When a Child Cannot Accept Your Love

As foster parents we get questions that are sometimes hard to answer. One of the hardest for me to give a simple answer to comes from people who ask: “You know it is going to be challenging and very difficult. Why do it?”

Here is my non-simple answer and imperfect analogy.

Choosing to welcome a child into your family who has had their most basic needs go unmet is choosing to welcome hardship and suffering into your life. Imagine what your toddler would be like had they never had their basic needs met? They needed food, diaper changes, and a lot of holding that first year of life. But all of that served the purpose of them being able to learn something vital to their survival- that they can trust you. What would your three year old be like had they never learned to trust you completely?

Now imagine a lifetime… 8 years, 12 years, 15 years of not experiencing unconditional love, acceptance, belonging… even their most basic need of shelter has not been met. A foster kid in a non-adoptive home has constant fear they will have no where to go once that “placement” runs its course. This means they must always wonder where they will land.

All that pain and suffering this child or teen has experienced will now make it difficult for them to accept your love. Not because they don’t want to, but because they can’t. Unconditional love and acceptance won’t feel normal to them.  It will scare them. They want a family more than anything else, but as you wrap around them they will instantly be filled with great fear that it will not last or cannot be real.

So why do it? Why love someone you know will reject that love?

Here is my best (and imperfect) analogy…

Why choose to get pregnant when you know it is going to cost you? Labor is a painful, hard, and long process. Women got pregnant for millenniums before modern medicine where childbirth also meant a strong possibility of death. Why then risk your life? Why endure the pain?

Women often endure the pain because of the joy that comes when new life emerges. Something that was once seen as meaningless tissue by the world is now deeply loved and cherished. How does that newborn babe develop into a 3 year old you can absolutely delight in? I hate to break it to you, but it isn’t because your DNA is just THAT awesome; it is because you loved and cherished that child and in doing so that child became an amazing and beautiful human being.

One day of love did not turn your newborn into a healthy adorable child. Responding to their needs once, twice, or even a thousand times did not create this bond that allowed them to trust you forever. They blossomed and kept blossoming because you loved them over and over and over. Thousand upon thousands of times, year after year after year.

Humans flourish with consistent love.

The same goes with welcoming a child into your family who has been so hurt by others. They are also seen as worthless by the world, but they are deeply loved by God. That deep, infinite, and abundant love God has for this abandoned & lonely child somehow penetrates your heart. Not because you are a saint or some great person, but because God just chose to work a miracle in your heart and infuse you with his love for that child.

When you know and believe in a God like this, then all the pain and suffering in the world becomes worth loving that child. This “childbirth pain” will go through unfortunately will not last for only a few hours. Because of all that has happened to this young person it will take months, years, maybe even decades of you enduring the “childbirth pain” to be able to see this loved child emerge as an adult who flourishes.

And so again, why do you do it? Because you know you are not loving this child so you can get results today, or tomorrow, or next month, or next year. You are loving this child because God has loved you in such a deep way that it will take you an eternity to comprehend. If it will take you an eternity to comprehend the depths and heights and widths of God’s love, then it becomes okay that it may take years or decades for a child or teen to understand the depths of your love for them.

The pain inflicted on foster children does not happen overnight. It is a lifetime of hurt, loss, and pain. Thousands of rejections, thousands of broken promises, and thousands of fears torment the same soul that longs to be accepted and loved. So when they reject the love you give them, it is not because they reject you, but because their brain is at war with itself. Because the pain inflicted did not happen overnight, foster/adoptive parents do not expect the healing to happen overnight.

Foster/adoptive parents cannot be motivated solely by short-term goals like providing housing for a homeless kid or making an “orphan” a “non-orphan.” If that is the goal flowing out of your heart strings being pulled then you will never endure the long painful road.

The goal is a long term goal: that this young person can really drink from the deep wonderful well of intimate love. We take that ability for granted. We waste our opportunities to experience it. But for these kiddos it is truly an impossibility until their fears can be killed and love can triumph.

I use the childbirth analogy fully aware that Paul was first to explain how Christians endure suffering in Romans 8: “But I am convinced that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory to be revealed to us…” That beautiful verses is sandwiched between imagery of childbirth and it is beautiful that God’s word gives us everything necessary to allow us to endure the pain, suffering, and exhaustion that comes with loving a hurting child.

Loving foster kids can be like hugging shards of glass. You get cut and bruised as you embrace, but it is only in embracing that you are able to feel that stiff broken glass soften and flourish and over time the beautiful soul that is hiding behind fear comes out from the shadows and begins to love being loved.

And if that never happens…if they are never transformed… if they cannot overcome all that has happened to them? At least they aren’t alone.

Following a God who died bloody, beaten, and broken on a cross to infuse YOU with his great love frees us to endure much to love others.


About dennaepierre

I am the executive director of The Surge Network and am the founder and president of Foster Care Initiatives (www.fostercareinitiatives.org). Most of my foster care/adoption related blogging has been moved to that site. This is my personal blog that I use to reflect on aspects of theology, culture, and our day-to-day life that includes being married to the pastor of Roosevelt Community Church, having a house full of kiddos (biological, adopted, and foster teens), and living in downtown Phoenix.
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6 Responses to When a Child Cannot Accept Your Love

  1. Dennae I love this. Sharing on my FB wall.

  2. Sheila says:

    Wow, I needed every word of this!!!!!

  3. MG says:

    I don’t know you, but someone I do know shared this on FB. Thank you for writing down your thoughts. His love is extravagant and endless. I am dumbfounded by it. If I, an adult from a loving and stable home, continue to be overwhelmed and surprised by God’s unconditional love, how hard it must be for a child who has not experienced a loving home! Without God’s love and power flowing through us, this love cannot pour out… let us pray that for these children it one day begins to sink in. Blessings to you and your family.

  4. beepa says:

    Really beautiful, Dennae. –Beepa

  5. Debi says:

    Thanks for sharing! You “get” it. From a professional in the field (& also an adoptive mom), please keep sharing!!

  6. Roxana says:

    You can really feel the empathy you have for the children Dennae. Their fear, hunger, insecurity. But you can also see the strength and calling God has placed into your life for you to share with others who are called to the same work of foster care. You give us hope, a breath of fresh air a connection to you and others that we are not alone. May God continue to give you strength. Keep up your writing. Your gifted and the world needs to hear more.

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