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Not so simple questions: small talk as a foster parent.

I have always wanted to be a mom, so I love talking about parenting in general and my kids in particular. Exchanging ideas and silly anecdotes with other moms is something I really enjoy, but sometimes it gets awkward. You see, as a foster parent, my parenting experience is not “typical.” Our friends and family know we’re foster parents and I can share about foster care peculiarities with them without much confusion. When talking with moms I don’t know well, however, I have avoid saying things like, “his mom said…” “at court the other day…” or “his caseworker…” because I don’t always share our little guy is in foster care to protect his privacy.

I am usually pretty good at not mentioning things unique to foster care in small talk, but when things get awkward is when someone asks me a question that I can’t really answer in a “normal” way. I find the best strategy has been to come up with standard answers to common questions and use the same principals when something unexpected comes up.

For example, the most frequent question I currently get that takes some finagling to answer is about our little guy’s height. When people find out his age, they often say something like “Wow, he’s so tall, his Dad must be tall.” or “Is your husband tall?” I have a strong value for truth, so I don’t like telling even “white lies” to avoid awkwardness. In response to the first statement, I can simply say yes, because his biological father is tall, but if the people are likely to meet my husband, that could get complicated because he is not tall (he’s also Asian-American and our little guy is white, but that’s another conversation). What I’ve come up with is a compromise of sorts, I just say “He has tall genes,” which is true and usually satisfies the person enough to move on.

When I can’t think of a good answer, I sometimes just ignore them or say something somewhat related and change the subject. This doesn’t always work, and sometimes I still get caught off guard. The other day, my little guy was going around a store trying to touch everything and I was having trouble actually shopping while preventing him from knocking everything onto the floor. I was also very tired and frazzled and I guess it showed because when I went up to the cashier, she said “is he your first?” so I just changed the subject by asking about a current promotion. That usually works, but this lady wasn’t letting go and said “so, are you a first-time mom?” I probably should have just said no and left it at that, but I didn’t want to get into follow up questions about other children and I was also trying to prevent my little guy from tipping over a large display while also paying for my items. I blanked so I just said “ummm…it’s complicated,” and grabbed my receipt and left.

I have no idea what she thought that meant, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. This is something I sometimes have to remind myself of when I get into these situations: people aren’t entitled to an answer to all of their questions. This is especially true when people say rude or intrusive things, as I shared in an earlier post. Your child and your family have a right to privacy and you shouldn’t feel guilty for doing what’s right for your family.

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