Is there anything worse for a mother than to feel like her child doesn’t love her?
I think it’s one of the big silent aches of motherhood. We don’t talk about it often because it feels so personal, so humiliating.
But it’s not the end of the world. I promise.
In fact, it’s an invitation to hope, to look for redemption, to grow.
There was a time when one of our children didn’t love me.
Whenever I would tuck that little one into bed and kiss those soft baby cheeks, my child would stare at the ceiling, ignoring my affection. I’d say, “I love you, Sweetie,” and hear nothing in response.
This happened night after night.
During the day, I sensed a distance, a chill, a separation.
It hurt so deeply that I tried to ignore it for a while.
But ultimately, I had to face reality. I had to admit to myself, “Your child doesn’t love you right now.”
As I lay my head on my pillow that night, heartbroken, I asked God what I should do. He showed me that I was causing the problem.
When things began to turn around…
I had recently had a newborn baby: I was exhausted and stressed. When I’d finally get the baby to sleep, the toddler would throw a massive ear-splitting fit. In my exhaustion and stress, I’d grab that toddler by the arms and harshly whisper, “Stop it!” (That, of course, was 0% effective.) The Holy Spirit revealed to me that every time I mistreated my toddler during the day, I was driving a wedge between us.
I’m ashamed to admit that this is why my toddler didn’t love me and why my expressions of love seemed to fall on deaf ears. In a gush of tears, I repented of my sin and asked the Holy Spirit to strengthen me, soften me, and give me wisdom to win my child’s heart.
I got to work the next day by sitting face to face with my child and apologizing for my impatience and harshness. I explained why I kept losing my patience, but ultimately took responsibility for my actions. I said, “I have been wrong to treat you this way. Will you forgive me? I’m asking the Holy Spirit to help me grow in patience and gentleness. You watch and see! He’s going to help me grow.”
Miracles happen when God leads us to love…
I’ll never forget how my sweet child looked at me in the eyes, nodding with all the understanding in the world. Throughout the next days and weeks, the Holy Spirit helped me to work hard to connect with my toddler. I apologized immediately if I ever lost my temper. I intentionally reached out for my little one through the day and committed to extending tangible, vocal, and physical love regardless of my child’s response.
God impressed on my heart to never ask for a hug, to never demand an “I love you.” He led me to give, give, give. No strings attached – not even in the privacy of my own heart. That’s what the Holy Spirit was requiring of me, and enabling me to do.
I learned that when our children treat us poorly, we are invited to imitate Christ: to love without expecting anything in return. We can treasure His example for us – for us – in Scripture.
“Be ye kind, one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32
I’m glad to say that it wasn’t long before the chill dissipated and my bouncy loving toddler was returning kisses and hugs, making eye contact, and even initiating “I love you’s”. I’m glad to say that our love has been strong for years since and that we’ve never had a chilly season like that again.
What I learned from that experience is that as parents, it is always our privilege to love unconditionally.
As far as I can tell, children begin trying on “the prodigal son” role when they are 2 years old, easily finding reasons to reject us, to reject our love. Around that time, we too have a role to try on. When our children push back against us, our Heavenly Father invites us to emulate Him, to try on the love that He has always extended toward us: He invites us to be the prodigal’s father, ever loving, ever welcoming.
I propose that in real time – as real humans – it looks like this…
- Searching for our contribution to the relational rift; asking God to help us see what we can do to win our child back.
- Confessing our sin and asking our children to forgive us, as often as necessary.
- Retelling the story of God’s grace toward us – and toward them – through Jesus, our Savior.
- Pursuing them, spending time with them, smiling at them, laughing with them, showing them that they are a delight to our hearts and that they are safe in our home.
- Forgiving, forgiving, forgiving them – sometimes confronting – but always forgiving.
- And loving tangibly, loving verbally, loving without demands as God, through Christ, has loved us.
Ours is a call to lay down pride and put on humility, to exchange our hurt feelings for His forgiveness, to take our child’s anger to Jesus, instead of taking it to heart.
In so doing, we will be obeying our Heavenly Father, who sees our obedience as us reaching our arms back to Him in love. “I love you, Daddy.” He hears. How deeply sweet.
Then on top of that, per chance we will win the heart of our children and cry in relief that love has triumphed once again.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3: 12-17
(P.S. In this post, I’m speaking of young children here because I am not experienced with teenagers or young adults yet. However, I have a hunch that the process is similar. Moms of older children, we’d love for you to add your insight in the comments. Would you?)