First, before we say anything else, let’s get this out on the table: children from hard places are really hard to love.
One of the lies that the enemy beats us with is that there is something wrong with us if we’re struggling to love our children. They’re just little, we tell ourselves. Innocent. None of this was their fault. How can I dislike them so much?
I’ll tell you how: because trauma isn’t very likable.
That’s right. It’s not.
Here’s the reality.
A child who lies to you, spits at you, smears feces around your house, destroys things, attacks people, steals, urinates all over, sexually assaults others, sets up booby traps to harm others, keeps you awake with screaming or pounding, requires 24 hour supervision, or generally treats you like they’d sooner watch you die than spend time with you? Not very likable.
And while that list might not completely describe your child, it also barely scratches the surface of what some parents are experiencing.
The effects of trauma are rough.
So I’m going to tell you right now: You, dear mama, are not a terrible person for struggling to love your child whose trauma is holding your household captive.
In our family, we went through a season when I couldn’t use the bathroom because my child would destroy something or hurt someone if I was out of the room for the thirty seconds it took to relieve myself. Eventually it got to where I couldn’t turn my back on the room to wash dishes or someone would get attacked.
Trauma was pouring out on the rest of the family and I didn’t like it very much.
And not just because I started getting bladder infections.
I didn’t like that our entire house was being destroyed piece by piece and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.
“I’m going to hate you until you get rid of me,” my child said once. And by George, he sure tried.
But mamas, this isn’t the end of the story.
We did the hard stuff. We asked for help. We did counseling. We set boundary lines and used respite and out-of-home respite when forced.
We prayed and prayed and prayed. Sometimes all night long.
We had no idea what we were doing but we muddled along.
Because in the end? You don’t have to like your child to love them.
We know this because love is a fruit of the Spirit—which means it doesn’t come from within us, but from the Father. As we turn to Him, with all our exasperation and questions and fear, He grows the good stuff—those spiritual fruits—and we can taste His goodness without any outward changes in circumstances.
In Romans 5 we’re reminded of some foundational truths.
First, that we’ve been justified by faith, not works, and peace is available because of Jesus Christ.
And second, that we can rejoice in suffering. Not because suffering stops affecting us—but because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
Hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)
Did you catch that? God’s love is literally poured into us through the Holy Spirit.
This isn’t talking about affection, friend. This isn’t talking about feelings. This is talking about love. The act of preferring someone over ourselves.
That’s what this word “love”, actually means.
So through the Holy Spirit we can make the choice to prefer someone else.
No matter what they do.
No matter how you feel.
No matter what.
For more than a year I don’t think I felt much affection for my child. And I’m not ashamed of that because what I felt didn’t dictate what I did.
This, of course, is the thing we’re working so hard to teach our kids. No matter how much trauma they feel—they don’t have to allow it to dictate what they do. Past trauma does not have to decide their future.
Things didn’t change immediately for us, but love was available through the Spirit.
As we sought the Lord, praying for God to meet us and change us and heal us so we could love our child well—the Holy Spirit was so faithful to pour that love into us.
Some days it still takes every last bit of energy we have to choose to walk in the Spirit—some days I fall apart and wish that I didn’t have to face one more second of this exhaustion.
But always, God is present.
And He is enough to fill in where I am weak, and to love through me when I don’t even like.
There is hope.
There truly is hope, fellow mamas—because even though it took a while, now I have these precious moments when I look over and my heart just bursts with affection and love for my child. The same child who once spit in my face and destroyed most of my house.
The affection that was once drowned in trauma is here more often than not these days, bringing joy to the mundane of life.
So to you, the one who is still in the darkest moments, reading this on your phone with one eye on the child who can’t be left alone for a second, I want you to know that you’re not alone, you’re not crazy, you’re not terrible because you’re struggling or wishing you had never signed those adoption papers, and along with all that—there is hope.
Our babies need us to keep fighting. They do. So let’s not forget what we’re fighting for.
We’re down here so they can have a chance to get up there.
We’re down here so the child who has never known anything but trauma can taste something new: hope.
Another day, dear mama, let’s work and choose love and fight and pray through another day.
These letters are not exhaustive. They should not be used to diagnosis, and they only show the viewpoint of one person. While I share some of our personal story—some details may be purposefully vague or altered slightly for privacy. Thank you in advance for being respectful and trustworthy with the stories shared here.
This letter is part of a series titled “Dear Adoptive Mom“.
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