Monday, August 9, 2010

Learning that Love is Less Important Than Skills and Consistency

I've been thinking about love and attachment a lot lately. I've always believed in the importance of love and in the idea that "More than anything else we want to love and be loved." But, I'm learning that it's more complicated than I'd previously understood.

Yes, I yearn to be loved. Yes, I get a lot out of loving others. Yes, it is essential to me to develop loving bonds with my community.

Yes, I know that loving someone can be a choice and that you can treat someone you barely know in a loving way.

What I never fully understood before is just how damaged this part of a person can become. I've read about attachment disorders and I've read about people trying to establish attachments and I focused on that approach.

What I'm learning (sadly) is that if a child gets damaged enough and then gets old enough without developing the skill of attaching then they may not be well served by love. I cannot get past my core belief that internally, perhaps beaten down to a tiny speck, there is a part of them that still yearns to experience true unconditional love. But, that part has been so heavily suppressed and damaged that focusing on it actually creates more damage.

A told us that she hated us because we cared about her. We thought that we needed to break through and keep caring for her and telling her that we cared so that she would understand that love existed in the world. But, with B we are a little less naive, a little more sad and a lot more practical.

He doesn't need us to love him. We might think that long-term he needs people to love him, but, he will never be here long enough for it to be us. What he needs is us to be unfailing in pushing him to grow up and develop self-care skills. It's such a different way of thinking of our job as foster parents. And, it's hard.

I only pushed a little today, because I just didn't have the energy for it. But, everyday that I let go is one that I cannot use to help prepare him. Tomorrow, I must be stronger. Tomorrow, I must issue bigger expectations (than I did today) and make it clear that he must comply.

Natural consequences are often easy, but, it's also easy to let the wrong ones happen when I'm low on energy. I need to be resilient. I'm realizing that part of why I need loving relationship is that love is what drives me to work through exhaustion. For instance, my dog will get a walk regardless of the rest of my day. So, if B doesn't need love and if it's almost detrimental to work on the development of a loving relationship with B, I need to find another motivation for myself in order to ensure I that give him what he does need.

It's a sadder view of the world, but, I really do believe that it's a more realistic view for this teenager. He needs to learn to care for himself and to have a life that is more than sitting on a couch playing video games. I need to teach him those skills. He needs that more than he needs anything else.


  1. In caring for B and providing what he needs you ARE loving him.

    Sure, it's not the idyllic story-book ooey gooey warm emotion of love...

    You've chosen to walk out the gritty real-life-down-in-the-trenches SACRIFICIAL love. It is unreciprocated but it real love none the less.

    You have chosen to walk out the "ACTION-VERB-LOVE".

    That brand of love is that is the love that counts. It is not swayed by waves of emotion. It is a commitment.

    Thank you for making the commitment.

    Keep on keeping on.

    You may already be familiar with Christine Moers. She talks about loving RAD kids in this video linked below...

  2. Anonymous -- You know I've discussed love as an action and a commitment before. But, somehow this didn't trigger that way for me. Thanks for giving me a different way of looking at things.