When your family in one way or another fits outside what society deems the norm, you become (whether you like it or not) an ad for the particular thing that sets you apart.
If you are a homeschooler and you take your kids out grocery shopping during the day on a weekday, people may ask why your kids aren’t in school and when you or your kids reply that they are homeschooled, you become their image of what homeschoolers are.
If you are a transracial adoptive family and you go out in public ever, you become the image for people of what an adoptive family is.
If you have a large family and you go out and are asked “are they all yours?” or “are you babysitting?”, from the minute you open your mouth to answer, you have become in that person’s mind, the image of what a large family is.
If you are a single parent family, a two parent family with an only child, a stay-at-home mom, a family who shuns technology, a family with a special needs child, a Christian family, anything and everything that sets you apart from what is considered “normal”, you inadvertently become a walking ad for that particular group that you represent. This is an important responsibility. You can shape and mould people’s opinions of the type of family you represent by how you conduct yourself.
Does this mean that when you are out, your children need to have perfect behaviour? No! Not at all! In my opinion, once you are aware that you represent a certain group that people may have already developed stereotypes for, you just need to represent it well in the following ways:
Be gracious. Yes, the questions can be annoying and even offensive. Yes, your time is precious and being stopped by strangers to ask you the same questions over and over again can eat that time up. But if you keep in mind that this person is formulating an opinion not about you, but about the entire group that you represent, then answering their questions graciously can positively impact their perspective for others who will go after you as well.
Be prepared. By rehearsing responses to common questions ahead of time, you can save time and you can answer in a way you won’t regret later. You won’t, however be able to prepare for every question. Even now, years after becoming a family that stands out, I am still sometimes shocked and caught off guard by some of the strange questions I get asked, especially when they are asked in front of my children.
Prepare your children. Discuss with your kids the concept that because your family looks different than some families or has made different choices than some families, you may get questioned and that in a way, you are representing all homeschool families or all adoptive families or all “insert title here” families. Explain that people are naturally curious. Be sure to rehearse with them some non-answers as well that are polite but protect their privacy. These can include things such as “those aren’t things we share with people outside of our family but it was nice to meet you. Have a great day.” or “I’m not comfortable answering that because I don’t know you, but there are a lot of good answers on the internet about adoption.”
Role play different scenarios at home so that your kids are pros before they are even put in the situation. For example, pretend that you are a cashier at the grocery store and ask them, “why aren’t you in school today?” and have them practise saying, “I am homeschooled so this is school” or “I’m homeschooled and I love it” or “I’m homeschooled so this is like recess” or whatever answer the two of you come up with together that they are comfortable with.
Show compassion. This is similar to showing grace. By understanding that human beings are curious by nature and that there are even things that we are curious about because we are unfamiliar with them, we can show compassion to the ignorant comments or questions that may come our way.
Be an ambassador. When we used to be foster parents, I carried business cards for our foster agency with me and sometimes even pamphlets because I found that often the reason that people asked questions was that they, themselves had considered fostering or adopting and they were looking for more information. Now I carry a business card with this blog address as well as the one for my adoption blog.
I find the same is often true for homeschooling. Sometimes they have a family member who has chosen to homeschool and they are worried about them and when they see your seemingly functional family out in the community, it helps set their mind at ease.
I often think of Michelle Duggar when I am confronted with situations where it feels like our family is almost under scrutiny. Whether or not you agree with her family’s choices (they are a Christian, homeschooling family with 19 children who have a reality TV series), there is no denying that she always portrays children as a blessing and that she spreads that message through her words and actions. She is an ambassador for appreciating and cherishing your children and if I can emulate that even some of the time, then I am succeeding.
Use judgement and discretion. I am not suggesting that you stop everything you are doing to have a half an hour conversation with everyone who asks you about your lifestyle choices. You will be able to tell about thirty seconds into a conversation if the person is asking out of sheer curiosity or if it is because they have some sort of a personal connection and want more information for a purpose. If the latter is the case, you may choose to have a more in-depth conversation or you may choose to exchange email addresses to provide them with more information that way. Be sure to also use discretion not to share things that are private with strangers.
Our experience. We are obviously not what society considers a “normal” family. We are used to being the “poster family” for…you name it! We were foster parents for eight years, five of our children are adopted; we have a large family; we homeschool; we are Christians; we are a transracial family; we are a family with special needs children; I am a stay-at-home mom. I am used to the stares and the questions and feeling like we are under a microscope when we go out. I have chosen to use it as a positive. I feel like it is a privilege to be able to represent adoption and homeschooling, two things I am passionate about. I feel that our having so many kids speaks to our feeling that children are a blessing.
But being this walking ad can also be exhausting. The stares and the scrutiny can feel like judgement when I am out and about with the kids if we are having a bad day or if their behaviour is less than stellar in public. Some days, I wish we could just run into the store and grab some milk without being stopped three times and asked twenty questions. We chose this life though, this slightly unusual life that inspires curiosity and questions and we have tried to make the best of it.
How does your family handle being a walking ad?