Questions Come With the Territory

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It's Saturday afternoon at the grocery store. As you wait in the slow moving checkout line, the grandmotherly woman in front of you turns and grins at your daughter in the grocery cart. The woman comments, "Doesn't she have big, dark eyes!" She looks up into your face, and seeing no resemblance, asks, "Is she your child?"

Questions like this come with the territory if you are a family by adoption. Most people ask without thinking and without ill intent. They are uniformed about adoption and don't understand how the question may be perceived. As one adoptive parent reports, "We haven't run into many jerks." Still, the questions catch adoptive parents off guard, especially after the child first joins the family.

One couple told us of an encounter with a complete stranger, who after learning they adopted, pursued the question "Why?" The stranger wouldn't let the question drop and finally asked, "Which one of you is infertile?" They responded, "We are." That seemed to do the trick. Some parents who had similar confrontations successfully used humor to deflect the question, while others preferred turning the tables.

An adoptive mother was window-shopping with her three-month-old daughter in the mall. The security guard approached and asked, "Is that your baby?" The mother said, "Yes." The guard continued asking questions until she finally asked the mother, "Where did she come from?" The mother replied, "Would you like me to explain the birds and bees to you?"

It doesn't take long to learn what questions will be asked. The difficult part is to feel comfortable answering these questions. Few people take you aside and ask quietly about the parentage of your children. The most intrusive, insensitive questions come in the most public place at the quietest moment.

The director of one adoption agency suggested that more adoptive parents should try to develop a thicker skin, take the questions at face value, and think about your responses. As the Boy Scouts say, always be prepared.

A good place to begin the preparation is with the most asked questions. Adoptive parents said that some people usually ask some variation of the eight questions listed below.

1. Is that your child?
2. Where did you get him/her?
3. Why?
4. How much did it cost?
5. How long did you have to wait?
6. Do you know anything about the "real" parents?
7. Are you going to tell your child he/she is adopted?
8. Aren't you afraid of a "Baby Jessica" situation?

Knowing the questions before they are asked gives adoptive parents the opportunity to develop the answers. These answers, of course, will depend upon the adoptive family's situation, the context in which the question was asked, and who is doing the asking. New adoptive parents can soon distinguish a nosy busybody from a person with a sincere interest.

Keep in mind that not answering a question is sometimes an appropriate response; just because a question is asked doesn't mean it must be answered. Sometimes answering a question with a question is warranted. If the person doing the asking just won't quit, ask, "Why do you want to know?" That should give sufficient pause for escape.

While the topic among family and friends will change from how your family grew to how your family is growing, the questions for new acquaintances and strangers will continue to fall into one of the eight on the list. As your child grows, so must your answers. Your child will not only begin to understand the content of your answers, but how comfortable you are answering the questions.

The way in which you handle the questions provides a foundation for your child to begin answering the questions they receive.

Most adoptive parents said they used a two-pronged approach to dealing with questions asked in front of their children. First, they use a combination of humor and direct answers. One mother said that when people ask, "Are they adopted?" while pointing at her children, she replies, "Yes, aren't you?" She said the only time it failed to bring the discussion to a close was when the woman responded, "Yes, and she looks so much like me when I was little!"

More than one parent said that they would take the opportunity to make a point of telling their child, in front of the person asking the question, something like, "Sometimes people ask questions that are really none of their business."

Depending upon the age of the child, the parent may continue, "Do you want to answer this question?" The parents reason that it may make the questioner aware of their insensitivity and it will demonstrate to their child that they have control over the answers, if not the questions.

Every parent interviewed said that next, they listened to their child to find out about how they were feeling about the questions. Many initiated the discussion by making a comment such as, "People ask the dumbest things, don't they?" They felt that they could better cope with any concerns once they were out in the open.

To address their child's concerns about questions, one family said they stress the fact that everyone, adopted or not, is asked personal questions. They explained to their son that if he walked with a limp, was very tall, or had some other discernible trait that was "different," he would be questioned about those. It just happens that his "difference" is adoption.

"Adoption is part of a family history. People ask questions. It's just something we learn to deal with."

Or, try this...

Here's an approach to handling strangers and their nosy questions from F.C.E. member Linda Kettering: "When people who are strangers ask an intrusive question about adoption (for example, "Why did you choose Korea?), I say to them, 'Oh, that's a really loooong story. If you have about an hour, I'll tell you about it." That usually ends that question!

"Of course, with my friends, I'm willing to share information as I choose-but this works great when you just don't want to get into it."

Credits: Leigh Schindler Powell

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