When I Don’t Love My Foster/Adopted Child
“I thought I would instantly fall in love and when it didn’t happen, I felt horrible.”
“I felt like I was the only one in the world.”
“Sometimes I struggle to love her. I feel so shameful of the feelings I’ve felt.”
“Sometimes I wonder if this is normal, or if I’m not cut out to be a foster mom.”
“I don’t know how to stay emotionally available to a child who will probably go back to biological family.”
“I was that mom you were talking about, who would be listening and crying.”
I’ve shared about my own wrestlings through the ugly feelings of foster care and adoption. Yes, I believe adoption is just about the happiest and most beautiful thing on this planet earth. But, in case you don't know this, it's not only, just happy and beautiful. Yes, I believe being a foster parent is just about the greatest privilege this earth affords. But, in case you don’t know this, it’s also broken and hard and confusing and sad.
Mel and I talked about the hard and dark and ugly of being a foster and adoptive mama. The guilt that comes when you don’t love your adopted child, immediately or completely. The guilt that comes from the upheaval you’ve created for the rest of your family, the other children. The letdown of “living the dream” of foster care and adoption and realizing it’s not what you expected at all. And the shame that serves as the icing on the cake.
Maybe we shared things that you’ve thought before, said things you’ve been too afraid to say. If you’ve struggled as we’ve struggled, here’s what I want you to know:
You are not alone.
One of the great lies we believe: I am the worst of the worst. No one else could ever feel this way, would ever think this way. I am alone in this.
It is from the pit of hell and our own foolish minds. Listen to me: You are not alone. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Not one thought you’ve ever thought or feeling you’ve ever felt is unique to you. Not one. But especially not this one.
You want to know why foster and adoptive parents so often struggle through broken thoughts and feelings? Because foster care and adoption is always touched by brokenness. There is no one way to think or feel, no one-size-fits-all right way to do any of this. Even at its best, it’s always a mix of the happy and the sad, the good and the bad, the broken and the redeemed. The guilt, fear, anger, regret, sadness, self-righteousness, and shame you may be feeling are the “common” companions to many other foster and adoptive parents.
Thank the Lord, immediately after the statement that there’s no temptation that is not common to man, come these life-giving words: “God is faithful” (1 Corinthians 10:13). So we bring our broken and ugly thoughts and feelings to Him. We confess. We pray. We speak them to others. We repent. Then we bask in the faithfulness of the God who has washed them clean.
You can still love your child. Even when you don’t “love” your child.
We define love as an emotion, as a force that overcomes us. But love isn’t an emotion; it’s not a feeling. Love is something you do; it’s a verb. Like pulling your arms through a sweater each morning, the call is to “clothe yourself” with all the characteristics of loving, and to “put on love” (Colossians 3:12, 14).
When God calls us to “love one another,” (1 John 4:7) it is to agape love or “sacrificial love that pursues another’s good.” Love--in a sentence--is doing good for someone, and doing good for them at your own expense.
Do you feel un-attached? Do you struggle to bond? Have you thought in shame “I don’t love you?” The feelings aren’t the point. The selfless pursuit of your child’s good is the point, the “putting on” is the point. If you are doing good for your child, if you are choosing to care for and nurture and encourage and train and show up for your child--even when you don’t feel love for them--that is love.
Don’t mis-define love as something that happens to you, a feeling that you have no control over. Pray for the feelings and pursue the feelings, but rest in the reality that love is a choice you make, each day. And the more difficult and selfless and sacrificial the love, the more beautiful it is. When you don’t feel love, but you do it anyway, that is the very truest of love.
Foster and adoptive mama, if you’re struggling with “loving” your child, remember: you are not alone and you are loving them.