Informing the outer circle: what do we say to those who don’t know we adopted

I live in a small gated community of about 40 patio-homes.   My neighbors and I drive through the gate and straight into our garages.  We rarely see each other unless passing each other walking to the mailbox or waving as one car passes another.  There are no front yards and most of the families are childless anyway, so you rarely see children out and about.

In the interest of building a community, we sometimes have community events like HOA meetings, garage sales or community night outs.  This Night Out was the first event since Nana joined our family.  So Nana and I rode her tricycle down to the end of the block to visit with our neighbors.

One of the couples asked, “Well, who is this little lady?”  I said, “This is our daughter, Nana.”  His response, “Huh?  Where have you been keeping her?”  I just smiled coyly and focused my attention on Nana since she was close to driving her trike into one of our neighbors.

Another neighbor, who I haven’t had a long conversation with since a garage sale TWO years ago, was so discombobulated she even made up a story.  “Oh my goodness, ” she remarked.   “She is getting so big.  The last time I saw her she was just a little baby.”  I was so taken aback I couldn’t even correct her.  I honestly wondered if she really even remembered who I was. It would be kind of hard to not place me since we are the only black couple in the neighborhood but *shrug*.

You know, I really didn’t prepare myself at all for these questions.  People that are in our daily lives are very aware of our decision to grow our family through adoption. We announced it on Facebook.  I blog and podcast about it (shameless plug for Add Water and Stir podcast). My friends and coworkers have met Nana. It’s pretty well known in my inner circle.

But I never thought about those people outside the circle.  Those folks that I speak with once a year.  Those associates that I run into at the airport, or at an alumni event, or at the park with their children.  Those folks who scrunch up their faces trying to remember when I was pregnant. The ones searching Nana’s face and then my face looking for a resemblance.   What, if anything, do  I owe people as they search for the right words to make sense of our situation?

Nothing.  I don’t really owe them anything. No shade.

It’s the exact same thing that I’m owed when I run into someone whose last name has changed.  Or when I have lunch with someone who no longer works with the same company.  Or when I hear that someone was in the hospital.  Since I’m a peripheral person in their life, they do not have to tell me any details of their life change.  My role is to listen, let the story unfold as they see fit and accept it for what it is.  “It’s Johnson now?  Oh, okay. Let me update my phone.”   “I heard you were in the hospital.  I hope you are feeling better.”  “This is your daughter.  Oh, she is so cute.  How old is she?”

My response is usually based on perceived intent inferred from their body language, phrasing of the question, previous encounters, and current relationship.  I didn’t consider my neighbors rude for their questions/comments, I just felt like they were asking for the sake of asking, not for genuine interest.  And meh, sometimes I don’t feel like answering just for the sake of keeping the conversation going.

For some more perspective on this question, check out the comments section of TAO’s post, “Are some adoptive parents too sensitive about questions, or...”

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3 thoughts on “Informing the outer circle: what do we say to those who don’t know we adopted

  1. My neighbor lady in the townhouse across the way from us recently adopted a 10 year little girl. She’s adorable. We are friendly with her and when we saw them outside a few months ago, she spoke to me and my husband and introduced us to her daughter. I immediately said “Congratulations, I’m very happy for you both.” The little girl had the HUGEST grin on her face. Quite obviously she’s old enough to know that she is adopted. But I didn’t make a big deal about it. Because at the end of the day all families want to be “normal”. All you need to say is Nana is your daughter. Period.

    • Thank you for that affirmation. Sometimes, you just want to say this is our daughter and it be understood that we belong to each other, no more questions needed.

  2. Great post. Because Hope is a teenager it invariably comes out; she tends to be fairly transparent about it because she is very clear that she *had* a family before me. I try to follow her lead.

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