Responding to Nosy Questions in Adoption

How do you answer the nosy questions in adoptions? Anyone who has adopted or been adopted knows what I mean.

  • Was he taken away or just given up?
  • Why were they in foster care?
  • Did her real mother just leave her on the side of the road?
  • What type of “special need” does she have?

We asked the following question in the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group: How do you deal with someone asking too many/invasive/rude questions about your child’s adoption? What is a polite way to say “I’m not going to answer that?”

This question provoked a great discussion, including the following response:

I know it’s White Middle Class behavior inherited from Great Britain, mostly England country estates, to try to be polite in difficult situations. But if they are being rude and a stranger, you owe them absolutely nothing. Your child should come first.

There is no need to worry about being polite, just basically tell them to shut the F*** up.

By the way, if your children do hear it, be sure to go over the best way to address such questions if they feel uncomfortable answering them. Let them know they have the option saying, “No, I will not answer that”. It’s basic teaching consent.

Hummm, well that’s one way to approach the none-of-your-business type of questions, but not my way.

Maybe it is white middle behavior inherited from the country estates of Britain, but I think it is also boils down to basic human nature. People are curious and often have little exposure to the world of adoption and little understanding of what is appropriate to ask and what is not.

It’s also human nature to respond negatively to being put down or embarrassed or to have their motivations questions. And when people are embarrassed or feel put down they often become defensive and don’t learn from the experience–which is usually the opposite of what I want.

Adoptive parents face this issue first, but our kids will likely continue to face this issue. First and foremost, if your child is present you answer with an eye and ear to what your child will be hearing. I want to model for them how to answer these questions. As they age, they, with my help, will develop their own arsenal on how to approach intrusive questions. A great resource to help with this is the Wise Up! PowerBook.

Why Not Say “Shut the Heck Up”

It seems to me that there are several problems with our first response being either a put-down response or a response that implies “shut the F or Heck up”.

First, it assumes ill intent. We in the adoption world are acculturated to know what is overstepping the bounds of privacy, but very often others truly don’t know. Their questions are simply curiosity or perhaps even seen as a way to politely keep a conversation moving or a way of showing interest in what is happening in our lives. This doesn’t make their question OK, but it does shape how I respond.

The second problem to my mind with an over the top response or even a “That’s none of your business” or “that’s private” response is that it implies something dark and secretive and likely bad. That may be the truth, but even if it were true, I wouldn’t want to leave that impression.

How to Respond to Nose Questions in Adoption

I think we need an array of responses in our back pocket that we can use depending on the circumstances. Not every job requires a hammer, and not every statement require a pithy put-em-in-their-place response.

I sometimes use the “why do you ask” approach or the “I dunno” approach suggested by Nia Valdaros, but I usually prefer to either answer generally and vaguely or to answer educationally and then change the subject.

Ex. Was he taken away or did his birth mother give him away?

1 option–Me: His mom made a very difficult decision that she wasn’t in the best position to raise him. Can you believe the weather we are having??

2 option–Me: There are so many variations in adoption, and we are just so happy to have this little fellow in our lives. Great cheese dip. Who made it?
95% of the time those type of responses shuts down further questions, and I think sends the message that this is a subject that is not up for public consumption. It does so in a way that allows the questioner to maintain their dignity and gives me the best odds that they will internalize the lesson.

What If They Keep Pushing for More Info

If someone continues to press for details or continues to ask intrusive questions after I have tried to shut them down in a face-saving way, I would say something along the lines of:

“I don’t feel comfortable sharing personal information with you”


“The details of adoption are kind of like weight and sex–not appropriate for casual conversations.”

I should add that in all my years of being an adoptive parent, I have only had someone go further on maybe 1 or 2 occasions.

If I believe that the person is trying to hurt me or my kid, then I would have no problem with a “shut the heck up” type of response to put them in their place. That has, however, never happened to me.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Some people have the gift for saying things in a way that people can hear. They can contradict and say things that people don’t want to hear and not make people defensive and allows them to truly hear the underlying message. Others are so hell bent on making their point that they don’t care whether anyone hears the point. They believe that they are just speaking their truth, and it’s not their responsibility to educated the world or even one listener.

There are times in my personal life when I have been both of these speakers, and both approaches have validity.

I also think basic personality of both the speaker and the listener plays a role as well. Some people are more comfortable with confrontation and a more in-your-face approach.

What’s your approach to overly personal or downright nosy questions involving adoption?

Other Creating a Family resources you will enjoy:

Image credit: Kristin Schmit