What are things that non-parents cannot understand?

As a single person in my 30s with no kids, I’ve heard or seen comments quite few times to the effect of “You don’t understand (this or that) until you have kids yourself.” Or, a non-parent simply cannot understand what it is like to be a parent. Etc.

So…for parent Dopers…what are these things? I’m sure it’s not usually a reference to practical things (i.e., most non-parents know perfectly well not to let a kid play unsupervised with a loaded handgun or leave kids in a hot car, while even some parents do those aforementioned reckless things.)

Does it mean a non-parent does not understand the mindset or attitude or…what?

One of the ways I’ve described it is…these little people grab hold of your heart and never let it go, for the rest of your life.

Children are not appendages of their parents, but independent people with their own thoughts, desires, and opinions. We try our best but fundamentally, we can’t control them.

Well, I am glad my parents did not control me. Not completely, anyway.

Your life is not over yet, you don’t know. I wish you the best.

Disclaimer: No, I do not have children. But I was one, once upon a time. I will (try to) treat this thread as read only from now on, but I couldn’t resist making this comments. As a non parent, the OP’s question intrigues me too.

I don’t think non-parents really understand how much kids occupy every aspect of your life. Particularly if you are used to being young and single doing whatever you want, whenever you want.

This states it really well for me. Kids awakened new emotions in me – the combination of love, responsibility, pride, and devotion was like nothing I had ever experienced.

This. I can appreciate it even more having come out the other side, my kids now on their own and far away. An example - pre-pandemic, when we won Hamilton tickets, we could drop everything and go to San Francisco at a moment’s notice. We couldn’t do that with young kids.

The other thing is holding your baby for the first time, right after she was born. Before that happened to me, I had no idea such love could exist.

That you are a little scared, all the time.

I remember reading a quote that went something like “after you have a child, your heart forever walks around outside your body.”


In The Magnificent Seven Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson) get a trio of boy groupies who admire him and follow him around. When he asks why they tell him he’s brave and, “Our fathers are cowards.” He grabs the nearest one and gives him a couple swats.

Don’t you ever say that again about your fathers, because they are not cowards. You think I am brave because I carry a gun; well, your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility, for you, your brothers, your sisters, and your mothers. And this responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. It bends and it twists them until finally it buries them under the ground. And there’s nobody says they have to do this. They do it because they love you, and because they want to. I have never had this kind of courage.

Neither have I.

I think many people without kids assume parents have greater control over their children’s behavior than we do. I remember before I had kinds, watching my friends interactions with their kids and thinking I’d never do it that way.


Trying to make a relationship work bc you don’t want to be away from your kids. Or a weekend dad basically.

“Being the parent of a toddler is like being in charge of a 24 hour suicide watch.”

The sickening, horrifying, (hopefully short-lived) feeling that comes when you’re out in public and lose sight of your kid.

I can only tell you my experience before and after having a child. I was 38 at the time and had four nephews/nieces from three siblings in our very close family.

I thought having a child would be a more intense version of having a niece/nephew or our cats.

When the kid was tiny I expected the 24/7 occupation of our minds/hearts would fade as the kid grew older. Kid’s a high schooler now. Hasn’t lessened one bit.

And sometimes, sickly scared. It’s the hardest job in the world, and you can’t quit.

Would I give my life for one of my parents?
Probably not since they are older and wouldn’t want me to do it anyway.
Would I give my life for a sibling?
Probably not.
Would I give my life for my spouse?
I’d have to think about it.
Would I give my life for my kid?
In a split second.

They also rarely understand how it doesnt stop. There’s no “the nieces go home” and things go back to normal. Maybe a break, but it never stops, and the degree of never stopping is difficult to comprehend unless you’ve experienced it.

I know, from personal experience, that having children doesn’t automatically confer such insight, nor does not having children automatically prevent one from gaining such insight.

This. But also replace “love” with “terror”.