Carolyn Hax: Have you ever thought about adopting some manners?

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How a couple trying to have children should respond to unwanted advice.

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn: My husband and I have spent two years going through fertility treatment, so far without success. We keep this mostly private when we’re asked — often — if we’re planning to have kids, but occasionally if appropriate I’ll say we’re trying but no luck yet.

Inevitably when this happens, the person immediately suggests adoption as though it’s a new thing they just invented.

I know adoption is a valid way to build a family, but for various reasons that I’d rather not share, it’s not right for us. But when I say that it cues the “but there are so many children in foster care who need homes” speech. I know these people mean well, but how can I shut down this conversation in a way that doesn’t make it seem like I’m a heartless glassbowl who doesn’t care about orphaned children?

— In Treatment

carolyn-hax-have-you-ever-thought-about-adopting-some-manners photo 1 (Nick Galifianakis /for The Washington Post)

In Treatment: I’m so sorry you’ve had a tough time of it. And that people can’t help making it worse by running their mouths.

Here’s the conversation I fantasize about in this situation:

They: “But there are so many children in foster care who need homes!”

You: “You seem knowledgeable — have you adopted children out of foster care yourself?”

Crickets, right? Except when someone actually has adopted children out of foster care — which I doubt will ever happen because in my experience people who have adopted children know how not to put their feet in their mouths when talking about adoption. Plus, if the person actually has adopted out of foster care, then you can express an interest in their experience — “If you’re willing to share it, of course — I don’t mean to pry.”

And here’s the conversation I advise in this situation:

None. Give people nothing.

You say you’ll mention “occasionally” that you’re trying. It’s your prerogative, of course, but since it’s inviting commentary you don’t want, I urge you to stop mentioning it entirely.

They: “Are you planning to have kids?”

You: “Ooh, we get asked that a lot.”

If your questioner doesn’t accept that as an answer and presses for more, then you say: “We get asked that a lot.” A little eyebrow-raise says, “Get it?”

Step 3 is, Excuse me, I think I see Elvis.

I hope your luck changes soon.

Re: Adoption: I have one friend who would look the other person right in the eye and say, in an extremely kind tone of voice, “You never know when you’re going to cause someone tremendous pain by asking that.”

— Anonymous

Re: Adoption: Every adult knows there are children in foster care who need homes. As someone who did adopt a child from foster care, and who had extensive experience as a volunteer advocate, I would suggest that no one should ever suggest to anyone to adopt from foster care. The only people who should even consider adopting from foster care need to have thoroughly investigated and become educated in trauma, abuse and attachment issues, and to have examined their own personal capabilities, motives and resources. For someone with no experience in this very complex area to blithely suggest it is ignorant and possibly cruelly unrealistic to both the adults and the children.

— Santillanan

Boom and boom. Thank you both for weighing in.

Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at wapo.st/haxpost.

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