There is little in this whole fostering/adoption/therapeutic parenting conglomeration that makes me feel crazier and more inadequate than the food issues. Imagine those moments where you want to pull out your hair and then cry and then laugh and then cry again, and you’ll kind of get the picture.
My Brenden’s therapist says it’s because it’s so tangible and makes you wonder if you’re doing the right things, if you’ve done enough, etc.
When you start training to be a foster parent, one of the issues that is talked about with frequency is food hoarding. It doesn’t sound that bad when you talk about it in class, and frankly, there were barely any other food issues discussed at all - when in fact children from hard places are more susceptible to a variety of food-related issues. Food hoarding might be the most visible, but it’s definitely not the only problem we’ve dealt with in our family.
Just when I think we’re about over it, the food stuff raises its ugly head again. In our family, it’s not just one child either. Here are some of things we now deal with on a weekly, sometimes daily basis – hoarding, pica, excessive eating, pocketing food in cheeks, sneaking food, constant “hunger”, and nighttime wanderings – usually involving one of the prior activities.
Kids coming from hard places have food issues for a variety of reasons. There is a ton of research and information on this topic (here and here are places to see a bit of it), but this post is really just about our anecdotal experience. Our kids’ issues tend to stem from deprivation - the fact that they did not have enough food, didn’t eat the right kinds of food, were denied food as punishment, and just plain weren’t fed and spent a lot of time hungry. Imagine yourself as a small child and think about how this would deeply affect your relationship with food. It’s a little messed up. Another huge part of the food issue is control. It’s really the same as it is for people with eating disorders – the need for control in their lives manifests itself as a food issue. My children can completely control their own food situation. I can’t make them eat. I can’t prevent them from eating, either. I also can’t completely control what they eat. They are in virtually complete control of what they put in their bodies.
I’ll share some of the practical ways we deal with this topic next week, but one of the biggest things that we just continue to focus on is the reinforcement that our children are safe. They are loved. They are here forever. It is our job to take care of them, and we will. We can’t change their past, but bit by bit we can begin to rewrite their future.