How to Find Love When You Don’t Feel It

Heather Avis

I became a parent for the first time a little over seven years ago.

When my daughter first entered my life, I had been treading water in a sea of desperation, doing all I could to make it to the shores of parenthood. The obstacles in my way, trying to pull me under, drowning my dream of motherhood, included years of infertility, invasive procedures and surgeries, adoption classes, piles of paperwork, and thousands of dollars.

Until one day, exhausted and gasping for breath, I got a call about a three-month-old baby girl who needed a mamma.

I couldn’t have been more elated.

The second she made me a mamma, I was full to the brim with love for her. Like a heart eyed emoji.

Photo Credit: Abi Porter, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Abi Porter, Creative Commons

A few years later, having realized this motherhood thing fit me like the perfect pair of jeans, I decided to grow my family by adopting another little girl. My second daughter entered my life when she was a week shy of six months old. Upon learning about her, I felt deep deep love for her, and the feeling of love followed me through the first few weeks of her entering my arms.

Then something changed.

My new daughter was gorgeous and funny and smart and healthy. She was the kind of baby most adoptive parents dream of adopting. But as the newness of her faded, so did my feelings of love. I learned later that this is part of the bonding process, and that it’s normal for adoptive parents to struggle with this, but at the time I felt like a total failure.

My waning love for my new child had me shocked and feeling inadequate and, at times, hopeless.

Maybe you’ve had a feeling like this, like there is someone in your life you’re “supposed” to love—a parent, a sibling, a spouse, a child—but you just find it so hard.

The gap between what you are “supposed” to feel for that person and what you actually feel has you feeling desperate and hopeless and maybe even badly about yourself.

That’s how I felt with my daughter.

During those early months I found myself in tears, on my knees before God, searching for a way to love my daughter well. I wanted that emotional connection I thought I was missing. Then I remember the verses in the Bible that talk about what exactly love is:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corn. 13:4-7).

I looked up the words and read and re-read them and began to realize:

Love has very little to do with emotion, and everything to do with action.

As I read the words it was as though God was saying to me, “Heather, your love for your daughter is not found in the emotions you feel towards her, but in your actions towards her.”

From that moment on I held tight to these truths of what love is.

I began to see my relationship with my daughter as one full of hope.

And as I made a choice to really and truly love my daughter by being kind and patient and seeking what is best for her and protecting her and never giving up on her, my emotional feelings of love grew and grew.

Today my second born daughter is almost five years old.

And hey, I’ll be honest, there are days when the feelings I have towards her are anything but warm and loving. Some relationships in our lives are harder than others.

But I know now what real, true love is.

And everyday, especially on the tough days, I’m grateful to be able to love my daughter well by the ways in which I treat her and respond to her, despite how I’m feeling.

Because I am her mother, and she is my daughter, and I love her.

Heather Avis

Heather Avis

Heather Avis is mother of three, all of whom are adopted, two of whom have Down syndrome, and all of whom are awesome. She is the participant in daily dance parties and writes from time to time. You can find beauty in the unexpected by following her on Instagram and her blog.

  • Heather,

    I think your observation is right on.

    Our emotional love can waver at times particularly in a marriage. Then we have the choice to allow our emotions to control our actions or to act loving in spite of what we fee. And what I find happens is after a while of acting loving, even when I don’t feel it, eventually I do feel it again.

    The choice is whether we let our emotions shape our actions or we let our actions shape our emotions then isn’t it?

    • The Lucky Few (Heather Avis)

      Doug,
      Thanks for your comment and insight. I like what you say about choosing to have our emotions shape our actions or actions shape our emotions…right on!

  • Jennifer Herold

    Heather,
    First, I want to thank you for your vulnerability and authenticity. That is a really hard thing to find these days when many people are attempting to the perfect picture forward on social media. However, truth and love will always win over altered perfection.

    I can’t imagine all of your struggles, but I can relate in some ways. I am a stepmom and I have faced some similar challenges. I love my kids dearly, by it is also often times a choice rather than a feeling. These days, the thing that keeps me clear on what I am called to do is asking myself the question “What does love require of me”. My favorite pastor, Andy Stanley, posed that question and it has stuck with me. Not human love. Not the best we think we can do, but if we were to attempt Christ-like love, what does that require of me? While that is a heard choice some days, it helps me reach deeper when I want to do my kind of love (which sucks sometimes) and try to find His kind of love in me.
    I so appreciate what you and your family do and you bring me joy and inspiration on a daily basis. Please know that you, Josh, Macyn, Truly & August are loved in a big way.