The house is dark. You're about to go 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, would make any sacrifice for their child, 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 feel an inability to bond with your son or daughter, and just because you feel this way today does not mean it will be this way forever.
Based on my years of experience working with an E.D. in education and with a Ph.D. in Psychology, here are some reasons I discovered why parents may not bond with their children.
1. Postpartum Depression
The most obvious reason for your detachment is postpartum depression. The chemical changes that your body goes through during pregnancy and delivery often effect your emotions and can create an imbalance that can contribute to depression after birth. Thankfully, if this is your problem, it can be solved. Medication, therapy and behavior modification can all work together to help you recover and bond with your baby. On the other hand, if your problem is an emotional problem other than postpartum depression, than you have to look 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.
2. Looking Back in Order to Move Forward
You come from a family of origin, and that family of origin is your history. Perhaps it is here, in the early stages of your own development, that you can 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 you develop to survive your childhood can cut you off from intimate and loving feelings for your progeny.
3. The Resentful Parent
You may be that unfulfilled mother who never reached her life goals and passions, and feel unsatisfied and unhappy in your life. If this is your situation, then 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 over the years, 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.
4. Compensating though Competition and Control
Then there are mothers and fathers who compete with their children. If you were demeaned and dismissed in your family of origin, 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 envious of the attention your son or daughter receives from others. If you're that 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 you had a very controlling mother or father when you were young, 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 you experienced a jealous parent as a child, 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 your child's self-esteem.
5. The Neglectful Parent or Overprotective Parent
And 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 experienced abuse as a child. 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. This allows you to compensate for your hostile feelings by over-controlling your child's life.
6. Seek Help
If you find yourself an uninvolved parent who is unable to positively support, value and validate your child, you should seek professional help immediately. Nothing is carved in granite; 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 resource, 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.