Inclusive Language Tips for Writing About Families

3 happy, diverse doodle families: one adoptive family, one with grandparents raising a small child, and a single-parent household.

Love is (still) in the air — but don’t worry, we’re not here to talk about romance via overpriced chocolates and flowers. Instead, we wanted to chat about another kind of emotional bond: family relationships. More specifically, we’ve been thinking about the language we use to talk about families — and how we, as health communicators, can make that language as inclusive as possible.

Fortunately, the days of assuming that a “family” comprises a mom, a dad, and biological children (the “nuclear” family) are long gone. There are tons of different family models — single-parent households, adoptive or foster parents, grandparents raising kids, “blended” families… the list goes on.

In most public health communication materials, the classic “parent” has been replaced by “parent or caregiver” in an effort to include other family models. That’s a good start — but we can take it further. When writing for and about families, think carefully before using the terms below — and if in doubt, swap them out for more inclusive options:

  • “Mom,” “dad,” or “parent.” Depending on context and your audience, consider using “caregiver,” “adult,” or “grown-up” instead. It also may be worth giving some thought to whether you want a plural or singular term, since there may only be 1 person caring for a child at home.
  • “Daughter” or “son.” Opt for more inclusive terms like “child” or “kid,” which have the added benefit of being gender neutral.
  • “Household members” or “members of a household.” If you’re using this term to mean families, keep in mind that families don’t always live together — they may have parents who are divorced or incarcerated, for example. Instead, just say “family members.”
  • “Extended family.” This is usually meant to include grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. But in many cultures, this isn’t “extended” family — it’s just family.

And one more thing to keep in mind: Avoid making assumptions about who does what in a family. Consider this header: “5 quick and healthy recipes for busy moms.” This assumes not only that mom does the cooking — but that there’s a mom in the family to do it in the first place. Instead, you might say: “5 quick and healthy recipes for busy families.”

The bottom line: When we model respect for families by using inclusive language, we create a connection — and that makes our public health communications more effective.

Copy and paste to share on social: In #HealthComm materials, we sometimes write about families. Let’s make sure we do that using inclusive language! CommunicateHealth has some thoughts: #HealthLiteracy


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