought flashed through my mind at that time BUT nothing will ever come between my love for animals. My animals even come before my husband 😛

    • Thanks so much Britt. It is so hard for many people to understand the bond and love people can have for their pets. i’ve known people to refer to my dog as a ‘warm up baby’ or similar things, but she is so much more to me than I could ever explain. I also with sympathise with being questioned about kids when you are, in fact, desperately trying. I can safely say you are definitely not alone in that corner and its heartbreaking to see people go through that AND then have to respond to questions about when they are having kids. Wishing you and your family lots of love (including your dogs and cats of course!)

      PS. My husband said to tell your husband he can totally relate to the animals coming first in the household 😉

  14. Lisa says:

    Love the post Serena and the comments. Obviously this person has a very limited experience of love! When I had my little girl last year I was worried if I would love her as much as the dogs (like you with Soda) and my husband, but of course I do and of course the love is different but it is in every relationship we have whether that be with people or animals. Do I love my dogs any less? Never 🙂

    • Thanks so much Lisa! I think you’re a beautiful example of showing just how much love can go around. The love you have for your husband, your daughter and your dogs just bounces off you! It’s so lovely to see. Thanks so much for sharing x

  15. […] reason, I’ve had those trashy rom-coms playing in my head this week, ever since I read Serena Faber Nelson’s Valentine’s post, which referenced Love Actually.  That film is one of my favourites. […]

  16. Ciara says:

    I absolutely loved this article. I have been told before that ‘my life has no meaning’ because I don’t want to have kids. It was harsh, but I don’t let it bother me anymore. I have a little ChiPom and I love her so much my heart hurts, I swear! I agree with so many comments on here. It feels like I’m not alone in my ‘only wanting animals’ theory. 🙂

    Thanks for the great article!

    Ciara.

    • Thanks so much Ciara. Wow – that is a harsh this to say to someone. Life certainly has meaning, no matter if you have 0 or 50 children, single or married etc. Your life has meaning because it’s YOUR LIFE. We all have love to give, just in different ways – none are more important than the other.
      I’m sure your little ChiPom is very lucky to have someone love her so much. If more people has as much love and light in their hearts, the world would indeed be a much happier place! xx

  17. […] this post when I talked about all the different types of love that makes the world go round? Well, when I saw […]

  18. Bodhi & Mel says:

    Thanks for repostiing on Facebook so we can catch up on some of your great past posts. A big change around the corner for you but nothing changes that unquestionable love a dog has for you and that we try in our little way to reciprocate.
    Then there are the heart touching moments when the 2 legged and 4 legged kids interact…. They are my favs.

  19. Matthew Queree says:

    well written and well said! I think you are right; a maybe well-intentioned comment came across as as a little insensitive…anyway i thought you put it extremely well!

  20. Rebecca says:

    BRAVO!!!!!! Amazing piece, and thank you 🙂 <3

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