Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Stranger Etiquette- I need your help!

This post has been brewing, and yesterday during a hike, it kind of came to a head. (Probably because I'm pregnant and I can't just be polite/passive in my current emotional state:)

As we were hiking a local trail we stopped to let the kids climb a little rock and a woman and her family walked past us, and on the way by she asked a few questions. "Did you adopt these kids? Are any of them yours?" "Where are they adopted from?" "Why not Africa?" "Do they have emotional problems?"
She didn't even say hello, or ask their names, or stop hiking!

And my gut, rude reaction is:
If you don't know me from Adam, you have no right asking me personal details about my children and their history and their current status. Especially in front of them!

I know we are quite the spectacle, and at this point I am not
(usually) offended by all of the staring and gawking we get. But people are very nosy and honestly, just rude about their curiosity of our family.

I can usually ignore the ignorance part of how people ask questions. But the actual just plain rude questions are getting very frustrating.

For those adoptive moms who are reading this, how do you respond when people ask you questions that are inappropriate? How about when you know they are trying to be polite but don't ask things in an appropriate manner?

For those of you who are reading this and don't know the adoptive "lingo" here are a few pointers. First off, the reason that using the correct, or positive, language when speaking about adoption is so important is that words are meant to evoke thought and feeling. And if we do not choose positive, affirming, and empowering words when speaking about adoption it sends the message that adoption (and therefore the children who have been adopted) are second best. We need to choose emotionally correct words rather than emotionally laden words.
Here is a few examples of the terms we often here from strangers that are very negative:
Real child- (referring to Tre) all of our children are real, and this implies that our adopted children are not as "real" to us as Tre. The correct term here would be biological child. And honestly, in my mind, it doesn't matter. All of our children are our children. Who is biological and who is not is none of your business, I could have had many black lovers! (David says when people ask this I should just say, they have a black dad.)

Is Adopted- my child WAS adopted, it was an event, he is no longer adopted, he is now ours, forever and ever. The correct term would be was adopted.

And there are plenty more, if you care to use the correct positive language when interacting with families you encounter, check out this link, it's a one page, short document that will help you understand.

Don't get me wrong, I love talking about our adoption stories! And I love being able to help people understand more about foster care and adoption in our community. But when doing it in front of my children, and often times without even an introduction or pleasantries being exchanged, it feels very intrusive and aggressive. I hope to find the correct language myself to use during these interactions, that is both educational and positive for the questioner, and for my children.

I often get the "Wow you've got your hands full!" comment, and someone gave me the idea to say, " They are full of wonderful things!" and I love that, because it is so demeaning when people say that, and this lets my children know, I am so glad I have them in my arms! So I need your ideas on how to politely answer people's questions and at the same time empower my children!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. Ok I need to introduce you to my friend Sara. Here is her blog, all about her adoption stories and she is feeling very similar to you! You can find her on my facebook page and you guys should talk... she rocks and you would totally love her.

  2. Amanda,
    A common response I have to nearly any question, if Sam is with me, is "He's my son." It often doesn't directly answer their question (For example if they asked, "Is he adopted?") but my point is made. Both to them and more importantly to my son. And I keep walking. I don't often stop if it's a stranger and he is with me. If I am cornered (check out line or something like that) I change the conversation. We are super open with Sam, as you know, but he needs to know that he isn't always on display.

    It also demonstrates to him that he doesn't have to answer everyone's questions.

    If I am alone I usually answer their questions if I know their heart is right and I use the correct terminology, hoping they will catch on. (if they ask me is Brooklyn your natural child? I'll respond with, I had her biologically) If I have any question about thei intentions or their heart in the matter. I call them out and tell them what the correct terminology is without worry about making them feel badly.

    I also find that I subconsciously touch him a lot than I do Brooklyn more when we are out.... hand on his head or with my arm around him... it isn't intentional but I found myself doing it as a claiming and protecting gesture. That shows you how often we get questions while we are out... I was subconciously protecting him!

    People are self absorbed and honestly usually haven't thought through what they say before they speak. That doesn't make it okay, that's the part they don't always realize. You'll find your way and you'll get comfortable with it.

  3. I don't have anything appropriate that you could respond with....all my responses would be inappropriate and involve hand gestures...

  4. Unfortunately, I'm in the same boat as Katie. But if you ever decide you just want to respond inappropriately, please give me a call.


  5. I lean towards Katie's response too. But Courtney has great wisdom in responding more directly when people are 'not thinking' about what their ?'s might do.
    I mean, come on, people are so stupid now - you caught grief when you tried to adopt from Africa, and now you catch grief for adopting an American child - Really?!
    I suppose Tre is learning how to respond as well. Maybe if gave his simple "he's my broter" response people would realize not only that THE KIDS CAN HEAR, but that their question is not right in front of said children...
    I am not sure what you should do with much older people (older than me, i mean). I think they really don't get it. So a little more compassion for them might be in order, unless they are just plain bigots ;0) LYI - Oma

  6. I've encountered this multiple times because my husband is Filipino. I've had some serious rudeness thrown my way and have come to the conclusion that people think that they are entitled to KNOW the details of something that can't quite be visually explained. For example, when my husband was with me we would simply receive knowing glances. BUT when I was solo I got questions such as "Where'd'ya get her at?" "Is she one of them China babies?" "He must look like his Daddy because he certainly doesn't look like you." "Don't you feel bad that none of the kids look like you?" "You must be the Nanny - do you babysit for some wealthy Asians?" AND all of these questions were conducted in the presence of my children! Sometimes while we were eating at restaurants. People would interrupt my time with the kids because they needed to KNOW the details of our situation. The kids felt like objects. It got so bad that when our daughter was about 2yrs she would automatically say to an approaching stranger "I no China baby!" We laugh about it now but when they were younger we really had to operate in wisdom and grace, attempting to model acceptable behavior and at the same time set boundaries to protect our kids from unnecessary rudeness.

    I'll keep you in prayer. Aye, Aye, people are freaks!