The More Inclusive Way to Refer to a Child’s Family

Photo: SewCream, Shutterstock
Photo: SewCream, Shutterstock

Our kids’ Zoom classes can be eye-opening for a lot of reasons, but one thing you may have noticed since the school year began is the sheer volume of instances in which some teachers refer to their students’ mums and dads. Not their caregivers, in general, but their mum and their dad, specifically. As in, make sure you get mum or dad to sign that form. Or, if you’re having trouble submitting your assignments, ask mum or dad for help.

It should go without saying that not all families look the same. Some kids have a single parent at home, or two mums, or two dads, or a grandparent, or a foster parent. Consistently and specifically assuming that each child has one mother and one father caring for them at home may serve to make those with different family structures feel isolated. (Not to mention that, for little kids, it may actually confuse them as to whether they are following the directions they’ve been given. If they don’t have a mum or a dad at home, do they still need to get that form signed?)

Sure, it may be a habit, especially for older teachers who find the words “mum and dad” rolling off the tongue after decades in the classroom. But there’s a quick and easy fix for this that is inclusive of all kids and is actually one syllable shorter than “your mum and dad.” And that is “your grown-ups.”

The suggestion comes to us from Glennon Doyle, activist and author of Untamed:

If you discover that your child’s teacher is using the “your mum and dad” default language, suggest they shift to the more neutral phrasing of “your grown-ups” — even if your child does, indeed, have one mother and one father at home. Incorporate this neutrality into your own language, too, when you’re talking to other kids unless you specifically know which grown-ups they have at home.

For tweens or teenagers, maybe “your grownups” sounds too juvenile. That’s ok — there are other options! “Your folks” or “the adults at home” are more mature (but still neutral) ways to be inclusive of all families.

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