Open Homes: Adoption and Foster Care – “Part 3: The Hunger Connection”

Open Homes 3

During the month of June, I’ve been exploring the issues of foster care and adoption in a series I call Open Homes: Foster Care and Adoption. If you haven’t read the other posts, here are the links:
Week one: What is the Need? – This post talks about the statistics relating to foster care in America and orphans around the world.
Week two: Meet the Panel – In this post I introduce you to the panel of foster and adoptive parents who are lending me their expertise, and I share a few of the recurring themes of their experiences.
– Week three: The Hunger Connection

My friend Sarah has five kids. Does that sound crazy to you? If so, then it is. If not, then it’s not. Crazy is relative. I just have one kid, so five sounds like a nuthouse. But others thrive with large families. To each his own. But I digress…

Sarah and her husband built their family in the unconventional way of combining foster care that turned into adoption with the old fashioned bio kid method. The result is a big, beautiful, fun family. Recently I was talking to Sarah about this series of blog posts, and she said something really deep. Sarah told me that if a child has spent any time in the foster system, he or she has food issues. Not maybe. Certainly. It’s just a matter of which issues and how bad.

This lines up with the answers I got from the panel of foster and adoptive parents. Brenda and Kory adopted an infant and report only that he is a typical, occasionally picky kid. But parents who foster or who have adopted kids over two unanimously report issues like hiding food, sneaking food, obsessing about portion equality, and overeating.

Last week I told you that the foster and adoptive parents wish we all understood that these kids aren’t “lucky.” They suffered tremendously, and although they may have ended in a good place, they had to struggle and suffer to get there. Their struggles and suffering have long-term impacts on their physical and psychological health, and their relationship with food.

Alicia and Brian’s foster daughter, at age 6 and younger, was responsible for caring for her infant brother. She didn’t play, and she wasn’t lighthearted like a little one should be. She was responsible and worried. And because he was being raised by a kindergartener, little brother was malnourished from weak bottles and hadn’t been introduced to solids. Rachel and Jim’s adopted son had a similar experience. His birth mom didn’t or couldn’t provide him with adequate nutrition as an infant. Many kids who start out undernourished never recover. These boys’ needs are being met now, and they are recovering some of the stunted development that they faced as a result of malnutrition. And Alicia and Brian’s daughter has learned over time to let them care for her little brother; now she laughs and plays with other kids.

Older kids in the foster system or those adopted from foster care or foreign orphanages commonly have a deep fear that there will not be enough food. This causes kids to overeat, sneak food, or hide stashes of food.  Likewise, introducing healthy food to kids who are used to scrounging for junk is a challenge. Nutrition is vital in overcoming stunted physical and mental development, but the psychological scars of scarcity cause the kids to fight the very thing they should be embracing.  It takes patience and time for foster and adoptive parents to convince their kids to try unfamiliar nutritious foods, eat healthy portions, and trust that the next meal will be there for them.

International adoptions present a different challenge – culture shock. Imagine a child growing up in an Asian orphanage. His diet probably includes a lot of rice and fish. American pizza, burgers, pasta, etc. are all new and strange. America kids only love mac & cheese and chicken nuggets because it’s their normal (remember, normal and crazy are relative. I knew I could tie that in somewhere…). Kids coming from other countries have a different normal, and the adjustment to a new diet often comes with resistance and even stomach upset.

So what can we take from this? First, I hope that what I’ve shared will help us all have more patience and grace with foster and adoptive kids. They’re often picky, sneaky, and unhealthy because they don’t have the skills to overcome it. Recovering from years of malnutrition and scarcity is a long slow process. Be patient with foster and adoptive parents. We know how hard it is to get a typical American biological kid to accept healthy food, and the challenge is that much greater when the kid’s past taught him to stuff himself with junk when he can because tomorrow there might not be food. So withhold judgment and be a patient, encouraging friend. Things will get better over time and with patient, loving support and consistent provision.

As I have every week this month, I urge you to pray for the foster and orphan children around the world, and for the adults who foster and adopt them. Kids don’t deserve to be hungry or neglected, they deserve to be loved and fed and have every opportunity to grow up healthy and strong. And if you have thoughts on this topic or questions for the foster and adoption panel, leave a comment!

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