- There are many reasons why a parent might feel unable to feel love for their new child, but all are remediable.
- The most likely reason for detachment from a child is postpartum depression.
- For many parents, detachment is a consequence of the defenses they developed to endure their own suboptimal childhood.
The house is dark. You’re about to go to bed, and you look one last time at your sleeping child—the one you can’t love. Even in this moment of complete vulnerability and perhaps guilt, you ask yourself, “Why?” You’ve been taught that all mothers love their children, and would make any sacrifice for their child, including death, and yet for some reason, you can’t love yours.
First, know that you are not alone, and that these feelings are shared by others. There are many possible reasons you might feel an inability to bond with your son or daughter, and just because you feel that way today does not mean it will be that way forever.
Based on my years of experience, I have discovered some reasons why parents may not bond with their children.
The most obvious reason for this detachment is postpartum depression. The chemical changes that your body goes through during pregnancy and delivery often affect your emotions and can create conditions powerful enough to cause depression after birth. Fortunately, this problem can be solved. Medication, therapy, and behavior modification can all help you recover and bond with your baby.
On the other hand, if your problem is an emotional one other than postpartum depression, then you have to search within to find the source of your feelings. Only then can you find your way back to a healthy and happy relationship with your baby.
Looking Back in Order to Move Forward
Your family of origin is your history. It is there, in the early stages of your development, that you can likely find the causes for your inability to bond with your child. Perhaps you were neglected or abused or had a competitive, controlling, jealous, demeaning, or toxic parent. Often, the very defenses people develop to survive such a childhood can cut them off from intimate and loving feelings for their own progeny.
The Resentful Parent
You may be that unfulfilled mother who never reached your life goals and passions and feels unsatisfied and unhappy in your life. If this is your situation, you may feel that the responsibility of raising a child is too much for you to bear. In time, this can cause resentment and ultimately cut off those loving feelings that you may have felt initially for your baby.
In my experience working with parents, I have found this is often the case if you married because you were pregnant and your pregnancy altered the future of your goals and aspirations.
Compensating Though Competition and Control
Then, there are mothers and fathers who compete with their children. If within your family of origin you were demeaned and dismissed, you may suffer from low self-esteem. And if your marriage is difficult or unhappy, your child can become a pawn in your relationship. It is here that you can become competitive for your mate’s attention towards your son or daughter. However, jealousy knows no bounds, and you may also feel competitive for the attention your son or daughter receives from others.
If you’re a competitive parent, you’re still fighting for the need to be seen from your own childhood. This may cause you to discount your child’s accomplishments or demean them, by lowering your child’s sense of self so that you can feel elevated.
If as a child you had a controlling mother or father, it is likely that you felt out of control. Therefore, as an adult, you are likely to be controlling. This is a formula for excessive domination. If as a child you experienced a jealous parent, you very likely will mirror that jealousy with your own children. It is the heightened need for attention that creates those vindictive feelings that you project onto your child. As a result, if your child gets too much attention from others, including family members, you may dominate your child in an effort to squash their self-esteem.
The Neglectful Parent or Overprotective Parent
Finally, you may be that neglectful parent who is struggling to cope with your own childhood experiences of neglect. You may find yourself abusing your son or daughter through your negative interactions, both emotionally and physically. Many times, the child who grows up to be this parent was abused himself or herself. If you are psychologically unavailable, unresponsive, or demanding your child will be not only neglected but rejected.
One way you may attempt to self-manage the guilty feelings that accompany your inability to love your child is to become that overprotective parent. Over-controlling your child’s life allows you to compensate for your hostile feelings.
If you find yourself an uninvolved parent who is unable to positively support, value, and validate your child, you should seek professional help immediately. Through introspection and self-analysis you can recognize and acknowledge your own developmental history. By catching a glimpse of your childhood patterns you can uncover and recover your psychological resources, which will enable you to integrate your own childhood wounds.
A good counselor will help define your family’s characteristics as well as the triggers for stress, anxiety, and support. By becoming conscious of your own parenting style, you can deliberately learn how to take back your source of injury and heal it. This will open your heart and your mind, and by learning to love yourself, you can then learn to love your child.
To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory