How Rude! Responding to Inappropriate Questions and Comments as a Foster Parent
Sometimes people say incredibly intrusive things and seem to think that they have the right to know the most intimate details of your family. This happens even more if people know you are a foster parent.
The most important thing to remember when you respond to people in these situations is that you need to do what is best for your children and what other people think doesn’t matter. Even if you are talking with a close friend or family member, it’s ok to decline to answer, change the subject, or explain why the question isn’t appropriate. I love educating people about foster care, but that does not mean I have to answer every question, especially when people ask in front of my child.
There are two main strategies to prepare for these situations: compose answers for common questions ahead of time and decide in advance how much you will share with different people. Some questions come up a lot, like why the child is in care. As foster parents, we are bound by confidentiality from sharing this type of detail so we should be prepared to explain that you are not allowed to share foster children’s private information. You can actually say something like “that’s not my information to share,” whether or not it is explicitly confidential, because we need to keep our children’s best interest and privacy in mind and it’s better to err on the side of caution.
Another question people often ask is if/when you are going to adopt the child. This can be a distressing question for a child, whether they want to reunite with their family or if they want to be adopted since there is a lot of uncertainty before an adoption is finalized. Deciding how you will respond and what you will share ahead of time helps keep you from being caught totally off-guard and saying too much or saying something that could cause a child stress.
Being prepared for awkward questions is especially important if your family is transracial, because the obvious differences seem to make some people think they are entitled to know your family’s story. They aren’t, but that doesn’t stop them from saying really invasive things so you need to be able to respond in a way that is respectful of your children and affirms their identity and culture. Sometimes you cannot just ignore or dismiss things, especially when someone crosses a line and does something inappropriate. For instance, if you have an African-American child, sometimes people may try to touch her hair, especially if you are in a mostly white community. You can point out that while her hair is beautiful, it is definitely inappropriate to touch her hair. You can also take the opportunity to affirm to your child that her hair, like all the parts of her body, is her own and it is not ok for other people to touch any part of her without permission.
I do not to tell strangers and people I don’t know well that our little guy is in foster care to protect his privacy and give him as much normalcy as possible. Unfortunately, foster care has a stigma that can have a negative impact on children in care and they should be able to just do normal kid things without being known as “the foster kid.”
Our child is too young to answer these questions, but with children who are older, you can talk to them about questions people ask and allow them to decide how much they want to share. This is their life, and teaching them that they have control over what they share and with whom will help empower them.