Nadya Suleman, the single, 33 year-old mother of 14 children conceived by in vitro fertilization, will probably get asked this a lot as soon as they're all able to move out and about together. But you don't have to be a mother of mega-multiples to get strangers' questions—sometimes well-intentioned, sometimes not—as to whether the cluster of children you have with you are all yours. And if they are, if they all have the same father. And don't get us started on the lectures about contributing to global overpopulation, straining the tax base, and needing to restrain oneself, or at least use effective contraception!
The readers who replied to my earlier columns have figured out how to deal when someone looks at their children and asks Are All These Yours? Herein some great responses:
Aimee Blackham writes: "I am white and my two daughters are African American by domestic adoption. We often get asked if the girls are "sisters," which of course they are, but not in the sense that most people are asking i.e. do they have the same birth mother, etc.. My response is, "No, its our family policy that no one be biologically related."
Bonnie Hicks decides to use humor to deflect an allegedly humorous inquiry: "My husband and I have four kids and have been asked a few times 'You know what causes that, don't you?'. The best response in this situation is to look the commenter square in the face, leer at them and say 'Oh, yeahhhhh!'"
Jennifer Jos-Artisensi and her son have adopted two children from Russia. Even though the whole family is white, she says they still get a lot of incredibly intrusive questions re the childrens' "real" parents, whether the children are related, why they were given up. Even how much they "cost." (Jennifer's incredibly patient answer: "they're priceless…") It especially angers her when this version of 20 Questions goes on in front of her children, because her oldest can understand. So she says it's been a teachable moment: "Now that I am in a sensitive position, having to field stupid questions from stupid people, I think back on situations where I may have asked insensitive questions of others, and I try REALLY hard not to put people in situations like that. I think a lot of these questions are asked out of curiosity or small talk or ??? and are not INTENDED to offend, but people really ought to think twice before speaking sometimes."
Cindy Morris looks beyond strangers' rudeness to see to her sons' needs: (Strangers) will be gone from our lives in a matter of moments, but what I say will (or might) stick with my son for a long time. I frame my answers to normalize our family, challenge offensive assumptions and protect his privacy. I also try to model answers that he might use when the questions are directed at him and/or I'm not around. (Some of the doozies… Is he from Ethiopia? (uh, no - Alabama) How much did you pay for him?)
I have to say that my favorite response to Are All These Your Children is the one Ellen Chase provided: “Yes, and I’m trying to raise them to mind their own business. Would you be so kind as to help set an example?”
Refreshingly crisp—and so to the point!
Thanks to everyone who took a minute to pass on their suggestions.
Karen Grigsby Bates is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).
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is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).