Friday, January 6, 2012

What is the Intent?

Sometimes people do things that make me feel uncomfortable.

I have a very close friend in Delhi who always reminds me to think about the intention behind the action. Most of the time, even if the action itself was abrasive, the intention behind the action was not.

On our recent trip to the US we often encountered people who reacted in an abrasive or intrusive way when they saw our family, two dads and twin infant boys. In retrospect, I have to say that I was not mentally as prepared as I would have liked to have been for all of the questions and stares as we traveled, especially during our departure from India.

Here's my best attempt to look beyond the action and focus on the intent:

"Where's the mother?" This question was one we heard at least 10 times as we left India and was exclusively asked by Indians. This is definitely a culturally loaded question because In India, men don't take care of children. So, the intent is really to make sure someone is caring for the children. It's hard for me to get past the fact that, first, the response is nobody's business but our own and, second, men are equally capable of taking care of children regardless of whether or not the man in question is part of a same-sex or an opposite-sex couple.

"Did you adopt?" I was really surprised by how many people asked this question. As opposed to the first question, this question was almost exclusively asked by Westerners. I think that the intent here is actually to be supportive of us and our less-than-traditional family. I think the motivation for asking this question is part curiosity. People are genuinely interested in our story. I wish, however, that people would temper their curiosity with a bit of deference. It's probably better to ask this question to someone who is not a complete and total stranger. But by the third or fourth time I got this question, I figured out my one-sentence response: "No, they aren't adopted: they were delivered by a surrogate." This response seemed to satisfy people's curiosity. And then in some cases, I think that this question is motivated by a desire to be supportive -- as if in asking the question the questioner is saying, "I understand adoption, and I support you if this is what you did." To this, I say "thank you, but maybe you could find a slightly less invasive way to be supportive."

"Are they test-tube babies?" Yikes. When the Continental Airline representative asked me that, I believe I turned red and said something to the effect of "That is a really offensive question, and you shouldn't ask that to anyone, ever!" While I'm sure my blood pressure spiked, I remained calm and did not yell.  I'm not sure what the intent was here, but I think that this may be a more offensive version of the adoption question in that it was motivated by curiosity.

"Since there is no woman with you, are the children going to be OK?" Again, this is a question that comes directly from the cultural situation in India. Men don't take care of babies. So, the questioner really wanted ensure the safety of our children. If I'd have had about 10 seconds more to think about a response, I would have said something like, "We were planning on letting them ride on the wings, but I guess we shouldn't do that."

"I'm very curious about how these children will grow up without a mother, can I have your phone number so I can call you sometime to see how the babies are getting on?" This little gem of a question came from the immigration official as she stamped our passports, giving our departure the Indian governmental seal of approval. I'm really not sure her intent was to ensure the safety of our children. I'm not sure exactly what her intent was. I know that this question was so far out there that all Chad and I could do was pick up our passports and laugh as we proceeded to the terminal.

So  yes, most of the time the questions came from people whose intentions were in the interest of the safety of our children. For future excursions, the trick will be to try to recognize that intent in the moment, and keep calm, which is not always easy to do!

Peace and Happy Travels,


  1. Good for you for keeping your calm amidst the offensive and stupid questions that came your way!!

  2. You're is definitely NOT easy to keep your cool through some of those questions.

    The fact that you are responding to the questions with such grace and dignity is sending a HUGE message to people. I truly believe that in most cases, the fact that people are ASKING questions is a good thing...even if their questions come out sounding abrasive. It's better than the staring and silent judgement, in my eyes. I think people are seeing unique families more and more (Praise the Lord!), and they are genuinely curious. Even we surrogates are asked some pretty wicked questions from time to time! :-) I have found that responding to their questions in a reasonable manner can actually shed some much needed light on the situation! I believe we are capable of changing people's perspective with our words and actions. People are definitely watching and taking note, that's for sure.

    That being said, I think I would have told the immigration official to go fly a kite!!! Hahaha!!!

    You guys are so great! As people watch you raising your boys, they'll see that, and you'll be changing this world of ours, one question at a time. :-)

  3. That's awful! People often don't think before they say things! I think you both handled all the rude questions with such grace, but it must have been upsetting.

  4. We have dealt with the adoption question alot, but have dodged the others due to the fact that we have me (a woman) in the picture. I am sorry you have to suffer through such ignorance and intolerance. Just know you guys are doing a great job and your boys are so loved and wanted!

  5. Thanks for this post. That's really good to know. I appreciate you sharing your experiences with the rest of us so we can be more prepared.

  6. I can't believe she called them test tube babies. I didn't even think people still used that word! I would certainly consider writing to Continental to let them know they need to update their sensitivity/diversity training.

    We will be in the same boat in 3 months, so I will try to keep my patient hat on.

  7. I keep waiting for the questions and comments. The closest we have gotten is the family memeber in Mississippi who asked "Who's going to take care of that baby?!? What do you boys know from babies?" LOL.

  8. Yikes! Some of these are just strange. I can't believe the one from the stewardess. That one is beyond anything I can come up with an explanation for. I mean, even with giving the benefit of the doubt, was she raised without human social interaction? A test tube baby, really??? Wow.

  9. Test tube babies are how some countries/people refer to IVF (it's actually on our doctor's business card), so maybe she wasn't trying to be offensive (though she was still being more nosy than I would have felt comfortable with.)
    Before my first trip to India, my friend warned me of the "directness" I may encounter. She was right; I was all sorts of personal questions.
    Truthfully though, I have friends here in the US that are just as direct/curious/tactless. As a person who likes to keep my personal stuff personal (except to anonymously blog), it can be tiring. I'm wondering how rude it would be to ask people back "do you get told often that you ask too personal or offensive questions?" Or maybe a better answer would just be wide-eyes, sucked in breath, and a look of horror.