We all know it’s easy to love babies. They need us and love us right back. Their complete dependence on us creates a bond that makes loving all-around easy.

But what about loving someone who doesn’t return that love – at least in the way we understand? That’s when loving is really hard. Whether it’s a foster child who has been bounced around so much that there’s no trust left; or an older adoptee who experienced enough abuse to put up walls, chances are that our relationship – at least at first – won’t be all warm and fuzzy. But withdrawing our love simply because it’s not being returned will only compound the problem. So how do we love, truly love, without expectation?

Remember that your child isn’t withholding love on purpose. It doesn’t matter if the words coming out of their mouths are cutting and seem intentionally hurtful. It doesn’t matter if they’re stiff as a board when you try to hug. For whatever reason, if your child is withholding love, it’s a coping mechanism that has been developed over time. It’s been developed as a means of self-protection. It will take time for your child to feel safe enough to start to let go of that need to protect himself.

Find ways to express your love that don’t bring out negative reactions. Maybe touch is what sets off your child, or it could be words. Be observant to see what it is that makes your child put up defenses, then play around with other ways to show love. That could mean words of affirmation, acts of service, or giving a listening ear. You’ll find what works with your child, and as you do, repeat those methods of sharing your love over and over again. Eventually the wall will crumble and your child will begin to feel safe enough for you to move to other ways of showing love.

Learn your child’s love language. Most often the love language is discovered by watching how your child gives love. However they give it, that is most likely the way they will best receive it and understand it. For example, if your child won’t say I love you or react positively to a hug, but is often making little presents for you, giving you something they own, chances are that their love language is gift giving. Watch how well they’ll respond when you give a little bottle of nail polish, or a new baseball. The cost and size of the gift are not important – it’s the fact that you’re actually giving something. You can learn more about love language here.

Keep trying. You have to have a pretty soft heart and pretty tough skin to continue to love someone who doesn’t appear to love you back. But it is doable and the result is beautiful. Keep the objective of a happy family in the forefront of your mind and you’ll be able to push through the tough times and keep on giving. Seek for a return of love elsewhere (maybe your spouse or a friend) to keep you supplied while you continue to give without receiving from your child. Eventually it will pay off.

There are situations where the trauma is so deep that a familial relationship won’t work. Know when to seek professional help and be sure that you take care of yourself. This article will open your eyes to situations that require another approach.