Following yesterday’s post about when your family is a walking ad for a certain type of non-traditional role, I received a lot of comments both on the blog, on Facebook and via e-mail. The main issue people raised was not knowing how to handle when strangers ask rude questions. I can only speak for myself and how I have chosen to handle that situation. I can also speak to what I have found to be the most effective method over the years of trial and error in this regard.
I want to first clarify that I am not speaking about the usual curious questions that families that stand out get when in public. These techniques are for using only when the questions or comments are rude and spoken in a tone that conveys that rudeness.
There are three main ways that I think these scenarios can be handled…by being blunt, by being honest or by being cheesy. I will give several examples of each of these in real world scenarios to give you a good foundation on how they work and then I will tell you which one I have found to be by far the most effective.
“How much did she cost?”
Blunt – “I’m sorry about the look on my face but I am honestly shocked that you would speak about my daughter as though she were a piece of furniture!”
Honest – “There is no price tag on human beings. If you are asking how much her adoption cost because adoption is something you are considering, I would be happy to give you the phone number of our adoption agency.”
Cheesy – “Like all of my children, she is priceless!”
“Where is her real mom?”
Blunt – “Her real mom is standing right in front of you.”
Honest – “It is generally accepted to use words such as ‘biological’ or ‘first parent’ when referring to what I assume you are referring to, however I am about as real as it gets!”
Cheesy – “I am so proud to be her real mom. Aren’t I blessed?!”
“How do you handle being with them all day? If I had to homeschool, I think I’d kill myself.” (yes, all of these are honestly questions I have fielded over the years!)
Blunt – “If I had to homeschool your kids, I’d feel the same way!” (ok, I’m kidding! I would NEVER actually say that!)
Honest – “There are certainly days when it is a challenge but I rely on God for my patience when I get to the end of myself and He hasn’t let me down yet.”
Cheesy – “Their childhoods goes by so quickly and I don’t want to miss a moment!”
“My kids knew better at that age.” (in reference to my then-9 year old tantrumming)
Blunt – “Congratulations on raising your neurotypical kids well!” (I probably couldn’t say that with a straight face.)
Honest – “Some special needs are invisible and compassion goes a long way.”
Cheesy – “It has been both a challenge and a privilege to raise a child with special needs but I wouldn’t trade him for the world!”
I previously wrote more on some of the real world questions we have encountered that are so strange they just boggle my mind and on how I chose to respond to them.
Another way that works to some degree is to speak in generalities like in the case where someone asks:
“Were they orphaned?”
Generalities – “Children come to adoption for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons include poverty, their first family being unable to care for them due to illness, the death of one or both parents, war or famine, or a first parent making an adoption plan for their child.”
“Why don’t you just have your own children?”
Generalities – “People choose adoption for a variety of reasons. These reasons may include infertility, secondary infertility, feeling called to adopt, or wanting to provide a home for one of the more than 147 million orphans in the world.”
The benefit of generalities is that it allows you to answer the question without divulging any of your child’s personal story. The negative of generalities is that when using this technique, the answer is usually followed by many more questions.
The most important thing to keep in mind when answering any question:
The stranger standing in front of you will be in your life for a few minutes. Your kids who are within earshot of the conversation will be in your life forever. I tailor every answer so that it builds my kids up and lets them know that I love them, am proud of them and would do it again (adopt them, birth them, homeschool them) in a heartbeat!
The most effective way to end the conversation but keep your kids’ hearts intact:
By far the single most effective way to shut down conversations that are making you uncomfortable is to use either the cheesy technique or to bring God into it because who can argue with God? An example would be:
“Why would anyone choose to have this many children?”
God – “God called me to this and I’m so glad He did. It has been a challenge but such an incredible blessing!”
(Do you see how I combined giving God the glory and the cheesy technique?!)
By using the cheesy technique, you are able to stop the conversation before it starts while at the same time reinforcing to your kids that they are a blessing.
Keep the conversation going in the car.
After a rude encounter with a stranger, I feel that it is important to acknowledge it with your kids afterwards to see if it brought up any feelings in them that they need to discuss. You may choose to say something such as, “you know when that woman in the store asked me why you were brown, how did that make you feel?” It’s also appropriate after they have shared your feelings to share your own feelings about the situation too in an age-appropriate way that keeps the child’s dignity intact. You can also turn it into a learning experience by discussing what sorts of questions are and are not appropriate to ask of strangers.
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I think you came up with some excellent answers. I try to have a few one liners in my mind to deal with the rude ones. IT seems like they always strike when I am overwhelmed already.
You are so right Dawn…they seem to hit me when I’m down too.
I think those are well thought out answers. Ours are from extended family as well and they are rude. I’m not sure how to handle those. I usually just clam up and don’t talk in those situations.
With extended family, it’s trickier than with strangers because strangers you never have to see again whereas with family, you will have to presumably have a relationship for years to come. I’m not sure if you issue is homeschool related or adoption related or special needs related, but on the chance that it is homeschool related, I wrote a post earlier this year over on The Homeschool Village about what to do when your family doesn’t support your decision to homeschool. Hope it helps a bit… http://www.thehomeschoolvillage.com/2012/11/when-family-doesnt-support-your-decision-to-homeschool.html
Honestly, I am kind, but extra firm with extended family. (These questions haven’t happened in years form them, but I do remember vividly!!!) After all, you are going to have to be related to them forever, one way or another. I we prepared our anwers, and were very firm with rude relatives! Most, of course, were lovely, but there is always one…
Thanks for posting more about this…. I love talking adoption, with those who love hearing….. Unfortunately, the rude questions are very difficult for me… the same question can be asked with a smile, and joy, leaving me honoured and privilegded to share….Asked with the dreaded scowl followed by the invasive, rude, tone, leaves me frustrated. I don’t want to be blunt, but I also struggle with answering people when I feel they are attacking my family, especially with precious little ears listening…. Anyways I really appreciate this… Love your response options. Thank you SOOOOOOO much <3 It always seems like these questions come when I am frazzled, running late, or already exhausted and least expecting…. so that doesn't help…
I really appreciated yesterday's post, and the response " we don't discuss their history/story/info with people outside our family"… I also like your honest response to the " cost" of the child( referring to the cost of adoption) great way to educate with grace and wisdom…. (apparently according to your responses, I am naturally cheesy… LOL who knew… )
Do you mind sharing your response to "why their birthmother/parents didn't want them.." I Think this is the worst question. In our case that wasn't the case…I just find this question so beyond invasive, it always makes my blood boil…. ( which is never a good thing…)
Thanks Sharla… this week seems to be question central for me, so your posts have been timed perfectly <3 ( maybe it's because we are just starting to get out of our year cocooning… so the kids are being seen more ) Anyways, I apparently wasn't prepared the other day when I was prodded with questions… Feeling a little more confident now, in my future responses… so thanks again for sharing your wisdom…
Joni, In response to that question, I would either use the generalizing approach and say something like “birthparents generally desperately wish they could parent their children but due to a variety of circumstances, that is not always possible” or say something along the cheesy technique such as “all of her parents love her and want her very much. She is an adored little girl.”
Thanks Sharla… appreciate both those responses =D
I definitely go cheesy first for well-meaning but nosy strangers, blunt for nasties, and general for people I like but aren’t close.
I have to echo the sentiment about the conversation continuing later… sometimes I even start it in front of the person, to teach them too! Or just a little further down the aisle….. (grocery shopping!! lol)
Amy B says
This is an amazing post! Thank you for sharing so much. I haven’t adopted a child but I have six children and we get a lot of rude comments. I think I need to memorize this…
Thanks Amy! Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately depending on how you look at it), I’ve had a lot of practise with answering rude questions! I think most large families can relate.
I think if someone asked me why I didn’t just have my own children I’d just say “Because I love her/him.” or “They are my own.” I used to get really mad (when I was young and not following Christ) about people having biological children. I used to say that if you wouldn’t love a child just as much regardless of their provenance, you shouldn’t have any.
Kelli F says
Loved this. We endure these questions as well. Both of our children are African American and my husband and I are Caucasian, so we get asked all the time: Are they adopted? (I’m assuming they think they are Foster children) Our answer, “No, recessive gene!” Love the looks on their faces when they try and figure that one out. We have also responded with, “Shhhh, they are color blind and we haven’t told them yet.” Then we let them down and tell them yes, they are our children through the blessing of adoption. We figure if they are going to ask a question like that in front of our children, we can have a little fun. We really don’t mind some of the questions, as our favorite thing to do is talk about our children, but being rude and putting our children in uncomfortable situations is uncalled for, especially if there is a group of their peers around.
My favorite response to crazy adoption questions is…”Why do you ask?” I usually get a stare and a confused response or something like “oh, I was just wondering.” Then I usually respond back with a smile and an, “oh, I see…” And then I stand in silence until they go away or realize their question was probably inappropriate. Works like a charm every single time!!
I will have to try to remember that one in the moment. I’m sure it would be effective.
The rudest question I ever received about my girls was during a funeral. My girls were 6 and had just lost a grandmother that they were very close to. Just before the funeral my girls and I had just viewed the body and had come back to sit down in the family section before other guests were invited into the room. I am sitting there weeping as my girls are both clinging to me and weeping as well. An acquaintance comes up to me and asks me “Are they Hispanic. They look Latino.” I just turned and glared at him and said “My dad was very dark”. This is true however irrelevant since my girls are adopted. Their Bio dad is Hispanic but they did not know this at the time and I didn’t think sharing new information with an almost stranger 2 inches from their sobbing heads was appropriate.
Living in China as a white couple with 4 bio and a Chinese adopted son people often make a comment or ask why my son looks different. I just say his dad has black hair too…