Why it (sometimes) doesn’t matter how you feel about your kids

The River

In the midst of the challenge of parenting many teens, inevitably there are moments where my kids see me as enemy number one, the  one thwarting their dearest-held wishes. Moments like these frustrate me as much as they frustrate them.  I want them to be happy and to grow in wisdom, and to never doubt my love for them.  I do my best to make decisions with those goals in mind.  (OK, sometimes I want to stay home for an afternoon instead of running kids everywhere.) But the vast majority of my decisions truly are motivated by love, so it can be incredibly frustrating to be seen as the enemy.

There’ve been moments where I’ve outright told them that they’re not going to find a bigger fan on this earth.  That I’m ALWAYS on their side. Yeah, sometimes being on their side looks like making them sit next to me and talk through a confusing assignment when they’d rather go to bed.  Sometimes it means them having to dig through the pit on their bedroom floor before they can use the phone.  Or finishing their math before they can hang out with friends.  Which to a teen doesn’t feel like love.

And there lies the problem. It’s not enough for me to be certain of my intentions and feelings for them, and to be making decisions in love.  If I’m not loving them in ways that feel like love to THEM, it honestly doesn’t matter how much I love them. 

Now, don’t get me wrong;  most well-bonded, reasonably mature kids understand that moms make kids do un-fun stuff for their own good, because they love them.  But (adoptive momma alert here) kids from hard places often have a terrible time interpreting a mom’s less-than-fun decisions and actions as loving.

In seeking to love my kids well,  I can’t be a complete and utter push-over.  It’s good and needful for me as a mom to make my kids do chores and memorize times tables and wear seat-belts.  But at least part of the time (hopefully even a few times a day?) I also need to be loving each child in ways that make that particular kid feel loved.

For one of mine, it’s gummy bears. For another, it’s a cup of coffee, set down right next to that textbook.  For another, it’s being allowed to chat on the phone, a lot longer than I strictly think is needed. Another happily snuggles in next to me on the couch for little chats. Another likes to paint fingernails with me. Yet another grins when I playfully punch him in the ribs as I’m walking past.

Especially during the teen years, it can be very easy for the negative interactions to start to outweigh the positive.  I’ve found I need to be very observant and very intentional in fitting in positive interactions too, or it all goes downhill fast.

1 John 3:18 says, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”  I think especially when kids are struggling, they really need to see our actions, and so I’m always trying to add ideas to my repertoire. What does love in action look like at your house? I’d love to hear what actions make your children feel especially loved.


Additional reading

Love and gummy bears

Love Languages and Your Teen




  1. I am going through this myself. My adult daughter does not feel I love her and right now, doing what is right isn’t going to feel like love but since she is violent towards us and her son, I can’t even hug her. Maybe someday she will realize that by me keeping her son with me, where he can hear stories of when she was well and how hard she has struggled (she has bipolar and topped it off with suicide attempts, domestic violence, drugs and booze) to battle her own body and mind. Hopefully both will realize that by not letting the court give him to strangers was the only way I could show her I love her.

    He gets pokes and high fives along with some cuddle time. Fishing time or just running errands with Granddad is another “I love you”.

    Tough love and healthy boundaries are sometimes the tools good parents have to use.

    Blessed Be

  2. Oh, this is so good. Thank you. I love that you have identified what makes each of your kiddos feel loved. I know this for most, but not all of mine- sometimes when I try it makes it worse (which I realize might just be the reaction and fear of accepting it, not that it’s not loved!). One of my kiddos loves to have her back rubbed a certain way, one appreciates hair time and one loves really great dinners. I need to write these down as sometimes it’s hard for me to think in the midst of the craziness!

  3. I like what you said about not being a pushover. I fully agree. I have also learned in the last 11 years of parenting that all hills are not worth dying on. You have said similar things very often over the years. Sometimes showing our kids undeserved grace not only shows them our love for them but also Christ’s love in a real, tangible way. Thank you for the reminder 🙂

  4. Oh this resonates even for this non adoptive mom…I have one child I especially struggle with and this child feels unfairly picked upon and singled out. I so struggle…I keep saying to myself that he is here to make me a better person yet I am failing miserably at the ‘ll lessons while he pays that price. Sigh..parenting is tough. If love solved it all! ( or gummy bears)

  5. so you’re saying I need to speak their love languages? dangit. Some of them like to keep their language hidden and I haven’t figured out how to reach them…

    • Scoopy, I can SOOOOO relate. The ONLY way I’ve found to reach one kid is with gummy bears and other treats. I’m still trying to come up with more ideas. But I’m not giving up. 🙂

  6. Mary, I so agree with you! Thank you for the reminder to look for ways to love my children that actually feel like love to them. I’ll share this on our Facebook page–good stuff!!

  7. Thanks! I needed this. I have a son adopted at 9 and who is now 11. He challenges, defies, says hateful things and is generally very hard to parent. He refuses to accept any hugs or pats on the back and responds with “you’re a liar” when I tell him I love him BUT he lets me read to him from the hallway at bedtime and he LIGHTS up if I buy him Hot Cheetos… gotta remember to speak his language and give the signs of love he can accept. I have to say it is a challenge, because a lot of the time his behavior demands correction, which he takes as me “hating him”.

  8. Thanks for the reminder – I needed it!! Especially for my 12-year-old child who doesn’t always ask for what she wants and may get overlooked by the other two who are more demanding. She loves having her back scratched and taking walks or coloring together (those are relaxing for me, too; not hard to do just have to make a little extra time:). My son likes to snuggle on the couch while I watch him play the Wii. My youngest daughter likes for me to play dolls with her.

  9. I’ve been praying on this subject for a while. Thank you for this post, especially the scripture.

  10. Listening – for real. Why is it so hard to do that when I know it’s what I need most too?

    Thanks for the reminder, it was well received.

  11. I stopped by your blog tonight looking for some word of encouragement and knowing I would find it here 🙂 Thanks for the post! In the midst of homeschooling and caring for my FIL that lives with us, I continue to be reminded about the importance of relating to my children in love. I’m often drawn back to I Corinthians 13 as a reminder of what love looks like and doesn’t. Each day I want to make positive connections with my child – I try to do this by eye contact in a situation that doesn’t involve their performance – but simply for who they are to me. Grace is needed in abundance – for them and myself. And I’ve always been amazed at the amount of grace God gives me through them. Helping them to understand that our decisions that seem “mean” but are really based on our love for them is hard. Yet, with God, all things are possible! And my aren’t even teens yet!