Curiosity killed the cat. I don’t know how many times my mother said that phrase during my childhood. Regardless it is one that is ingrained in my psyche. However, I can’t say the same for much of the general population. I think every mother can relate to the complete stranger asking a rather personal and somewhat inappropriate question while standing in line at the grocery store.
“Who does your daughter look like?” “Is this your first pregnancy?” “You’re a foster parent, how hard is that?” At times it’s like a firing squad of never ending questions. My first instinct is to respond “She looks like the sperm donor… this twin pregnancy will make 9 so I’ll be one up on Octomom… it’s not difficult at all opening your home to a complete stranger with a traumatic past” but I think twice, smile, and often let the person off the hook. Sarcasm is probably not the best approach.
Just the other night I am texting one of my dearest friends about her son and his ongoing battle with leukemia. In turn, she checks up on me and our new venture into being a foster family. In the middle of the conversation, she writes “You’ve shown me a different perspective tonight – the uninformed person seeking to understand. So often people ask me questions about [my son] so tentatively and nervous, sometimes even saying out loud ‘is it okay to ask that?’ and those who don’t say it, I know they are thinking it. Now I know how they feel… it’s hard to know what to ask and how to talk about it.”
This got me pondering the stranger in the grocery store line or even the acquaintance at work or a neighbor. Do the questions come from a place of genuine concern and simple curiosity or is it just plain nosiness? Questions about family are so very personal and our first instinct is that “it’s nobody’s business”. But what if we used these situations to educate?
Maybe I need to stop letting people off the hook and actually appropriately address their questions. We are taught from a young age to embrace curiosity, to seek out answers to the things we do not comprehend and yet as adults we tend to shut down others when they do exactly this. While I am no expert, here are some tips I’ve used to navigate the seas of unending interrogation.Put yourself in their place. Take in your surroundings, are you in a hostile environment in which everyone is out to get you? Or are you simply waiting somewhere and the silence is uncomfortable? Thus the person standing behind you, in front of you, or cashing you out is simply starting an innocent conversation to elude the uncomfortableness and pass the time. Are you face to face with the nosy neighbor that is in everyone’s business and then proceeds to spread said business around the neighborhood? Or are you talking with a neighbor who genuinely wants to get to know you and your family? In most cases, it is the latter of the two.
Self-assess. Why do you feel the hairs on the back of your neck begin to rise when asked about your family? Have you ever been in this situation before but on the other side? I know there are times, especially around strangers or meeting new people when I have been the culprit interrogator and I did not mean any harm by my questions. Chances are the person asking has no ill-will towards you.
Let down your guard. Many of us put up a wall concerning our families. We are mama bears prepped to defend and protect. Does the situation actually require full defense mode? What do we gain by shooting down our questioner? Probably nothing. If we assess the situation, put ourselves in their place, and realize the question is harmless in nature, maybe we should drop our defenses, go ahead and answer it honestly.
Don’t hate, Educate. Instead of scoffing at the person asking and blowing up social media about your dreadful encounter, use the time to enlighten people. Yes, foster care is difficult but it is also rewarding. Did you know there is a desperate need for more homes in our area? If you or anyone you know are interested in becoming foster parents you should contact the county… Actually, this is not my first pregnancy, I have an older son who is now an angel in heaven, thank you for asking. It’s rare I get to talk about him…
In today’s world there is no “typical family,” my family included. Public outings can elicit an array of questions, some being quite personal. I used to get huffy and puffy about people inserting their nose where it doesn’t belong, but over time have come to realize most mean well. Taking the time to genuinely answer inquisitive questions helps promote a greater awareness of sensitive topics and I walk away feeling a whole lot better about the encounter.