Parenting Tips: “Why Do You Ask?”
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a ministry of America World Adoption
“….a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:12
Why Do You Ask?
When you are an adoptive parent, you expect that you will get questions and comments from other people about your adoption. It just comes with the territory. People are curious; they feel they have the right to know the details; they are interested in adoption themselves; they are just being nosy—the motivation behind the question may vary, but somebody sometime is going to ask for details about the adoption, and as adoptive parents, we need to decide up front what we will share and how we will respond.
Folks who adopt a child of another race probably get the most questions and comments. Whenever parents and children don’t “match,” people notice and comment. We call these transracial families “conspicuous,” meaning they stand out and draw attention. But even adoptions that occur within the same race can be conspicuous. Take our adoption for example, and let me give you the visual. I am five foot tall when I stand up straight. I have brown hair and brown eyes. My husband is about 5’7”, with brown hair and brown eyes. Our children by birth range from 4’11” to 5’6”, all with brown hair and brown eyes. Our son by adoption? He’s 6’2” tall, with blond hair and blue eyes. While I think he is devastatingly gorgeous, he does certainly stand out, and over the years, that has drawn all kinds of attention to our family.
From people who don’t know he is adopted, I have been asked, “How come he has blond hair and blue eyes?”, “Does your husband have blond hair and blue eyes?”, and “Does the mailman have blond hair and blue eyes (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)?” From people who know he is adopted, I have been asked, “Why did you adopt him?, “How much did the adoption cost?” and “What do you know about his real mother?” The list could go on and on.
When our son was young, another adoptive mother gave me a piece of advice that I now share with the families I work with. She said that when it comes to people other than our child, adoptive parents are under no obligation to answer any questions, and we don’t owe anyone an explanation about the adoption. I have taken that advice to heart. I don’t feel I have to give any information the adoption, the cost, the process, or his “real” mother (who would be me, by the way). I can’t stop people from asking questions, but I don’t have to give them the answer they are looking for.
Instead, I have come up with my own way to answer these questions: I put a quizzical look on my face, I furrow my eyebrows, and I counter back with “Why do you ask?”
This often stops people in their tracks. It forces them to pause and reflect on their motives for asking the question. It gently points out that their question is intrusive or rude. It puts the burden on the asker to defend why they feel like they need to know such information. Without getting angry or indignant, it has shut down some potentially awkward situations.
I recommended this strategy to an African American woman who adopted a bi-racial child. During the subsequent home study for a second child, she told me she has been asked if she is the child’s nanny. She responds back with, “why do you ask?” and the person usually stammers as they try to explain why they would make that assumption. Friends who adopted from India told me a family member asked them how much their adoption cost. “Why do you ask?” they countered, and the family member could not come up with a reason for such a nosy question. My friend who adopted after infertility has been asked why she couldn’t have “her own” children. “Why do you ask?” is her response, highlighting the insensitivity of such a personal (and poorly-worded) question.
Now let me add that there are times when the person asking the question has a legitimate desire for information. Maybe they are asking about the cost because they have been considering adoption and are wondering if they can afford it. Maybe someone is struggling with infertility and considering if adoption is right for them. Maybe the person is unsure whether to adopt from the United States or another country and seeing your Chinese child has made them curious about the process and procedure. If that is the case and you feel someone’s question is legitimate, you may wish to share some information about the adoption, perhaps in a different setting than the grocery store check-out line or at the family reunion.
So before you jump into an answer about the adoption, ask the person why they are asking, and see what they have to say. By first discerning someone’s motives, you have the option to decide what, if anything, you want to share, and if you feel a person’s motives are inappropriate, you can have a graceful end to the conversation.
This article was written by Diane Hood, Clinical Supervisor with America World Adoption, and the Director of Social Services in our Georgia office. Diane has more than 20 years experience in the adoption field and she is a parent by birth and by adoption.
ACT (Adoption Coaching and Training) is a ministry of America World Adoption designed to support families through training, support groups, and individualized coaching. Explore ACT services on our website HERE and reach out to us today for a free consultation to make a plan to meet your needs.