Nosy Questions, Little Ears

When your child is an infant, you can brush off nosy questions without much thought. But now that she's in preschool, it's best to get her involved.

A supermarket employee asking nosy questions of an adoptive mother

Many adoptive parents have been standing in line at a grocery store when a total stranger asks: “Is he your child?” or “Are you his real mother?” or “Are they real brothers and sisters?” When our children were babies, we might have brushed off such questions with a polite but hurried response. But now that our kids are older — and able to follow our conversations — we’re faced with a more delicate situation. How much information do we offer inquiring minds, while protecting our child’s privacy?

Talking to Strangers

When dealing with nosy questions, the most important rule of thumb is to always put your child’s needs first. Never divulge details that your preschooler has never heard before (new information is best shared privately at home), and keep your answers brief, factual, and to the point. Use a calm, cooperative tone — so your child understands that adoption is not a scary or uncomfortable topic—and body language that conveys a sense of ease. For instance, you might stand or sit comfortably, set down your packages briefly, or lean lightly against your child’s stroller. Most important, use positive language that emphasizes family ties, such as “Yes, he’s my son,” “I’m his mother,” “We are a real family,” “They are sisters,” “I adopted my children,” and so on.

As your child becomes a bit older (around age five), you might ask how he feels about such public conversations: Is it OK that you talk about him and your family with strangers? Would he prefer to answer some questions on his own or have you help him do so? Would he rather that you not discuss the fact that he’s adopted? Whatever the answer, follow your child’s wishes.

If your child is uncomfortable with nosy questions, don’t feel that you have to answer them. You can politely and pleasantly say, “I’m sorry, but we are enjoying special family time right now. I don’t really have time to talk.” This strategy is also appropriate if the question or person is rude.

Whatever you decide, remember that your child is listening to your words and to the tone of your voice. Try not to convey discomfort or shame about the topic, but rather express “apologies” to a stranger about the timing of the encounter.

Revisit encounters later on with your child. If you were posed a hurtful question, discuss why you think it was wrong or ignorant. You might say, “That person must not know anything about adoption. She doesn’t know that we love each other just like every family.” If the experience was positive, ask your child how he felt. Kids’ impressions change over time, so check in with your child often.


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