Simple Parenting Tips to Help When “I Just Don’t Love You.”

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Parenting is hard work. (So is marriage.)

Sometimes the journey toward parenthood is full of heartaches, but every parent will be faced with challenging seasons as a child is born, displays their unique God-given personality (sometimes with a touch more of that “he’s just like me!” than you expected), begins testing the boundaries, and exploring their little world.

Challenges will be different for every family, but every child has the same need: to be wholeheartedly loved by his/her parents. And every child displays this need differently.

Kate (of Modern Alternative Mama) wrote a post on Babble recently, confessing, “I Think I Love My Son a Little Bit More.” As sad as that post is, I would encourage any parent identifying with that post to not stop there. (And certainly not hope it gets better with the addition of another child!)

Get to Know Your Child

Of course, you know them. They’re yours. But dig deep. (Really, they want you to.)

Discover that amazing person inside that God has created. Learn their Love Language, and as you start “speaking” it, you’ll begin to bond more, and likely see some of those “obnoxious” attention-getting behaviors fade.

Reading the Clarksons’ book, Educating the WholeHearted Child was a defining moment in my parenting (the new edition comes out this summer; I found an old copy at a library).

The detailed descriptions of different “personality types” and their biblical models was targeted information I needed to parent this amazing little person with a big heart, a whirlwind of larger-than-life creativity, spontaneity, stubbornness, and noise… and a temper to match my own. (Sounds a bit like Paul? [Acts 9:1-31 & Acts 13:1-49, for example] Yep. That’s what they said, too.)

With this resource in hand, I began the steps to connect with a heart so foreign- and yet so like my own- beginning to instill instruction with a vision for the future. I’m now loving additional books by Sally Clarkson, including Seasons of a Mother’s Heart and The Ministry of Motherhood.

Be Changed

Some people in this world (whether they’re our children or not) will always be “easier to love.” Personalities clash, interests are polar opposites, and experiences differ, for example. But that’s no excuse for not choosing to love.

I remember one tough night, tucking a child into bed (again!) after an especially challenging day of boundary-testing, and immediately hearing my husband whispering in my ear, “Tell [the child] ‘I love you.’”

“Oh, but I just don’t right now!,” I stormed. And then my heart was immediately convicted, as 1 Corinthians 13 came to mind. I had to make the choice to love; to not depend on emotions or obedience or personalities or circumstances.

I had to (and still do!) allow God to change my heart, to be Love through me.

Gary Thomas writes about this challenge in his book, Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls. As God continues to mold us, to make us holy, to work out His story through us, our parenting is a crucial element of the journey. (It’s not a speedbump or a detour.)

Pursue Healing

Your child’s journey to your arms may be a difficult one, setting up challenges to that initial loving and bonding. But this should not be a barrier for the rest of your lives.

Whether you’ve walked through a traumatic birth situation, separation after birth, postpartum depression, or some other experience, there is hope. It is not the end.

A visit with a craniosacral therapist can help you and your child walk through physical or emotional birth trauma. (We love Carol Gray.) Visiting with a counselor with experience in adoption and/or postpartum needs can help equip you for healthy parenting. (I was blessed to have a midwife with a background in counseling, as well as some visits with our family counselor, as a gift from a friend; this could be better than any gift you’d receive off a registry!)

I wasn’t even present at the birth of our daughter. Our adoption journey was stressful, with many extenuating circumstances in our lives at that time. Her birth/prenatal history was challenging for her.

I finally held her in my arms when she was about 2 1/2 days old. I felt shock and awe at this precious miracle. I didn’t feel an overwhelming emotional “love” response (plus I was missing those lovely post-birth “bonding” hormones!), but we knew that we already loved her, because we had chosen to love our child, and constantly prayed for God’s love, even before we knew her.

Physically, bonding took work. We wore our new little baby in a sling carrier constantly, and insisted on keeping her close- even taking her to work at the office! But this gradual bonding and growth of love wasn’t a surprise; we expected it as part of the adoption journey.

With our son, we were blessed with a smooth pregnancy and an incredible home waterbirth experience. But again, the initial love was a choice, as I met this little one for the first time, whom I’d only known through the movement within my womb- and now yelled angrily at me.

In the minutes, hours and days that followed, challenges with postpartum healing, adjusting to parenting two little ones, along with some breastfeeding issues that both the baby and I needed help with, and a couple stressful life situations seemed to continually interfere with the bonding process.

Again, we pulled out the sling baby carriers, and kept him close. We could already see that his “love language” would be different than his sister’s, as he made his needs known in different- often exhausting- ways. And love blossomed.

As the years have passed, moments and days of intentional parenting have often meant much self-sacrifice, but in the end, brought incredible rewards of growth in our relationships.

And we love them both, choosing to equally pour love into them.

One children’s book that I have adored for years is I Love You the Purplest. This may be especially helpful, if you are walking through the healing/bonding journey (or adjustment to a sibling) with a young child (instead of an infant), helping you vocalize just the right answers to speak to their hearts: Not “more or less,” but the “bluest” and the “reddest.”

New Growth

All of us, as sinful human beings, will at some time, do something “unloveable.” You can model both God’s grace to your children with forgiveness, as well as humbly asking forgiveness yourself.

We can never do this parenting thing on our own… or life, for that matter. We can only do this with the help of the Holy Spirit, as we place our hands in His. God calls us to intentionally disciple our children on a daily basis:

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)

Remember the famous quote, “When your child deserves your love the least, they need your love the most” (unknown).

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15 comments to Simple Parenting Tips to Help When “I Just Don’t Love You.”

  • Michele,
    Thank you …from the bottom (and the top, and in between) of my heart.

    I have been for a long time noticing a cooling of my heart towards my children during times of disobedience, but also due to my one child who has difficult annoying habits due to a disability. I have been thinking about, and praying about, his love language for awhile now…for it is words. And he speaks them ALL THE TIME. It is hard to listen…all the time.

    Anyway, thank you. I have had my eye on Clarkson’s books for awhile. I am going to go reserve them from the library right now.

    And thanks for the biblical reminder about love being a choice. We women need to hear that it is not a feeling.

    Blessings on you and yours this day.

    [Reply]

  • I like your perspective, Michele!

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  • Meg

    I am so glad you addressed this, Michele. My heart broke for Kate, not only in her original feelings, but when she was attacked/harangued after sharing about it. :-/ I think we’ve all had problems with bonding – mine wasn’t necessarily at birth. I had our oldest before we were married, and after 2 more children within the marriage, I noticed I was distancing myself from him. I’ve had to really focus on appreciating him more.

    I’m going to look up the books you recommended. Thanks for sharing your thoughts & wisdom!

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  • Betsy

    Thank you so much for this post. I am a 6 month old stepmom and I find that daily I am confronted with how to show unconditional love to my stepson. As I work through the organized mess (!) of who I am as a mother figure, a step parent, a role model, etc. I try to remind myself that I am in his life to be a reflection of Gods love. Thank you for this gentle reminder.

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  • Rebecca Miller

    I have been a follower of our blog for a long time. I am disappointed to see you attack a fellow blogger. I also follow Kate and while I completely agree that you handled a difficult topic in a much better way I am dissappointed you chose to drag her name into it. I feel this article would easily have been just as informative and helpful had you left out what I percieve as jabs at a fellow blogger, mother, woman and Christian.

    [Reply]

    Meg Reply:

    @Rebecca Miller, I don’t think Michele was attacking Kate or her post at all… Kate’s post was very well publicized, and I sincerely appreciate someone (like Michele) who has a heart for God and His plan for us as mothers to approach the topic with an incredibly polite response. If you follow Kate, you’ll know she has a series on bonding with your children coming up – I am looking forward to seeing what she has to say as well.

    [Reply]

    Michele Reply:

    Hi, Rebecca,
    I’m sorry you were disappointed. I wrote this post at Kate’s request, in participation with her follow-up series to the Babble post, in addressing how we bond with our children. You may want to visit her blog at Modern Alternative Mama to read the rest of the follow-up series as well. :) I did not intend any “jabs” at Kate, and in a recent post, she has begun speaking of how she is addressing the bonding in their family in new ways. Hope that helps!

    Blessings,
    Michele

    [Reply]

  • Debra

    I struggled still do some)a lot with anger and spanking out of anger and then of course the guilt and unconsciously trying to make it up to your child. I found hope when a fellow Christian woman said that we will mess up and hurt our children, but the most important thing was you confess it to them and ask their forgiveness and then we’ll just have to leave the rest up to God. What healing and humbling for me to put this into practice! I even have my child hear me confess my sin to God.

    [Reply]

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  • [...] thoughts and feelings to the posts I mentioned above, please also read Michele Auger’s post here.  There are some excellent [...]

  • This is such (!!!) an important topic in parenting. Thank you for taking the time to write on it so thoughtfully, Michele.

    We are in the midst of being saturated in learning what it means to love agape-style, and this is what we are called to in the way we love everyone. In our homes, as we are teaching and preparing the soil of our children’s hearts to receive the seeds of the Gospel, it’s so pivotal they see in US the unconditionality of God’s love. And yet . . . SO challenging.

    [Reply]

    Michele Reply:

    @Megan at SortaCrunchy, Thank you, Megan! You continually inspire and encourage me.
    Blessings,
    Michele

    [Reply]

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  • [...] to bond. Bonding and learning to love someone takes time. At first, the bond with my daughter looked like a utilitarian effort to feed her and help her stop [...]

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