Why Won’t Your Foster or Adopted Child Look You in the Eyes?

It Might Be the Key to Why They Resist Your Love

My son is just now beginning to look me in the eyes when I talk to him. He is almost seven and has been in our family for six years. Sometimes I gently hold his cheek and ask him to look at me. He seems to try, but he looks at the ceiling, to either side, glances at my eyes for a split second, then quickly looks away.

I feel sadness rather than anger or frustration. My father heart longs for his trust; for him to feel safe with me.

As I said, he is looking into my eyes now more than he ever has, and when he does, I try to hold his eyes for as long as he will let me.

Do you find it hard to look into someone else’s eyes?

To look fully into the eyes of another person takes vulnerable courage. It’s like we can see into the other person’s soul as they pear into ours.

Sometimes the reason a person won’t look you in the eye is they feel guilty or did something wrong. But more often the reason is…FEAR.

A lot of the rest of the thoughts in this blog come from two sources…a sermon by Morgan Stephens and a book by Dr. David Benner—Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality (Spiritual Journey). The book isn’t about foster care or adoption, but it reaches deep to the core of why our kids can’t look us in the eye and even push us away, especially his chapter on Love and Fear. “Love and fear stand in a complex relationship to each other.”

That is true for all of us but even more true for our kids that come from a hard place. They probably don’t even know that they live in constant fear, but their actions betray them. Our kids control everything and everyone they can, they won’t try new things, they have a deep sense of guilt even when they haven’t done anything wrong, they struggle with pride and a need to always be better than everyone else in the room.

All of these represent fear. And fear builds an impenetrable wall that resists healing. As parents, our natural response is to push back with anger, frustration, stonewalling, walking away…But our kids need just the opposite. “Perfect love casts out fear.” Of course we will never love perfectly, but we can follow Perfect Love’s example. God always moves toward us because He always loves.

As foster and adoptive parents we too can move toward our kids regardless of how hard and often they resist us knowing that even our persistence can threaten our kids need for control. How well we help our children overcome their fear and allow themselves to surrender to our love will help them later in life in all of their relationships. More importantly it will help them surrender to God’s perfect love which will cast out all fear

Get in the boat!

A story in the Bible goes like this. Once Jesus and his disciples spent a long day with crowds. Jesus sent his disciples on a boat to go the other side of the sea while he sent the crowds away. After the crowds left, he went up on the mountain to spend some time alone in prayer. By the time he came back to the shore the boat was far from land and huge waves from a storm battered the boat. When Jesus saw this, he began walking across the water toward the boat. (He moved toward them!) When the disciples saw him walking toward them, they became even more afraid thinking that it was a ghost. Jesus affirmed them letting them know it truly was them. (We too need to affirm our kids that they don’t need to be afraid since we are with them). Peter, one of his disciples, called out to Jesus, “If it is really you, then tell me to get out of the boat and walk to you.” So Jesus told him, come Peter to come on out. Peter did and began walking toward Jesus. Then he became afraid and began sinking. He cried out for Jesus to save him, and Jesus immediately reached out and took hold of Peter. When Jesus and Peter got into the boat with the other disciples, the wind stopped and all became calm.

Our kids that come to us from a hard place face fear like this every day, all the time. We need to move toward them not away and get into the boat with them to help bring calm and healing to their lives.

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I am a longtime Austinite. Married my beautiful wife over 25 years ago. Adopted our son September 2012. Currently a writer and loving it. Previous jobs and careers include project management, missionary, and pastor. I enjoy sports (both watching and playing), traveling, reading, digging in dirt and hanging with my friends and family.

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