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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Transplanted Kids and Food

Bren sent me an email a while ago and said she would be doing a post on adopted kids and food issues, so I began to put together some of my own experiences, which may or may not be similar to hers, and agreed to post them with links so people can get a broader prospective of how far and wide the problem can go.

Post script: I just went and read hers and it is interesting how many similarities we have experienced, and yet how many unique stories there are. And if we were to find someone else to write on this topic, we would find similarities as well as surprising experiences!

Transplanted kids and food. Oh, is there any issue bigger for them? Because everything they experience ends up going through this tunnel of actualization. It is the whatever-colored-glasses they see the world through, it is how they judge people to be nice or mean, it is what they would have complete control of even if they could only control one thing. It is huge.

First I feel it necessary to tell my own food experiences to help make it clear why dealing with these experiences is doubly hard for me. When I was younger, we were very poor. We ate the things that we could afford and we ate them often (as a result, neither my sister nor I can eat potato soup, and there are many more things on the list that I just ate too often to tolerate anymore, but for each of us it is a little different). We understood that our parents were not doing this to be mean to us, and we rallied behind them (I’m serious) that being raised ‘right’ did not mean having everything you wanted. But when the occasions came that we could go out to eat, especially at a buffet, we took it on like athletes in a championship game. I do not know if it is because I am the oldest and lived the poor years longer (my dad did eventually get a nice job and we moved to South Carolina where we had seafood frequently and went out to eat often), or that I was the one who had to look in the freezer and figure out which meal was least blah when I was in charge on Saturdays, or just my personality, but by High School I had a food problem. I started to do way too much eating and not enough exercising, and I became plump. I say that because when I look back, I was not gigantic (I remember that 160 seemed to be my regular weight for three years) and I swore I would never let it get out of control and go over 200 (that makes me laugh), but I did look different and felt different and of course the boys in school called me fat. I retreated deeper into food.

When I went off to college there was suddenly more food than I knew what to do with! I had on-campus status, which meant I ate in the cafeteria, and once you swiped your card for a meal, you could stay and eat as long as you wanted. And it wasn’t like the High School cafeteria where you had no choices- there were several different style meals at a time, plus always fries, pizza, cereal, a salad bar, and any kind of drink you could think of. No one had warned me about the Freshman 15, and I had never experienced such eating freedom before. I quickly went past that 200lb. threshold and beyond. When I finished a hard assignment or paper, I would get my friends and we would go to the cafeteria and get hot chocolate and sugar cookies and sit on this spot we named the ‘magic grass’ because it had the best view of everything, and it was such a nice feeling of accomplishment/camaraderie mixed with yummy foods that it was almost addictive. I was soon celebrating everything this way (It’s Thursday- time for magic grass!). I was surprised at the way my friends could eat one cookie, or sometimes even have black coffee instead of hot chocolate, because I had no willpower what-so-ever. I noticed my clothes getting tight but I looked pretty well the same in the mirror (I should have turned around!!!!) and the next thing I knew, I saw a picture of myself and I was horrified at what I looked like. But I could not stop eating. The only time I have successfully lost weight in my life was when I started working on the farm, and that was because it got down to just the two of us and we were working 18 hour days with no time to eat. But I also got very sick and eventually had to stop working and gained it all back. And then some. Right now I weigh what I did when I checked into the hospital to deliver my daughter. Humiliating.

So I understand all too well the consequences of becoming an adult without knowing how to control myself. I so desperately want my kids to do better, I am vigilant about the food issues, and it is one of the scariest parts of looking into their future for me. And the fact that food is how they experience everything makes it so complicated and so delicate a job that I am often overwhelmed.

Food as a bribe/reward: everyone has experienced this, and I think under normal circumstances, there is nothing wrong with it. When I was young and we scraped enough together to go out to eat, my dad always said he wished he could do it more often and how much he appreciated that we did not complain. So it was a reward for being good and helping out and mostly for supporting our parents. The bad part was that I never learned to use the contentment of doing something as my reward, or finding other ways to give myself a pat on the back.

Sometimes, though, the food is more of a weapon and used as a bribe for very bad things. My kids were given candy after the s*xual abuse as a way of keeping them quiet. When the parents began visitation after removal, they would compete to see who could bring the most candy (they visited separately) and I realized very early on that the kids equated candy with love. When I refused to let it in my house, or took the wad of gum out of their mouths before we got in the car, I was the villain. I did not give them candy, and to them that meant I did not love them.

Worse, I expected them to eat real food (oatmeal, spinach, fish) which they saw as going the OTHER way, as a punishment. They had three food categories- candy, which was special, regular food like Doritos and pizza, and yucky food, like beans and rice. Thus began the stand-offs. The oldest was the first to try it. She sat at the table one night with her arms crossed and said she was not leaving until I got her a pizza hut pizza with the stuffed crust. I just kinda laughed and said “OK” and went on with my life. Well, by 10:30 she needed to go to bed, so I picked her up under my arm and carried her down the hall. She ripped molding off trying to grab on to something to stop me, but I kept going and put her in her room. The next morning she gladly ate what we were having and did not complain again. Going hungry for a night was enough of a lesson for her. Some people think that is cruel, that I should have given her whatever she wanted because kids should never be made to go hungry. But it was her choice. My stance was that I had no way to get what she wanted (no pizza hut around here anyway) and that even if I did, if I gave in once, she would be in charge forever. What if next time she wanted something I had no way of getting at all, like authentic Chinese? Where was I supposed to draw the line?

Next was the middle child, but this would be a very different experience. She had such an iron will that she could go for a solid WEEK without eating. And it wasn’t about a particular food, but the power to choose what to eat every time we sat down. She would eat something one day and three days later refuse to eat it. She wanted the reigns. And I wouldn’t give them up. So we just sat there, toe-to-toe in essence, and waited each other out. I took her to the doctor, and the doctor wanted to put her on Pediasure. I refused. Again, people thought I was horrible, that I was letting this child harm herself and not doing whatever I could to stop her. But I knew that if she got control of the situation there would never be any training of her after that and that she would grow up to use whatever weapon she had to in order to get her way. I also had five children under the age of six, and if she were given milk shakes at every meal, I would soon have five kids refusing anything but milkshakes, and I just couldn’t afford it. So I waited and prayed. And she cracked. She went back to eating what everyone else was eating.

But she had a new trick in mind. She would put food in her mouth and refuse to swallow it. I mean like ever. She would try to go to bed with the food in her mouth, and when I tried to get my finger in there to get it out, she would either bite me really hard or lock her jaw so that I made no progress. She was beginning to rot her teeth, so we decided to try a trick I had learned to give a baby medicine. We would put her on the floor on her back, pinch her nose, and pour some water in her mouth. She would eventually have to swallow to breath. We had to do this often until she realized she was not going to win this way, and then she stopped.

I know these are scary situations and what we did to resolve it seems severe, but we prayed and felt Yahweh telling us not to give in to her because more was at stake then her physical body. We were wrestling for her soul.

Sometimes people intervened and it got bad. N would often try her ‘tricks’ when people came over, knowing they would feel sorry for her and give her attention if nothing else. And very often they would overrule me and she would win by getting whatever she wanted. Once my mom came over and N was in day 3 of a starvation stint (she still tried it frequently for years) and my mom asked why she looked so terrible. I said she refused to eat what we were eating and wanted to make up her own menu and I wouldn’t let her. My mom left, but came back an hour later with several bags of groceries. She had chips and salsa, pickles, cake, cheese sticks, etc. and laid it all out on the table for N and said “please eat something!”. I was visibly upset, but she said everything she bought was good for you in some way (like the salsa on the chips). But you know that girl threw out the good of everything and ate chips without salsa and cake without the cream cheese frosting, and my mom said “well at least she finally ate something”. And as I looked at that child, I saw for the first time what would become her signature sign of triumph- a slanted-eye, sly grin with an air of victory. Another time my grandmother was staying with us and N would not eat again. So my grandmother took her bowl in the living room, and proceeded to ‘sneak’ the child food from the bowl, which she readily ate. Then my grandmother called for me and said with great satisfaction that she had gotten the girl to eat! And I looked over and saw that grin. It’s all about control. And here again, the attention and the people being angry at me is a reward for her. The food isn’t even always the reward in itself, but the catalyst to getting what she really wanted.

Food as a replacement: sometimes kids who come here were fed TOO much, as a way to keep them quiet, occupied, or ‘full’ of the things they were not given (attention, affection, correction). Our son was old enough that he could climb the counters at their previous house and get into the cupboards, where the food was stashed. So he had, in essence, control that no one even knew about. And when his father caught him at it once, he laughed and said “well, you figured that out too, didn’t you?” and went on. He was never stopped, mostly because ‘dad’ had other things to do and figured it kept him busy. In fact, dad’s reaction was seen as approval, so he associated being sneaky with doing something good, because it had gotten his father’s nod. But then our son learned that to get food meant to figure a way around all the ‘booby-traps” in the house. It was like a mission. He had free reign on the cupboards before, but he had to get it himself, and that started a very bad habit. It started with middle-of-the-night trips to the kitchen. When I caught him, the caseworker had us install a door alarm so that we would know when he was out and about (he was also perping on the girls). This alarm, though, went on the wall outside the door and allowed the door to remain open since he said the door closed made him scared. Well, he quickly learned that if he crawled very slowly on his belly, the alarm would not go off. So we moved to a door-closed, on the door alarm. He started going out the window. We had planned a surprise birthday party for my husband at the fire department during their weekly meeting. I made the food and hid it in my car the night before so my husband would not see it. My son knew this and he snuck out his window (by slitting the screen at the bottom and sliding out) and ate the cookie tray that was in the car. Other times I would have the girls with me and the guys would be working on the farm, and when they came back to take showers, he would wait until Gary was in the shower, go out his window, and in the back door. The alarm never went off, but I eventually started missing many things from the lunch cupboard (now we have a window alarm as well). Low and behold they were in J’s room under the bed. I kept hearing that he would stop if we gave him what he wanted sometimes, so we started giving him a box of candy and snacks at the beginning of the week and telling him it had to last all week. It would be gone in an hour and he was looking for ways to steal more.

Food as medicine: We all understand this one. After a bad day, my first impulse is to eat. It is not even a conscious action, as I will find myself eating something and wonder how I got it. Unfortunately, it never lasts for long. With my kids, it doesn’t even give them temporary relief. I kept hearing from all those wise people who raised ‘regular’ kids that kids know what they need and can regulate themselves. So I started letting them have free reign. Three of them would eat enough to make themselves vomit, and then go get more. Sugar is also a problem because it is a stimulant. If my kids knew what coffee did, they’d be stealing bags of coffee from the store rather than candy bars. I had a big argument with my mother when I would not let the kids pick up candy after a parade in town. She said if I gave them some once in a while they would not steal it because it would not be a big deal. I asked her if that philosophy would work with an alcoholic (her father was an alcoholic). She got quiet. When someone has an addiction, you do not feed it a little bit here and there. You gotta get rid of it all together.

Food as an enemy: Certain foods also bring back very bad memories, even if they are not accessible memories. My son would break down crying every time I made turkey, and he didn’t know why. He likes it and eats it heartily, but the sight of a turkey on the table is overwhelming. Drinks are the same. We do not drink Kool-Aid here, but we had it at church once and my oldest started crying. It was a trigger, but she didn’t know why.

Food as the counter-balance: Another reason food is a big deal for transplanted kids is that it represents dependence on someone. My kids really thought their mother was being kept captive somewhere and she would come to rescue them as soon as she could get free. Taking food from me was in a way admitting defeat, allowing her to be replaced. So they would feed themselves in order to keep me at arm’s length. I had a kid stuff French fries in her underwear and eat them later. One refused to eat at the table, but as she walked past the baby’s high chair, I noticed she was walking funny. I made her lift up her foot, and she had picked up a piece of the baby’s slobbery, dirty bread between her toes and was taking it to her room to eat it! The same child has PICA, which is eating non-food items. We cannot have fluoridated toothpaste or mouthwash around her, silica gel packets in new shoes, any kind of pills or cleaners, or anything that poses a danger. I don’t worry anymore about the begnine things like erasers (hey, they say GUM on them), chapstick, deodorant, toilet paper, crayons, and cotton balls. I can only supervise so much before my life becomes a prison.

A few years ago I invested in a weight-loss program where the foods are prepared for you. I thought it might help overcome the “What should I eat?” dilemma. My son snuck out and ate the food. It was horrible stuff, really. And it was impossible not to see it as an attack on me. I finally tried to do something for myself and he sabotaged it. It was a large financial waste as well. Many times in situations like this I have wondered if we made a mistake by keeping the kids.

What’s the answer? Well, I have truly come to believe there is demonic influence involved. I am often engaged in spiritual warfare for my kids. That can be isolating since so many people do not believe in such things. Remember the verse that says the generations will be punished for the forefathers’ rebellion? It was such a relief when I talked to Bren on the phone and she said she believed the same before I even got a chance to. You would have to live it to understand it I guess. Anyway, what I have read about demonic problems is that you cannot completely help a person unless they truly want to get rid of the demons as well, so until they are old enough to chose their own spiritual path, all I can do is 'maintainence' on their behalf.

Also, how much influence the drugs had on them in utero is a factor in every question we face. The only thing I can stand firm on is that Yahweh sent these kids here on purpose, and that when everyone else doubts our methods we have to stand firm in our position as their chosen parents. And that is easier said than done. Kids quickly become wise to the way the system works and are forever looking for ways to exploit it in their favor. When it should feel like us against the world, it feels like us against the world being aided by our children. We are living that RIGHT NOW. The short version is that at a check-up with a new doctor, we were round-about accused of starving N and the other kids were questioned about our discipline practices when I was not in the room. Halleluiah for HSLD!!!!!!

I have had heart-to-heart talks with my kids about food, about how I have so much trouble myself and how I don’t want that to happen to them. But all that has done is reached the little part of them that can be pricked by guilt. The bigger part of them still feels the need to control, and so for that reason, we started growing food together. N can sit at the table and refuse to eat because we are having salad, but she will go outside and gorge herself from the lettuce bed. She helped plant that lettuce, helped weed it and water it. (BTW-That is my answer to those who say I ought to just let them have what they want. It is not about the specific food. It is not because I ask my kids to eat vegetables- they steal vegetables!) If they feel ownership in the vegetables it knits us together a little more. It will take a lifetime of just a little more to ever make a difference, but that is what we are called to do. I have to remember that there is only one true and living God, and I'm not Him. And neither are any of the people who watch from the outside and say what we are doing is wrong.


Created For Him said...

How difficult it sounded with these children. But I feel the need to warn you that it is probably not a good idea to share some of these instances on your blog, like having to plug your daughter's nose and pouring water in her mouth to get her to swallow. I don't disagree with what you did but some people reading this might not take it the right way.
It seems in this day and age you can't be a good parent and take any physical action without being considered abusive.
I am a Christian mother of 5 children. About a year an half ago I became friends with a woman with 2 children. This past fall she accused my husband and I of being child abusers because we wouldn't let our child spend so much time with her and her children, without us around.
The sad part was she decided after knowing me for only a few months,that I was abusing my children. So in all that time she was pretending to be my friend she thought these things of me. I spent much time during that friendship having this gut feeling that something wasn't right, although I couldn't put my finger on it.The only thing I knew for sure was that my son was becoming more and more distant from us, his family. We were losing his heart and at 12/13 yrs old, I wasn't going to let it happen. It wasn't until I prayed about this uneasiness that the Lord brought everything to light. He gave us a way out.....a way to let this friendship fizzle out quietly. When I told her my son had the opportunity to do something else, that he had been doing with her son on a weekly basis.....that's when she made her accusations.

Don't think it couldn't happen to you. The devil will find whatever way possible to destroy a family that's trying to do things God's way. This woman claims to be a Christian and is a homeschooler too. Just be careful what you share!
Blessing to you!

motherofmany said...

Thank you for you comment and concern. I know that openly sharing some of these things will cause some people to make judgment on us without cause, but we were living that in the dark anyway. We have had so many people call us bad parents and 'turn us in' and that was part of the reason we decided to be open about what we have experienced because, as Bren said, the light pushes out the dark.

We are fortunate that the caseworkers know us well and know our kids and their history. They knew these kids would be difficult if not impossible to place if we said no, and there is so much documentation of their 'tricks'. We also feel that if we act secretive about it, it looks as though we have something to hide.

Sadly, there is almost a catch-22 for parents anymore. If we had let her teeth rot out, the dentist would have turned us in for neglect/abuse. If we pinch her nose to get her to swallow, we are abusing her. The only 'safe' ground left is for a parent to cower in fear and let their kids be in charge, and even that will often result in accusations. Now they give parents jail terms for their childrens' crimes, yet the parents have no power to correct and train the children. We have to stand up and defend our authority as parents.

I know, too, the heartbreak of losing a friend over issues with my children. But Yahweh has not called me to be a keeper of friends, but rather a keeper at home serving my husband and training my children. And if someone wants to challenge that, they are not much of a friend! A true frind would support your obediance to Yahweh first, which includes training your children (not letting others train them for you) and things such as 'socialization' and group activities are not necessary for the Biblical training of children.

All of this lends to my firm belief that we are witnessing the last days. The Bible says one of the signs is that they will be disobedient to parents, and when have we ever witnessed a culture more intent on letting kids have the upper hand?

Stay strong, sister. Blessed are they who endure to the end!

Faithful Catholic said...


As a person who teaches foster parent training classes for certification and does home studies, I want to applaud you and your husband for the tremendous job you are doing with your kids. I work hard at trying to make sure the parents I teach know what they're getting into but, by the looks on many faces in class, I see that they don't really believe some of the things I tell them to expect! Nobody will ever know what it's really like unless they've been there. It's an exhausting and demanding undertaking and requires more self-sacrifice than most anything I can think of. It's scary and painful and frustrating in the extreme. Thank you for doing what you do. Where would we all be without loving foster/adoptive parents like you and your husband? Keep plugging away and praying. Those children need you.

God bless you!

Bren said...

Ahh, I feel for you. You are dealing with triple what I have and I think the food issues you deal with are more extreme. I do need to clarify a couple of things. I have never been a foster parent, so I can not talk about any of the food issues that accompany foster children. My daughter was relative care. Big difference. I have never had the training you have had. I only know what Charlotte's behaviors are. It sounds like most abused kids suffer the same problems, but in varying degrees.
Also, I hope you know when I made the demonic reference, I was referring to the behaviors encompassed around the ritualistic abuse. I do not beleive Charlotte's food issues are demonic. I have no idea about your kids, but I really truly believe Charlotte's is total survival. I am not as versed on the WOrd of God as you are and I have not done a thorough study (maybe I need to) but I do believe we as parents have authority over our children including any demonic activity. They are too young to handle it and God has given me the authority. I agree with the Generational curses you mentioned and also believe those can be broken. We adopted these children and when God sees them, it is our heritage He sees. The old stuff is broken off...they are grafted into a new vine.

motherofmany said...


In my opinion, you have more training than you could ever get in a class! Even though yours was a kinship arrangement, you still faced what every foster parent faces, and the kinship part can make thing better AND worse. But you have just as much claim to the 'hark knocks' education as any foster parent. As Faithful Catholic stated, sitting in a class does not really prepare you for what you will face, and with the Satanic elements of your situation, not many foster parents have deal with worse.

When I was referring to the demonic influence, I meant the ritualistic abuse as well as the imprisonment to drugs and the severe mental illness that are a result of the substance addiction. I think we can cover the children with our heritage only to a certain degree because they are eventually responsible for themselves, and when they choose to rebel completely, they are walking away from that protection (like the umbrella explaination you gave Charlotte). When they are young they are certainly not responsible, but some of my kids are old enough to understand and to have made a declaration of faith, only to deny it later (thinking that making a public confession would earn them more freedom and trust in our house). It is very sad, and I hope it all gets worked through, but the instance I am referring to is with a child who is certainly old enough to understand. In Judaism, boys are Bar Mitsvah'd at 13, and at that point they are taking resposibility for their spiritual walk. That does not mean they walk it alone, but they are no longer claiming 'ignorance'. Does that make any sense at all? So in some instances I think the food issues are a manifestation of the demonic influences they have chosen to receive. My son has said repeatedly he has seen the devil in his room and then got really angry and wanted to break all our rules. He readily admitted that he invited that to happen when he made light of the covenant declaration with God.

Don't ever think you don't have enough training just because it was kinship care or you never had classes- you had the REAL training!