Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash
I may have given up cursing when my wife and I adopted two toddlers from Russia, but that didn’t mean I gave up being a wise-ass. Because I’m a humor writer, I’ve always prided myself on having snappy answers for clueless questions.
When my children ask me every summer if I’d like watermelon even though they know I loathe it, I always answer, “No thanks; I’m trying to cut down.” When a telephone solicitor called and told me someone was sending bad messages from inside my computer, I replied, “I have a laptop. I don’t think there’s enough room in there.” And whenever people come into the retail store where I work and ask if I work there even though there's a company logo on my shirt, I always cheerily respond, “Last time I checked….”
Despite my pride in thinking on my feet, I admit I was caught off guard the first time I was pushing my newly adopted children in a stroller, and someone asked: "Are they yours?"
It took all of the spare, sleep-deprived brain cells I could rub together to shoot back, "No, I've never seen them before. I just happened to be pushing this double stroller down the street, it was cold, and they wanted a place to warm up."
My response may seem incredibly flip to some, but ten years later, I'm still annoyed by some of the prying questions people felt they had a right to ask when they saw this then-42-year-old dad out with his kids in the middle of the business day. I mean, if the kids are in a stroller and I'm pushing it, why wouldn’t they be mine? I admit I'm an older parent, but why was it assumed that they were my grandkids? And what business is it of yours anyway?
It didn't take long for me to develop a thick skin, though. When a nodding acquaintance from my synagogue asked if they were mine, I looked around, then whispered, "Why? What have you heard."
Ever the glutton for punishment, she foolishly followed up with a question about their age. I 'fessed up and told her they were 13 months and 20 months.
Once I could see she was doing the addition in her head, I said, "Isn't math a wonderful thing" on my way out the door.
Not all adoptive parents are as fast on their feet, however. Instead, many of them devote most of their diminished capacity to actually being good role models. As a community service to them, here's a quick list of questions you should never ask an adoptive parent and the reactions you deserve to get if you do.
Are they yours?
Weren't you paying attention to what I just said? Anybody who asks the question this way gets what they deserve. And that could be anything from sarcastic to angry. It may sound like an innocent question, but I don't recall anyone ever asking birth parents about their children's pedigrees.
Are they brother and sister/brothers/sisters/siblings?
Well, they're members of the same family, they're about the same age, they bicker, beat each other up, rat each other out if they think it will help, then turn around and declare their undying love for each other when they think no one's looking. What would you call them?
Why did you adopt from x and not from y?
This question seems judgmental to me. You might as well be saying, “There are so many babies out there that look like you why did you choose one that looks so different?” Or “There are so many underprivileged kids from third world countries, why did you pick someone that looks like you?”
How much did it cost?
Unless you’re offering to cover my expenses or make a donation to my Go Fund Me page, it’s really none of your business. I mean, I didn’t ask you how much you spent on your plastic surgery, why do you feel you have a right to know?
Are you sterile?
Insert face-palm. There are many reasons that people opt to adopt, and we may not want to share it with you. Or we may not know you well enough to feel comfortable telling you.
Now, here are some questions you can ask.
- Wow, what great kids. I understand you adopted them. Would you be willing to talk about it?
- If you don’t mind my asking, what was that like?
- Have I mentioned how great your kids are?
The truth is, finding the right question to ask isn't all that difficult. Before you say something (just to hear yourself talk), stop, and think if you'd want someone to ask you the same question. If the answer is no, you might want to rethink your question.