All families need healthy boundaries, especially adoptive families because we encounter rude incursions into our private business with greater frequency than non-adopted families. People are curious about us, our bonds, our children and our "stories." They yearn to know the inside scoop. And their interest is not always out of compassion. Sometimes people's prurient curiosity seeks "dirt" not facts. Some people may have a genuine desire to understand how adoptive families are formed and how they grow to be a loving family unit but may fail to recognize how private and personal their questions are.
Regardless of their motives, when inquisitive folks ask questions they often pose them at inopportune moments or places and/or fail to consider if we would want to share the information they seek. Equally offensive, they may ask questions in front of our kids--questions that would be inappropriate or hurtful to discuss in our children's presence.
We must train ourselves to remember this: some questions do not deserve an answer. They deserve only a return question: Why would you want to know? If we decide we want to respond, we should first get clarity on the questioner's motives. Are they interested in becoming adoptive parents themselves? Or are they just nosey? There are times, places and people who are available to provide the information being sought. It isn't always us, isn't always at the moment they ask, and isn't always information we care to share. AND THAT IS OKAY! We have the right to withhold an answer. In some cases, we have an obligation to hold our personal boundary and decline to answer.
We must develop well-honed skills both in defining and holding boundaries. As Intentional Parents, we must model this skill so that our children can observe the process in action. Throughout their lives, they will encounter people who feel free to ask intrusive questions and/or offer them unsolicited and inappropriate advice. They must be taught how to respond in ways that preserve their privacy and their self-esteem.
So when someone asks us a personal question within earshot of our kids, treat it as a teaching moment. Imagine being on-stage at Carnegie Hall, spotlights aimed right on us. Think carefully about how and what we say and stay conscious not only of our words but also our tone and our body language. Each of these factors is an important element in our response and helps how it will be received. And it will color what our children will infer about our reply and how it reflects on them.
Although the children may appear to be unaware of the conversation, typically they are alert observers in such a situation. Feigning preoccupation with their own activity serves as camouflage for vigilant attention that takes note of the interaction in meticulous detail. This is our moment to demonstrate how to stand up for oneself, one's privacy, and one's boundaries. It can be done with courtesy and still be effective,
After the encounter, it's essential we debrief our children. Make sure they understood what happened and why we responded the way we did. Point up how the person violated a boundary of common courtesy. Teach the distinction between private and secret. We should share private information only with those whom we trust and whom we know will respect and honor our trust. We don't give personal information to strangers or casual acquaintances. Share details only with those who meet both the trustworthy test and who also have a genuine need to know. Our children's information belongs to them; be very, very certain that this person needs to know it. Once shared, the information cannot ever be "unheard."
Avoid telling children information is secret. This suggests it must be hidden because it is shameful. Adoptees are predisposed to feel shame about being adopted; they don't need another reason to feel it. Labelling information as secret also teaches kids that it is okay to keep secrets. We don't want either of these outcomes.
Children tend to think from a self-oriented point of view. In adopted children, this commonly results in their falsely believe that somehow they caused their adoption. So it is vital to ensure that children realize that any annoyance we displayed toward a rude questioner was aimed at that person and that it is not the children's fault in any way.
It is vital that we never allow our need to please others or avoid awkwardness and confrontations to bully us into answering inappropriate answers. Rude questions deserve a response that clearly holds our personal boundaries. We can be pleasant and still be assertive, confident caretakers of our family's boundaries and personal information.
Teaching our children how and why they should stand up for themselves is an important life skill. It molds them into compassionate people who respect others and who are capable of standing up for right instead of remaining mute in the face of bullying of themselves or others. Courage is something that benefits from practice. Acting with courage in the small moments of life help prepare and strengthen us for life's big challenges.