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?”

Bad behavior punishment

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 in 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 ideals, 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 dis-regulation 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, where 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?”

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, or 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, who’s trauma wasn’t caused by us, to form a bond to 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 to my son and feel a deep love for him. There were days when I thought I never would. But over time, and lots of consistency, it came to be.
  4. You have to parent him different 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 uncertainly 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 dis-regulated 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!

Question: Are you in this place with your kiddo right now? Have you struggled to feel love for them? Share your story with us in the comment section below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Jenny Wilting

    I have felt like a bad person. Like I have a dark heart I just didn’t know about until we started fostering. thank you for this

    • It’s my pleasure Jenny. You are not a bad person. You’re human. We all make mistakes. You are not alone. Hang in there.

  • Jennifer Dufault

    I love you are saying this OUT loud. It’s such a stigma to think this alone, but to say it and share it’s ok to feel it, it does something. It frees people. So thank you for saying it. I have also been there. God taught me to love with intention. To reach out anyways. No matter what it looked like or the response I got. After a year with my son, I actually thought to myself, “Wow, I can actually, maybe, love this kid.”

    • Haha, the only way to say it is OUTloud. Hang in there.

  • Naomi Godshall

    I am there. The oldest of the sibling group we fostering/working towards adoption, pushes me so hard. At times, more often than not, I become a screaming lunatic and forget every rational thought. I just had this conversation with my husband. Some days it’s hard to even like being around her. But commitment keeps me going. In hoping in the end it will make all the difference. Thanks for writing this.

  • Yvette Berg

    Thank you for your eye opening post! I have four biological sons and two
    girls and two adopted sons and a girl (children of the wife of my husband. She past away ten years ago). Ever since he was only two years old, I have a
    problem with my now almost twelve year old adopted son. We are so
    different and he isn’t totally social and healthy in his brain and
    motorics, though very bright and speaking lots!!! Now that he comes to
    be a teenager with all the bodily changes, I’m even having a harder
    time just to love him. I try to be nice and wise, but don’t feel a
    thing and am not looking forward with much hope to a better
    relationship near future.
    I thought I’d love him more as a real mother, when becoming one myself. But when I had my first bio baby it just got harder. I felt bad ever since. Ashamed that I don’t really love him.
    I have been searching lots to read anything like this since all these years and never found anything like it and nothing that would help me love him more or just feel something for him.

    What can I do to feel more love or to hope for a good relationship with him without me having to be harsh with him all the time? He needs so much correction…. Way more than any of my kids and he takes so

    • I think you have to be consistent even when his love or affection for you isn’t reciprocal. Not an easy thing to do and it may be a very very long time before you see any traction here. I know exactly what you are going through. Hang in there. You are not alone!

      • Ssanyu Yvette

        Thank you so much!! Your post and reply are like balm to my heart. You are so right: I never knew I wasn’t alone in this. Not as an otherwise loving Christian mother. Be blessed so much in your ministry!!! (And family!!!!)

  • Lisa Wallace

    I am a mother to 5 bio children, 3 adopted girls and fostering a 13 yr old and 17 yr old. Our house is busy & full! Our oldest adopted child is 6. We have had her since she was 4. I struggle so much with her because her 2 sisters we have had since infancy so she was already bonded to her bio dad. She lies, she steals, and she is good at sneaking. I struggle daily with her. She is literally the hardest child I have ever dealt with. When she tells me she loves me, my 1st reaction to myself is “yeah right… you are just trying to get your way”. Part of my issue is that I am a former foster child, adopted at 8. I know the things I did to get attention so I am jaded by that. I feel like I should better handle her because of my foster/adoptive experience but I feel like a failure everyday with her. I want to bond and love her.. but I physically feel I cannot right now and it makes me so sad and confused. Thank you for writing this… it has helped me feel more “normal”.

    • I know how this feels. Sometimes you feel like you’re the only one. I’m right there with you. You are not alone at all.

    • Sue Garcia

      Sounds like the older child may have some possible fetal alcohol exposure. Not that knowing makes it better or easier sometimes it does make it better and somewhat easier. Exposed children often do not have the facial markers for fasd-arnd but when I looked up the pathology I was shocked to find my middle adopted child had every single behavior and . . . was so difficult to like. I love them all deeply but liking him everyday is a hard thing. You aren’t the only one struggling. and You’re in good company as well!

  • Renata

    I always thought love would come easily. I love children & really wanted to help these hurting ones (which is why we decided to do foster care after our 4 bio kids). However, my eldest foster (would love to adopt) child really pushes my buttons. He is mean to my bio kids & his little sister. Ironically, he is perfectly behaved for my husband, but uses every opportunity when hubby is not around to be naughty for me. sigh. I pray every day that God will help me to love him the way he needs to be loved. I do love him, but it’s nowhere near the affection I feel for his little sister & doesn’t even compare to the bond I have with my bio kids. It’s a hard journey, but nice to know I’m not alone – thank you for posting this post.

    • It’s my pleasure. Very glad to hear that the post has helped!

  • Diana Koppa

    We don’t have any bio children, but we have one adopted, and one foster who is post TPR. Our adopted son who is now 4(got him just before he turned 2) was easy to fall in love with. But then the anxiety began to surface and I’ll be honest, there are days that don’t want to even be around him. When his anxiety kicks in, he gets mean and violent. We’ve had things in our home broken, bruises from him hitting, kicking, and biting. We’ve spent up to an hour to bring him out of a dissociated tantrum. He’s been kicked out of 2 daycares. But outside of his anxiety, he is a typical sassy 4 year old boy…and I try to remind myself of that, plus the fact that even though he was removed very young (2 months old) he still has a trauma history and he needs extra care to handle those big feelings. In the end, we have so much love for him, but I think in the heat of those bad moments, my heart hurts so much of what he’s been through to act like that, that the pain overtakes me, if that makes sense.

    • Diana, I know exactly how this feels. You are not alone! 🙂

  • Kate Sommerfeld

    Thank you so much for writing this. My husband and I were called by God to make the choice not to have any bio kids and just adopt from the foster care system (I put myself in foster care at the age of 13 and remained a ward of the state until I went off to collage). We got our one and only kiddo almost 6 years ago now and I cry almost daily over the fact that though I fight so hard for him, I rarely feel any love toward him. In fact I just either feel annoyed, frustrated, angry, or numb in regards to him 99.9 percent of the time. It makes me feel like such an awful mom and makes me question why on earth did God call us to do this?! I get scared to even consider adopting more because what if I end up loving another more than my son? I feel so very defeated and so very alone. Most of the time I have to shut off all emotions to even survive the day, how on earth can you attach when survival is all we know?!

    • You are most welcome. So glad it resonated. We totally understand how you are feeling. Hang in there. 🙂

      • Kate Sommerfeld

        Thank you 🙂

    • Erin Padley McNaughton

      Thank you for sharing that! My husband and I fostered/adopted siblings in 2013 (boy- 3 and girl-4 at the time). It’s been almost 4 years and the girl suffers from RAD and it has been a true struggle to reach her. I too have felt that sense of hopelessness and what if she never changes/trusts me/accepts my love, but at the end of the day I know God brought them to us and He will give us the strength we need to keep loving her, not give up, and that He can heal her heart! Thanks for sharing!!

      • Kate Sommerfeld

        You are most welcome, thank you!

    • Michelle Sackett McKinney

      Hi, Kate! We too chose adoption over bio kids. We have 4 adopted internationally. It think it’s like any family whether bio or adopted. You don’t love one more than the other but there are things with each that are easier or harder and that just makes every relationship unique. You are not alone!

  • Dawn Baggett

    This does really help. Knowing someone else understands. Thanks forvthis, Oasis, and all you and Kristen and your team does!

    • It’s our pleasure! So glad this could speak into your life and you circumstance.

    • Michelle Sackett McKinney

      So glad you are with us on Oasis!

  • Erin Padley McNaughton

    Thank you for sharing! I’m in the same boat and it can feel overwhelming. Thank you for reminding me I’m not alone and that love is more than a feeling!!

  • Sheila Felletter

    Thank you for sharing your family struggles with us all. Today, you hit it right. My 15 year old son, whom we adopted at 1, had RAD. No symptoms or diagnosis until he was six. He was such a happy little guy. Now, it is like living with the devil himself.

    • Michelle Sackett McKinney

      Sorry, Sheila. Hang on!

  • Amy Malone

    Oh, you have no idea how much I needed to hear this tonight! Our adopted sibling pair have caused us a LOT of unrest in the past 9 years, and I am living Maria’s day over and over, like a psychotic version of Groundhog Day. Our son (the older of the two) seems to be coming around now (I HOPE), but we just got home from retrieving our daughter from a teen shelter because she got thrown out. (She chose to go to the shelter rather than facing the repercussions of what she did here at home). We’ve had therapy, doctors, and a psychiatrist involved with her. We have a preliminary Dx of RAD or attachment strains, PTSD, and depression/anxiety, but it’s hard to get her treatment, because she tells the doctors that everything is fine (all the while doing things that are anything but okay). Thanks for reminding me that Love is more than a feeling.

    • Michelle Sackett McKinney

      You are not alone, Amy!

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