Ideally, our communication with parents, and people seeking to become parents, should make them feel comfortable and included. Although fathers are our focus here, the challenges they face during the transition to parenthood and throughout the perinatal period may well be shared more widely by non-birthing parents, regardless of their gender.
Using gender-neutral terms like ‘parents’ in relation to families and parenting acknowledges the diversity of families and helps create inclusive environments that recognise trans, gender-diverse and non-binary family members.
However, there are some risks in taking a blanket approach to gender-neutral communication. Parents mostly identify as either “mother” or “father” and understand these terms. They may not connect with gender-neutral terms such as “gestational parent” and “non-birthing parent”1. The term “birthing parent” does not speak to adoptive parents, and could elicit an emotional response where the birth experience has been traumatic.
In short, inclusive parenting language is tricky and evolving. Society does not yet have the perfect terms for everyone. Where you can’t individualise your language, our advice is to and use gender-neutral language alongside the more traditional gendered terms. In this resource we have used “fathers and non-birthing parents”.
- Use both gender-neutral and gender-specific language where appropriate.
- Be mindful not to make assumptions about gender. Ask about preferred names and pronouns.
- Where appropriate, check in with your clients on their preferred terminology. For example, “How would you like me to refer to you each as parents — mum, dad, or perhaps another term?”
- Be conscious that the word “parent” may not gain men’s attention — call out men, dads or fathers on written communication so they don’t assume “parent” means “mother”.
- When engaging with fathers, use the terms “father” or “dad”, along with gender-neutral terms where appropriate. For example, “Blackwood Health Service invites all parents; mums, dads, and partners, to attend its information session”.
- Be conscious of the diversity of parents and families. You may be working with single parents, separated parents, LGBTIQA+ parents, those who are co-parenting and those who are not, or families that follow Aboriginal kinship or extended family structures.
- LGBTIQA+ Glossary of common terms – Australian Institute of Family Studies
- LGBTIA+ Inclusive language guide – Victorian Government
1. Gribble KD, Bewley S, Bartick MC, Mathisen R, Walker S, Gamble J, Bergman NJ, Gupta A, Hocking JJ, Dahlen HG. Effective Communication About Pregnancy, Birth, Lactation, Breastfeeding and Newborn Care: The Importance of Sexed Language. Front Glob Womens Health. 2022 Feb 7;3:818856. doi: 10.3389/fgwh.2022.818856. PMID: 35224545; PMCID: PMC8864964.