Conversations at the Grocery Store

Woman Shopping Grocery Store

I saw her in the dairy aisle. I say ‘saw’ because I quickly recognized myself in the frazzled, tired, need-a-nap mom as she fielded questions from her two little ones on either side of her cart while still managing to select the correct milk. I recognized the me in her and felt a surge of compassion as I happened to be child-free on that Monday afternoon and reveled in the lightness of zipping through the aisles all alone. All of us who are parents have been in her shoes. But for this mother, who just wanted to accomplish her grocery shopping she had an added layer of questions to answer that afternoon.

I saw her also in the dairy aisle, looking. She wasn’t looking at the milk however; she was looking at the mother and her kids. Then she quickly grabbed her milk and approached the family.

“Are those your kids?” She asked bluntly.

“I’m sorry, what?” Said the woman who was still trying to select her milk, while prying her two year old off of the side of the shopping cart. She answered the woman with a smile.

“Are those your children?” She asked again, looking at the two little ones.

“Um, yes. They are mine.” She said, holding a smaller smile.

“These are your kids?” The woman said with a pointed question tone.

“Yes.” The mother’s smile began to fade as she put her arm around the four year old, pulling him close.

“Is your husband black or something?” Asked the woman.

“No, he is not. Hey kids, let’s see about a snack.” Said the mom.

“How are these your kids then?” Asked the woman not getting the clue that her questions were not appropriate between strangers in the dairy aisle.

{This is where I audibly sighed in the dairy aisle. Perhaps you can still hear my great sigh of fatigue, irritation, and some degree of anger. As a Blended mother I often face these questions in the most inappropriate venues, and usually with my children in tow. Perhaps, just perhaps, you too just sighed reading this conversation.}

“We adopted our children. Our family is formed through adoption.” She said as she picked up her two year old in her arms and again encircled her older child with her other arm.

“Oh. I was just wondering.” Said the woman as she walked away returning her full attention to her grocery list.

The mother looked at her children who now were beginning their own round of question asking about the woman and I could see in her face that she knew her day had changed. What began as a trip to the grocery store was interrupted by a stranger’s curiosity that now led to conversations, perhaps assurances and increased exhaustion for her Blended family. The end result for the family may have been good or bad, but what’s difficult is the number of times that Blended families have to have this conversation often in the least appropriate time or place. The audacity of strangers who think that personal information is their right to know still astounds me today. I often tell my daughters, both school-aged, that we have no obligation to answer a stranger’s question about our family, do what you feel best to do in these kinds of situations. As mothers and fathers we must model this so our children can respond appropriately even if they were asked personal questions inappropriately.

I am sure many of us have been on the inside of this conversation and can recognize and empathize with this mother. As Blended parents in these situations, let us be kind, but most of all may we be wise in what we share and what we withhold. May we be models for our children in when we share and what we share depending on the time, place and person who is asking. It is how we behave in these moments that truly affect our families, not those who ask the prying questions. In choosing how and when to respond we return the power to our families and ultimately care for and protect them.


  1. It never fails to astound me how people think they have the right to ask such quite honestly, rude questions. They don’t even think about how it might affect the child/children they’re asking in front of, either. In the first year we had our now finalized adopted daughter, we were asked at the park by a woman (I have blond hair, my biological daughter is brunette, and my now adopted daughter is red haired), where did she get her red hair? (It started out as a compliment about how beautiful her hair was then developed into the question) Is she adopted? Boom, right into that from how pretty her hair was. What if she wasn’t adopted? Either way she made a child feel like an odd duck out. I didn’t even know what to say, other than red hair is in the family (which it is) and that she’s related, but yes, we are adopting her. But honestly, I didn’t owe her that information, did I? How do you answer politely without allowing them to get the information they’re demanding? If you call them out on their rudeness, it’s almost always turned around on you, so how do you respond? (I’m totally non-confrontational….)

    • Thanks for your comment Kathryn. Yes, I totally agree as you can see by my post. It seems that often people’s curiosity wins out over common sense or conscience. I have begun a quick reply to those who ask inappropriate questions when my children are around. I simply say, “That’s a private matter. Your question is not appropriate in front of my children.” I don’t say it with anger but I say it firmly and go on with whatever I was doing (shopping, playing with my kids, enjoying a movie). When my children are not within earshot and someone asks with good intentions I will gladly talk with them, but in terms of complete strangers approaching my family I make it clear that their curiosity is unwanted and unwelcome. I think having boundaries in these situations protects our kids and serves as a good model for how they should answer appropriately when others ask them similar questions.

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