Being a mom is hard work. I think every mother out there can agree that the word ‘easy’ doesn’t really have anything to do with motherhood, or parenthood, or children at all. Kids have a knack for taking more time, more energy, and sometimes even more love than you have to give.
Being a foster mom, or an adoptive mom, is like that too – but on steroids. All kids have problems. This is true. But some kids – mine, for instance – have more than their fair share. And while it’s also true that life isn’t fair, not even a little bit, foster-adoptive kids are, through no fault of their own, playing by completely different rules than ‘typical’ kids. Things are harder – for them and for the parents. When things get ugly, they’re uglier. They do things that completely defy logic and reason. They don’t respond in ways normal kids would – to anything you do. Their world and ours are so completely different that in some cases, it’s like parenting aliens.
Yes. Aliens. I’m pretty sure my kids are from Mars.
My girls have lived with me for four years. Four years, and I’m still left shaking my head in wonder and despair when some behavior I thought was outgrown suddenly pops up out of nowhere, because somewhere, someone or something triggered some reaction.
Like Big Girl. For years, she struggled with boundaries. She was a thief of many things – candy was always a target, as is often the case with children – but other things, too. Housekeys. Dry erase markers from school. Permanent markers. Lip gloss from other kids’s backpack. My jewelry. Money from someone’s purse. My iphone. Gum from the store. Etc. Etc. Etc. She saw something she wanted and wasn’t allowed to have, she stole it.
Since adoption, she’s made a huge leap in progress in overcoming that. Huge. Which is why it was so baffling when she suddenly took off with my nail polish and hid it under her bed. And some pens from my desk (which she is not allowed to touch), hidden in her closet. And peanut butter – a whole jar of it – stolen from my mother’s house and hidden in the bathroom. And another jar of it – another new jar – hidden under her bed.
Ah ah ah! Isn’t that last bit some sort of food hoarding behavior?
Maybe. It’s not uncommon in foster-adoptive kids, at all, especially those coming from a background of neglect.
But in her case, I don’t believe so. Though many of her exploits were, indeed, based around snacks and treats, they were never things freely available to her, and it extended to many other things – the keys, the jewelry, the lip balm, etc. I’ve never associated the stealing and hiding of the food items with hoarding. Most kids who hoard food are less discriminate about the foods they steal, and they tend to actually horde it – hide it, save it for later. They hide leftovers from lunch, or sometimes take things out of the trash to hide for ‘later’. They hide whole plates of dinner to save for ‘lean times’, always worried about food not being available when they’re hungry.
Big Girl doesn’t do that. She steals and eats what she wants, and hides the ‘evidence’. She’s not saving it for later – she’s avoiding confrontation about her behavior. It’s never anything she’s allowed to have – like the candy in the jar on the table – it’s always something that’s off limits.
Big Girl’s problem is less ‘food hoarding’ and more ‘impulse control’. She’s ADHD, so impulse control is a major problem for her in many areas of her life. She’s constantly touching things or playing with things or taking them without even thinking about it. It just so happens that often, things she wants are food related. Due to some other stealing issues with other kids, we’ve instituted a flat ‘no stealing’ rule, and it applies to everything – food or otherwise.
In case you think I’m a psycho who locks the refrigerator and never lets her kids eat between meals (although, actually, I have locked the garage freezer with the ice cream in it, but that’s because my dear dear son completely thawed it out twice getting at the ice cream in the middle of the night and I couldn’t handle the loss of all that food going to waste) – I have to see some dishonesty type behaviors to define taking food as stealing. Hiding the evidence under your bed is indicative of stealing. Just getting yourself a peanut butter sandwich without permission is not. But if you start lying about it, then things change. Taking something you were specifically told not to touch, or sneaking into someone’s room and raiding their stash is stealing – eating candy out of the family candy dish is not.
Consequences are stiff – loss of electronics for two weeks. Two weeks from the date of the last theft, that is.
Two weeks is huge, but it’s a number I came to after much trial and error. With my kids, too short, and it’s a mere ‘inconvenience’. Too long and they forget what the problem was to begin with. And in my house, they actually don’t get a lot of spare ‘electronics’ time anyway, so a week wasn’t quite enough to feel the effects. Two weeks seems to be the magic number in my house for this.
Big Girl is not thrilled, but she didn’t cry much about the loss of the MP3 player she just got returned to her. (It’s been missing since our move, and I found it last week.) She knew the consequences, and she still played the game. Tough love is hard – but more than anything, these kids needs consistency.