Setting Up Boundaries in Washington Adoption Conversations is CRUCIAL

For some reason, people seem to think that they can ask parents anything and everything about their children. For adoptive parents, this is amplified. It is incredible that people think it is ok to ask you all about your adoption, even in front of your child. When you adopt a child from a different race, the fact that your child is adopted is more obvious and people are often particularly curious about transracial adoption. This leads to more inappropriate questions, which leads to more uncomfortable situations for you and your child.

The key thing to remember is that you do not owe anyone an answer to any of their questions.

Even when it is a family member or close friend who asks you impertinent questions, it is ok to decline to answer or change the subject. You can also choose to stop the conversation for the moment and bring it up on your own terms later when you feel ready to discuss it with that person. I am all for educating people about adoption and foster care, but I do not believe that makes me obliged to answer every question people ask me.

Intrusive Adoption Questions Can Catch You Off Guard

Intrusive questions, especially when asked out of the blue by strangers, can throw you off guard and leave you grasping for a response. One thing that I’ve found is very helpful in setting boundaries is deciding how you are going to respond to common questions ahead of time so you’re not put on the spot. There will, of course, be some questions you are still not prepared to answer. It will be nice, however, when you are inevitably asked for the umpteenth time, “Are your kids real siblings” or “Do you have any kid of your own?” to know exactly what you want to say.

There are many ways you can respond to these types of questions from giving a straightforward answer, to pointing out their rudeness, to being sarcastic, or changing the subject. You may also want to be flexible about how you respond depending on context. One way to do that is to respond with “Why do you ask?” to see if people genuinely want to learn about adoption, or if they are just being nosy.

Two Ways to Prepare for Adoption Questions

There are two parts to preparing for these types of adoption questions. You can:

  1. prepare for common questions specifically, and;
  2. you can determine in advance how much you want to share in general.

How you respond and how much you share will likely vary based on your relationship to the person who is asking the question. It is especially helpful to think through in advance whether you will share the fact that your child is adopted with strangers.

Some people choose to share about adoption at every opportunity and always respond in a positive way to show their kids that being adopted is something they can be proud of and there is no reason to hide it. For other people, they choose only to share that their child is adopted with friends and family because they want to respect their child’s privacy and give their child an example of setting healthy personal boundaries. Both of these are good approaches because they aim to help the child have a healthy sense of self.

Whatever you choose as your preferred response, you need to do what is in the best interest of your child and your family, regardless of how demanding the questioner is.

Even before you welcome your child home, the questions will begin when people find out you are pursuing adoption, so it’s good to start preparing now! When you are asked these types of questions, know you are not alone. This is a perfect example of why making friends with other adoptive parents can be so helpful: they will totally understand in a way that non-adoptive parents cannot. Sometimes it can be a relief to just be able to share an awkward conversation with someone who can say “I know, right? I hate when that happens.”

Heather Pincelli

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