Parenting With Puke: and Other Food Issues


Our children have some pretty significant food issues. It’s fairly common for children who come from an environment where they often went unfed. To this day we have to explain to doctors why Mary doesn’t know how to drink a beverage. She will hold a bottle or cup to her lips and chug until the entire thing is gone. Then she gasps for air and clutches her stomach, feeling sick. We have to portion out water or give her straws to encourage sipping. Because of the way she attacks drinking, Mary hates liquid and assumes it will make her sick. It’s like pulling teeth to keep her hydrated on a hot day.

When Marcus and Sean lived here they each had to know they had their own food available. For Marcus, we bought him a huge package of Clif bars at Costco. He kept it under his bed and never touched it. It was helpful just to know it was there. Sean, on the other hand, had a mountain of perishable food items under his bed. He had half eaten tubs of frosting, boxes of crackers, uncooked pasta that he ate raw. We found a molding tub of cream cheese with a spoon cemented to the middle. Sean could, and did, throw up at will. He was always eating or holding food in his hand. We never knew how severe the problem was until we cleaned out his room and found the food. Having a box of non-perishables did not make him feel safe.

For Carl, the issue is a bit different. He scarfs food down like a baby velociraptor. He shoves bite after bite into his mouth without stopping to chew or even swallow. His cheeks are puffed out to the max and he eats everything within a few minutes. If you aren’t careful he will try to move on to your plate next! When he is upset it’s impossible to slow him down or stop him. Carl will eat 5 helpings if we let him, and then promptly get sick. And then eat some more.

This is how Carl ended up with a tear in the lining of his stomach. It caused him to vomit everything, even ice chips. We took him to the pediatrician, and later the hospital for tests. I won’t lie, it was really scary. At first we just thought it was his trauma-eating. As it turns out, over time, this kind of eating can do some serious stomach damage. We try to give him small portions a little at a time. We space out snacks, meal courses, etc so he has time to digest. We make a big deal to count his “chews” and encourage him to chew really well. It’s very difficult to re-teach the eating habits a child learns in the first 5 years of life.

So I was home with the little guy all of last week. He’s 11 now, but when he’s sick his emotional age is somewhere around toddler. Because of this he was extra sweet and snuggly. He could only eat soup, jello, tea and other clear fluids. I made him tiny meals and gave him medication throughout the day. The poor guy missed field day, but no way could he go.

Call me a terrible mom, but I loved it. I got the opportunity to take care of my little guy. I wasn’t just providing care, I was providing care that was working! I can’t tell you how good that made me feel, especially with what’s going on with Mary right now. I felt like I was being a good mom. I could see my efforts pay off. And best of all? Carl and I got to hang out stress-free, and without physical danger. I’m not happy Mary is at RTC but I am happy that Carl seems so much more at ease. That’s right. Vomit is not as scary as murder.

Even with all of the vomit, Carl and I had super fun! We played CLUE, and Beat the Parents and Monopoly Deal. Papa came for a playdate and taught Carl to play Yahtzee! We read books and watched the Harry Potter movies. I rubbed his back and kept him hydrated. He is such a neat kid to spend time with. Although I love and miss our daughter, I am truly grateful for this one-on-one time with Carl. I hate the fact that it took puke to get me some individual parenting time with him.

As he grows up he will want to spend more and more time with his friends. But while we are on the cusp of adolescence? I’ll take all the parent-time I can get.

Not even puke could keep me away!!


**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.


9 thoughts on “Parenting With Puke: and Other Food Issues

  1. Nyasa Broadus says:

    I have a 5.5 year old son I’m in the process of adopting. He vomits at will when he sees a food he doesn’t “think”he likes. Sometimes even before the first bite he’s vomiting. He just sits at the table, no effort to make it to the bathroom or a trash can and purges. Everyone is grossed out because it’s always while we’re sitting for dinner as a family. He’s told his therapist he enjoys the way it feels and he likes eating his vomit. I am so grossed out by this thing he does that I run from the room. I haven’t figured out if it’s a texture thing or if it’s a visual thing.


    • Thank you for stopping by and sharing your story. I’ve heard of similar situations. Family dinner was stressful for Carl when he first came home. He wasn’t used to it. Sometimes kids from hard places keep anything and everything that is “theirs.” This might include vomit or feces. It’s sort of like they made something on their own. The texture may fill a sensory seeking need for your son.

      Carl used to throw his dinner at me every night, have a tantrum, and get sent to eat in his room. It took us awhile to figure out that dinner was so stressful for him. He needed to feel a sense of control. So we have lots of options (color of the plate, big or little spoon, rice or a bread roll etc) within the same dinner. Making choices helped him to feel like he was safe and his world wasn’t out of control. Your son cannot control what you do at dinner unless he vomits. Chances are, he can control that.

      I’m sorry that’s happening! Best of luck to you.


    • Thank you. Glad to see you’re still with me! We did some sensory work with both kids. Mary has sensory diet. They are used to fighting for a finite amount of food so they eat as quickly as possible. Carl says he knows logically he has enough food and always will now. It’s just that he forgets to eat “the way we do.” So we are these super-crazy-helicopter parents in restaurants telling our 11 year old, “take small bites. Good chewing!” He’s not a toddler but he still needs the help. His tummy is better now.


  2. Pingback: On the Frontlines of Food Insecurity | Herding Chickens and Other Adventures in Foster and Adoptive Care

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