As people and families are increasingly able to be open and creatively authentic about who they are and who they consider family, communities of faith have new opportunities to deepen and expand their welcome. It can be difficult to know what words are available and supportive, but there are some easy go-tos that make children, youth, and family ministry successful in this endeavor.
When talking to children about the adults and possible caregivers in their life, talking about “their grown-ups” is a great way to engage with them. Using this phrasing gives children ownership of some of the adults in their lives, which challenges the ways adults too often treat kids as their property. This agency is important to foster as children grow and figure out who they are. It also holds space for some of the diversity of familial configurations in children’s lives. After a children’s sermon, sending kids back to “their grown-ups” holds space for them to be in worship with parents, grandparents, extended family, foster or step-parents, a friend’s parents, or some other caregiver. This language doesn’t limit the child to only having one or two adults in their life, but instead holds space for all the adults with whom they share life and who care for the child. Additionally, the language of a child’s grown-ups doesn’t assign a gender to the adults, welcoming families of diverse gender identities.
When talking about other children in a child’s life, it can be unclear how they are related to each other. Referring to them as “other children” or “children they care about” can serve as a bridge to helping them get a sense of the larger possibilities of family and friendship. If the relationship is familial, the other children could be siblings or cousins. Both of these terms can take on meaning that may not correspond to biological meaning. This also goes for other adults like aunts, uncles, auntcles, etc. who may be the sibling of a parent or related in some other way, or who may be part of the village raising the children. It’s also important to avoid over-emphasizing gender with children and use words like siblings, friends, family, cousins, and community to allow them space to figure out and claim who they are for themselves.
When it comes to supporting children and their families, using inclusive language for people can help create a culture of welcome and inclusivity for all sorts of family structures.