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Erratic Eating Habits

Q: We adopted two toddlers internationally. The first is so finicky that I cook six meals a day trying to get her to eat. The second eats anything, but is territorial about her food. Help!

A: These are two problems commonly seen in kids adopted from institutional settings. For the picky eater, try offering a couple of choices at each meal. Don’t let mealtimes carry too much emotional weight. Keeping a neutral tone when your child rejects food will be difficult, but try to make mealtimes enjoyable. A relaxed, social atmosphere will encourage her to develop more confidence and curiosity about food.

As for the child who eats anything and everything, make healthful snack foods available to her throughout the day and let her eat as much as she wants, whenever she wants. Many parents are afraid of letting their little ones eat too much, but it’s important for children to know that food is plentiful and freely available. After they learn the feeling of being full, they will begin to regulate their eating.

—Diana Schwab, M.Ed.,
International Adoption Health Services of Western Pennsylvania

Contacting birth siblings

Q: Our 10-year-old daughter recently asked if she has any brothers or sisters. She does have birth siblings, but we didn’t know how to answer her. Is she old enough to know about them, or to meet them?

A: Adopted children usually enjoy having relationships with their birth siblings, and they frequently refer to them as “my sister” or “my brother.” It will be OK for your daughter to use these terms because this is how she will think of them. Children can’t have too many people in their lives who love them!

Ten is actually a good age to talk with your daughter about her birth family and for her to have direct contact with them. It’s best to share any information related to adoption with a child before her adolescence. Meeting the birth family in person or having other direct contact helps, because children always fare better with concrete information than with abstract concepts (which is what the terms “birthmother” and “birth family” are if the child has no people to attach to those words).

My book, Children of Open Adoption, describes many cases of adoptive parents initiating direct contact between the child and his or her birth family around this age.

—Kathleen Silber,
Co-author of Dear Birthmother and associate executive director of the Independent Adoption Center

Considering disruption

Q: We adopted our six-year-old son 11 months ago. He’s defiant, he steals, and he lies. We’ve tried everything, but we think he might simply be better off in a family with fewer children.

A: I empathize with the difficult dilemma you find yourself in. I’m sure it’s not what you had in mind when you decided to adopt. But you must consider that, in the five years that your son lived without a family, he learned he could depend on no one but himself, and that stealing and lying were the only ways he could survive. It took years to learn these ways of thinking, so it will take time for him to learn that his parents know what is best for him and will always be there for him. My instincts say 11 months is not long enough for him to gain this trust.

If you are convinced that you are unable to parent him, disruption is possible, and may be in your son’s best interest. You’ll play a role in ensuring a suitable placement and smoothing the child’s transition. Your placing agency can help, or they can refer you to an agency that has experience placing older children.

[To learn more about disruption, read “Letting Go” at]

—David Pilgrim,
Vice president of adoption services at Children’s Home Society & Family Services, and an adoptive parent

Adopting an acquaintance

Q: A little girl I know just lost both of her parents. I’ve discussed her situation with my family, and we’d like to adopt her. How can we do this?

A: For any adoption to take place, two things must occur: The parents or legal guardians of the child must give their consent in a manner determined by state law (termination of parental rights), and the prospective adoptive parents must be found eligible and suited to adopt (through a homestudy conducted by a licensed social worker). Because laws concerning both processes differ significantly from state to state, your first step should be to consult a local adoption agency or adoption attorney.

Find an agency at www.adoptive, or an attorney at

—Susan Freivalds,
Founder, Adoptive Families magazine

Is a disability a barrier for singles?

Q: Can a single person with a physical disability adopt a child?

A: Most states allow an adoption if the applicant passes a homestudy and if “the needs of a child can be met.” This vague statement is often left to licensed agencies to interpret, and interpretations may vary greatly. One agency may feel that a disabled person can be a parent if she hires someone to physically care for the child. Another may require that the parent be able-bodied enough to care for the child independently.

Beyond that, in domestic adoption, the parent is usually chosen by the birthparent(s). Based on my experience, birthparents rarely choose a disabled single parent if they have married couples to choose from. In international adoptions, the country “acts” as the birthparent. Many countries do not allow adoption by disabled people.

The bottom line is that adoption may not be an option for many disabled single people, unless they have an unusually supportive living situation.

—Vicki Peterson,
Wide Horizons for Children, Waltham, Massachusetts

Telling family about a birth child

Q: Years ago, I placed a child for adoption. Neither my spouse nor my other family members know that I did this. Should I tell them? If so, how?

A:You are not alone—many women don’t tell their family members or spouses about having placed a child for adoption. However, secrecy isn’t healthy for anyone, and secrets don’t remain secret forever (you should be prepared to establish contact with the child or her parents at some point).

You might want to ask a counselor, minister, or other trusted third party to help you discuss this with your family. The important thing is that you share this information with them, rather than having them find out in some other way.

Initially, your husband and family may be shocked, and feel hurt that you didn’t tell them sooner. But they should understand that you were going through a difficult time in your life and that you made a responsible decision for your child based on your circumstances at the time.

—Kathleen Silber

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