"Is your son adopted?"
You’re standing at the checkout line at the supermarket, and someone leans over your shoulder and oohs and aahs: "What a beautiful baby. Is she yours?" Or you’re watching your son navigate the play structure at a playground when someone you’ve never met asks, "Is your son adopted? How much did he cost?" Or the boy and girl you adopted from two different birth families in the United States are playing happily together and a neighbor asks, "Are they real brother and sister?"
Adoptive families say they’re often asked deeply personal questions by people they don’t know. "There’s a general sense that people have the permission to say anything they want," says Susan Jordan, the mother of a son and daughter from Honduras. "They don’t imagine we would have feelings about it or that we would feel about our children the way they feel about their children."
Often, adoptive parents don’t know how to respond. Susan Caughman, publisher of Adoptive Families magazine, says the important thing to keep in mind is that the way you respond should be based on the situation, a lesson that is important to teach adoptive children as well.
"If the person asking is someone you really care about, you might explain it one way," Caughman says. "If you are being bothered by someone or don’t even know them, answer another way."
"If someone asks, ‘How much did she cost?’ you might say, ‘She’s priceless.’ Or you could say, ‘Would you like me to call you and tell you more about the process of adoption at another time?’"
Renee Lubowich says one of her favorite responses for adoptive parents is, "Why do you ask?"
"I think it gives the adoptive parent more time to think about how they want to respond," she says, "and it also asks the questioner to think about why the question is being asked."
It can be a burden for adoptive families to always feel they have to be educating the world, Lubowich says. "But for someone who is interested in adoption, you might say, ‘I’d be glad to talk with you sometime. Here in the supermarket doesn’t seem like the best place.’"
Lubowich says it’s important for non-adoptive families being addressed in public to set an example for their children. "My response is really for my child, not for the person asking the question or for me. It’s what I’m teaching my child about how to handle herself in the world."