Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Loving Someone When You Don't Like Them

It’s easy to love somebody when they love you back and show their appreciation for you.  But what’s really challenging is loving someone when they don’t reciprocate your feelings and actions or when you try loving someone when you don’t necessarily like them.
This dilemma of loving others when you don’t necessarily like them is certainly not just limited to foster-adoptive parents (or any parents for that matter) but can apply to so many relationships and aspects of our lives in general.  However, I recently came across this topic while reading a blog post specifically aimed at addressing the uncomfortable and sensitive issue with foster and adoptive parents who were really struggling with loving the children in their care- primarily because of the attachment issues or other behavioral problems these children had.  
As a foster parent, I consider myself pretty safe-guarded from dealing with major attachment issues and severe behavioral problems the children in my care might have, mostly due to the fact that the majority of our foster children have been babies and the rest have been toddlers and pre-school age children.  That is certainly not to say that young children can’t act out- but dealing with hitting or tantrums doesn’t seem quite as threatening to me as dealing with lying, stealing, running away, sexual promiscuity, or other behaviors older children might be more likely to exhibit than younger children.
For me it’s always been pretty easy to care for babies.  I don’t necessarily like sleepless nights or teething and changing poopy diapers, but babies are generally easy to love because they so easily accept love.  Without it they wouldn’t be able to survive.  Babies are also easy to love because for the most part they are able to naturally reciprocate love.  For instance, when infants start smiling at you or cooing it makes those sleepless nights worth it.  Similarly, when a toddler reaches out their arms for you and wants to cuddle or when a pre-schooler has earned your trust and wants to climb up on your lap to be read to or play it can be extremely rewarding and minimizes any of the frustrations and drama surrounding potty training and temper tantrums.
But what about parents and caregivers who care for children but who don’t feel any reciprocation of love?  [Reactive Attachment Disorder immediately comes to mind in such instances.]  What about caregivers who continually give and give but feel like all they do is in vain because they feel like they have nothing to show for their efforts?  
I think that’s probably the first problem- giving and expecting something in return.  Or in the case with parenting, doing “X” and expecting “Y” when we try this or that discipline technique and things don’t quite turn out the way we had expected. 
But isn’t the true definition of Christ-like love giving without expecting anything in return and loving unconditionally?  Practicing that kind of love can be very difficult.  And I use the word “practicing” because continued effort is what is required of something that does not come naturally.  I am reminded as I write this that the words “disciple” and “discipline” stem from the same roots.
I can honestly say that I have loved every foster child who has been placed in my care.  But here’s an honest confession:  Just because I have loved them all does not necessarily mean that I have liked them all or felt an immediate bond with them.  I guess I feel the need to share this because sometimes I feel like foster parents are grouped into two different categories: the dichotomy of the evil foster parents who mistreat and abuse their foster children and who are (rightfully) exposed in the media.  These are the horrific kind of cases that make headlines and draw attention to foster parents.  On the other end of the spectrum is the assumption that all foster parents are saints who are willing to open their homes to the most medically fragile or extremely neglected and abused children without ever losing their patience, getting frustrated with “The System”, or grieving when a child leaves their care because of some sort of a superhuman power they possess.  As a foster parent, I don’t fit into either of these categories.
I’m only human.  You know how you just “click” with some people right away and they seem so easy to get along with but others . . . well, not so much?  That’s the same with the foster children who have been in my care.  I care for them no matter what but I get frustrated when, for example, they repeatedly tear wallpaper off of our bedroom walls or continually hoard their food or throw tantrums when structure (or vegetables for that matter) or consequences are introduced into their daily lives.  
Yes, it can be really difficult to like my foster children in such instances and I have to remind myself of a couple of things:
1) They are a product of their environment and are just modeling the behavior/lifestyle  they’re used to. 
2)  Behind any anger/resistance is hurt or fear; therefore, what is this child really trying to communicate to me? 
I do consider myself to be a pretty patient person, but like I said, I’m only human and it’s not easy to be patient and kind ALL the time (rather than just when things are going good) and that’s why I am so thankful that  God’s Grace- strength and power (and I would also add LOVE) beyond my own natural abilities- comes into place to make up for what I lack.
These last thoughts on the subject are not my own, but rather, come from a very insightful comment I read from the blog post I mentioned earlier which addressed foster and adoptive parents having a hard time loving their children.  I can only give credit to the commenter by her first name and last initial- Hannah K- but I can’t tell you anything more about her since I couldn’t find a link to a profile or web page to give her further credit.  

My hopes in sharing Hannah's counsel and insights is that we can all feel a little less frustrated and guilty and a little more hopeful in those aspects of our lives when we know we should love someone- but we don't necessarily like them.
Hannah K's Comment:

"It would be great if we could all experience the same warm, affectionate feelings toward each of our children. But at the same time, it may come as a relief to know that there is NO command anywhere in the entire Bible to *like* anybody—not our children, not our parents, not even our spouse. We are told to love. We are told to respect. We are told to honor. These commands involve behavior rather than feelings. But you are not in sin if you don't like your child—so long as that lack of feeling doesn't take the form of bitterness or anger or impatience or rudeness.

It is perfectly possible to love a person, even to the point of death, without ever *feeling* like it. Ideally, the feeling will be there too, to help motivate the love we give, but we can really and truly love somebody whether the feeling is there or not. The golden rule does not say to do unto others as we *feel* like doing unto them.

Often, the feelings will (slowly) begin to follow when the actions lead the way, and we can pray that they will follow quickly. But even if the feelings don't follow as we hoped, God is pleased when we are following *Him*. When we love the unlovely, we are following in the steps of His Son—and we do not have to pretend that the unlovely really *are* lovely at the moment. If we love our enemies as Christ commanded us to do, we do not have to pretend that they are not, in fact, our enemies. And sometimes, sadly, even our children can set themselves up as enemies for a time. So we can we do? Conquer them with LOVE.

We love because HE first loved us. Likewise, we cannot wait until our children are lovely before we love them, just as we cannot wait until our children are healthy and strong before we feed them. Love is the "food" that will slowly strengthen them to bestow love themselves. Just as we sometimes have to make our kids eat even when they say they aren't hungry, we also have to fill them up with love, even if they seem like they don't want it from us.

The more love we give them (through our actions), the more love they will be able to give. And the more love they are able to give, the easier they are to love. And so on. It's a snowball effect, but it sometimes starts so small that it can be hard to tell that the snowball is actually growing and not just rolling around aimlessly out in the cold."


1 comment:

Debra said...

Wow I so love this post, thanks so much for sharing some of your heart with us today and I think God put this in my path TODAY. THANK YOU. Have a Merry Christmas.