What to Do When You Don’t Feel Love for Your Child

You made the decision to adopt and joyfully welcomed a child into your home. But now you find yourself struggling to feel the same love for them that you do for your biological children. You wonder, “Will I ever love them the same?”

Tears spilled over the bottom of Maria’s eyes like a breached dam. As they streamed down her cheeks, she sniffled. Through broken words, she admitted something she had not been able to vocalize until that point: “I don’t feel love for my adopted son, the way I do for my biological kids! I wish I did… but I don’t.”

She had been pushed. And pushed, and pushed, and pushed!

Soon after he arrived at their home the diagnosis came- reactive attachment disorder. It wasn’t a surprise either. Before she became his forever parent, he had bounced through 10 different foster families. Ten different homes with 10 different ideas, some encouraging, some, not so much. In the beginning, he dreamed of the day his birth mother would get clean and he could go home, but that day disappeared like snow on a warm day.

Every single day he pushed every single one of her buttons. He also pushed her bio kids to the edge and beyond. The dysregulation in her household was too much to bear. Her marriage was on the rocks, her bio kids were checking out and dreaming of the day they could move to college, and she began to struggle with deep depression.

“I get it,” I whispered to her. There was a day, just a few years ago, when I looked at my oldest son and felt zero affection for him. In fact, I even told him one day that I didn’t care if I never saw him again and I wanted him gone from my house. Awful, I know! He too had pushed us to the brink, caused our other children to feel unsafe and insecure, and turned our entire household upside down. It left me cold to the core toward him. I hated that, but I couldn’t help it.

“I really want to love him,” Maria said. “I know he’s been through a lot and this is just that part of him talking. What should I do?”

The heavy question right there! The biggest thing I could tell her was that I understood where she was at. Hundreds of thousands of us adoptive parents have gone through this, and are still going through this. After asking her some deeper questions, and listening to her heart, this is what I shared with her…

  1. You’re not alone. Yes, this is the golden statement you’ve heard us say or write about hundreds of thousands of times over the past few years. But I have to say this because it’s healing ointment for your deepest wounds. There’s something healing about hearing these words, isn’t there? I said this over and over to Maria the day I met her.
  2. Love is more than a feeling. Love is a commitment. It’s showing up day after day for years. It’s weathering the toughest storm. It’s feeling the greatest degree of pain and continuing to fight for the heart of this child, you are working hard to care for. This resonated deeply with Maria because she really did want to love her son. And she wanted to fight for him. Sometimes….scratch that…ALL the time with our kiddos, love is hard. It’s rarely the warm fuzzy love. It’s usually the deep commitment… walking through hell… gritting your teeth… and then getting in your car (out of earshot and eyesight) and cussing at the top of your lungs while punching the steering wheel, kind of love.
  3. Bonds aren’t formed overnight. Or even in a year, two years, or three. I’ve read many stories about men and women who had children biologically and had trouble bonding. If that’s the case, how much harder is it for some of us, who didn’t have our children biologically, whose trauma wasn’t caused by us, to form a bond with them? I’m not saying you won’t ever, I’m just saying, it takes time. I told Maria this. I reassured her that this was a long journey and she had really just started. It took me years to bond with my son and feel a deep love for him. There were days when I thought I never would. But over time, and with lots of consistency, it came to be.
  4. You have to parent him differently than your bio kids. Because he’s come from a different place than they have. This was the bulk of our conversation that afternoon. Truth is, Maria took extremely good care of herself through all of her pregnancies. Pre-natal vitamins…check! Healthy diet…check! No drugs or alcohol…check! Her bio kiddos grew up in a safe, warm, consistent environment. Her son through adoption did not. I told her, “Every single thing he says and does, he’s saying and doing from a place of fear. A place of uncertainty and deep anxiety. Remember that and understand that every single day is a different moment than the day before. You have to parent him with a consistency and structure that your other children may not have needed.

Can I just say to you reading this right now….I see you….I know you….I understand exactly what you’re going through with your children. I know how much you WANT to love them, but how CRAZY they make you, and how that creates such a canyon between you and them. I know the tears that drip from your eyes. I know the anger and frustration you feel to the core of your being when you see your bio kids, or your other children who have found permanency, so angry and dysregulated because of your one child who disrupts everything.

I know. Not only do I see you – I AM you! And I’m cheering for you, my friend. This is a safe place. This is a voice speaking directly to you letting you know, “It’s okay to not be okay right now!”

So let me rub some ointment in the wound right now: YOU are not alone!