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Family and relationship status

Published onOct 20, 2022
Family and relationship status

Guardians. Because not all children live with their parents, a more inclusive term, such as caregiver” or “guardian”, should be used when referring to the homelife of children whose family relationships are unknown. Other options include “adult”, “grown-up”, and “person in charge.”

Gender-neutral caregiver terms. Because not all parents are heterosexual couples or identify as men and women, avoid using “mother” and “father” when you don’t know the gender of a parent. Similarly, use “parenting” instead of “mothering” or “fathering” when the gender of a parent is not known. See the section on gender for more guidance on gender-neutral terms. When you don’t know the caregiver’s role in a child’s life, use “caregiver”, “guardian”, or a different inclusive term instead of parent.

Terms for birth and adoptive parents. Use positive adoption language to treat birth and adoptive families with respect. For example, use “birth parent” or “biological parent” instead of “real parent” or “natural parent.” “Parent” alone is usually appropriate for an adoptive parent unless you need to note the adoption or distinguish between the adoptive and birth parents.

Caregivers. Generally, use “caregiver” instead of “caretaker” to refer to people providing care. Also consider your audience when choosing which term to use. For example, while “carer” is used in Australia, the UK, and South Africa, it is not common in Canada or the US. Avoid the assumption that a woman is the primary caregiver in any situation.

Marital status. Refer to someone’s marital status only when that information is necessary. When it is necessary, refer to the parties in the relationship equally. For example, don’t default to describing women in relation to men, and give everyone’s name and position in parallel construction rather than giving a woman’s first name only. If the relationship is between a man and a woman, don’t always state the man’s name first. In addition, use honorifics such as Mr., Ms., or Mrs. only when you have confirmed which honorific someone wants to use; some people use the gender-neutral Mx., and some use no honorific at all. If you do use honorifics, include everyone’s full names instead of referring to, for example, Mr. and Mrs. Adam Smith. Note that Ms. i s preferred over Mrs. or Miss if the person’s preference is unknown.

Avoid assumptions about partners. When you want to refer to someone’s partner and you don’t know their gender, use a gender-neutral term, such as “partner” or “significant other”, rather than “husband” or “wife.” Don’t assume that people in a committed relationship are married or are in a heterosexual relationship or that there are only two people in a loving relationship. 

Avoid stereotypes. Don’t assume that all married women are or want to be mothers or that all older adults are grandparents. Don’t assume that people without children are more career-focused or willing to work long hours than their peers with children.



Please have your parent sign this.

Please have your guardian sign this.

The open house is for moms and dads to learn about the school.

The open house is for caregivers to learn about the school.

He doesn’t know his real mother.

He doesn’t know his birth mother.

He has been her caretaker for three years.

He has been her caregiver for three years.

Gordon Moore and his wife, Betty, founded the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

The couple Gordon Moore and Betty Moore founded the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Jeffrey Tok, the director of the Uytengsu Teaching Laboratory at Stanford University, and his wife, Zhenan Bao, attended the meeting.

Zhenan Bao, the K. K. Lee Professor of Chemical Engineering at Stanford University, and Jeffrey Tok, the director of the Uytengsu Teaching Laboratory at Stanford, attended the meeting.

Employees and their wives are welcome to attend.

Employees and their significant others are welcome to attend.


Caregivers Nova Scotia. (n.d.). Caregiving language.

GSMA. (2020, November). Inclusive language guide.

Leventry, A. (2020, March 25). More inclusive ways to invite caregivers to school events. Scary Mommy.

Maggio, R. (2021, October 13). Unspinning the spin: The women’s media center guide to fair and accurate language. Women’s Media Center.

National Center on Disability and Journalism. (2021, August). Disability language style guide.

Ottoboni, M. (2007, December). Family language labels: Effects on students living with Non-Parental caregivers (Master’s Thesis, Dominican University of California). ERIC.

Positive Adoption Language. (2005, October 3). Parents

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