He stared us down from the moment we walked into the Wendy’s restaurant until the moment we left. If glares were audible his would have spewed degrading words through the 20 feet of space that separated us. He wasn’t glaring at our white children. My three younger sons, all white, bounded past him, to the bathroom and he never flinched. They were normal in his eyes. I’ve seen that look a million times in our 14 years of parenting. It was our black children that troubled him.
“I don’t understand all of this,” he belched at me as I dumped our trays and reached to refill my cup. I smiled politely. “You don’t have to understand,” I replied patiently, knowing exactly what he meant. “They’re my children. All of them!” He scowled at me and shifted his USS Indianapolis Veterans ball cap on his head. “I served in World War II and this just doesn’t make sense,” be barked again, waving his hand toward my 3 black children, who were trailing behind me. This time, my response was void of words or even a courtesy look in his direction. I topped off my Coke and headed for the door with my family. What I wanted to say was, “Look, you racist, bigoted, no good…………” well… you know what I mean. But I didn’t do that.
We’ve encountered hundreds of them over the past 14 years- judgmental, racist, narrow-minded people. They come in the form of restaurant patrons, police officers, doctors, nurses, neighbors, teachers, store clerks, church members, co-workers and more. They’re people who think they have a right to peer into our family, and our children’s lives, and draw a conclusion. If you’re a foster, adoptive, special needs, or multi-racial family, it’s safe to say you’ve dealt with this. Or you will at some point.
Our humanness cries out for us to lash back, make a statement that puts the person on the spot, shuts them down, or seeks justice on behalf of our children. That’s the way we’ve been programmed. After all, judgmental people are usually ignorant and always self-seeking. Perhaps there’s a moment, or situation, that warrants this, but it may not be the first response.
We’ve tried and tested some steps over the years. Here’s what works…
- Silence. Silence is golden. And not only is it golden, it’s also powerful. In the noisy, loud-mouthed-gets-the-attention culture that we live in, we tend to think that we need to engage in word-combat. But sometimes, the most powerful thing you can say is nothing at all. Let the power of no words wash over a judgmental person. Stand back and allow the awkwardness of the situation they’ve created twist inside of them. When you’re silent, your hands (and mouth) are clean. This creates a clean conscience. Will there be times when you will need to speak up and confront? Yes, absolutely (we’ll get to that in a minute). But, as far as it depends on you, remain silent.
[shareable]Sometimes the most powerful thing you can say is nothing at all.[/shareable]
- Re-direction. If silence isn’t working, re-direction might. Bringing up another topic, pushing the conversation down a new path, and not engaging the degrading comments a person is making will move you away from potentially harmful statements that your children could hear and be impacted by. Re-direction is a great tool.We have used this many times in our parenting, especially as adoptive parents with a multi-racial family. We’ve received comments such as, “Is their parent in jail or something?” Or, “Where did you get them from?” Some have even gone so far as to question the difference in race. While these can seem like harmless statements, they are used to dig in many cases. Simply choosing to change the subject quickly moves you past the tension created by their judgement.
- Confrontation. There may be some statements or situations you will need to confront or rebuke. When silence has gotten you no where and re-direction is either not an option or isn’t working, confrontation is the next step. Stopping a person in their tracks and responding with, “I need to ask you to stop asking the questions you are asking. They are offensive and off-base,” puts your family in a new light and gives you power. I know what you’re thinking- What if they continue? Great question. The answer is simple: walk away. If the person cannot take a social cue upon being confronted or rebuked you need to leave. They will never come around. This is is your family not theirs. You owe no explanations or information to anyone.
- Education. In some cases, people mean well and may not intend to be judgmental. They’re just uneducated when it comes to adoption, foster care, or special needs. You can tell who they are by their response to your response. They will say something like, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that,” or “Really, I didn’t know that about adoption.” These people will benefit greatly from eduction. I’ve also found that once they are educated, they could become your biggest ally and supporter. This has been true for us through our years of foster care and adoption. Remember this: out of ignorance, ignorance speaks. But once education has occurred ignorance is no longer an excuse.
Out of ignorance, ignorance speaks!
The most important thing to remember goes along with something I mentioned earlier in this post- this is your family. You owe absolutely no explanation or information to anyone, at all, ever!
It’s not a matter of if you will encounter judgmental people, it’s a matter of when. Unfortunately, many times, it’s the people you know and have a relationship with that bring the most judgement. The key is to respond with grace as much as you can, and then apply one or more of the 4 steps above. This will bring peace to you and insight (hopefully) to them.
Have you encountered judgmental people in your parenting? What are some other ways you have responded?