Five times we should never say the word ‘just’ (and what to say instead)

For being such a tiny little word, ‘just’ carries with it some enormous connotations. Here are five examples of times that we need to avoid saying it – and suggestions for what we could say instead.

For being such a tiny little word, ‘just’ carries with it some enormous connotations. Sadly, for those who are in some way connected to caring for vulnerable children, it’s a word that is too often heard in unhelpful suggestions, glib comments, and at times, deeply hurtful remarks.

Here are five examples of times that we need to avoid this word – and suggestions for what we could say instead.

‘You can just adopt’

Whether this is said to a bruised and broken couple grieving their childlessness after a long journey through infertility, or a bewildered and hurting single person whose life is not what they imagined it would be, or even to a foster family struggling to say goodbye to a child they have been caring for (even though they know it is the right thing to do), this is never a phrase that should be said.

It is wonderful how some couples who struggle with infertility and some single people and some foster carers will be able to offer a permanent loving home to vulnerable children through adoption, but this must be a careful and considered choice – and it will be not right for everyone.

Adoption is not a solution to a problem or a way of escaping pain, in fact, the choice to adopt will no doubt bring forth dozens more problems and create new and different types of pain. Suggesting that anyone ‘just adopt’ does a disservice to the significance of the decision, to the difficulty of their journey so far, and most of all, to the circumstances and needs of vulnerable children.

Instead of saying this, why not say: 'I’m so sorry things are hard.’ ‘How can I pray for you today?’ ‘I’m here if you want to talk about things.’

[A great friend of Home for Good wrote this article for us about her journey of infertility, and it also suggests ways that we can support couples who are experiencing this.]

‘He was just a baby’

Neglect or abuse in the early weeks and months of life can have lifelong consequences, as can exposure to substances or stresses while in the womb. But even a child who does not suffer any of this still experiences trauma and loss, no matter how early they may have been placed into a loving foster or adoptive family.

We cannot know how all of this may impact a child as they grow up and every child will respond in their own unique way, but it is common for care experienced children and young people to struggle emotionally and relationally at some point in their lives – and potentially throughout their lives. It may be that they will need to work through mental health issues as they grapple with rejection, loss and identity, even if they have known the security and stability of a permanent home since they were too young to remember.

As we seek to support families who foster or adopt we must be willing to recognise that caring for vulnerable children rarely, if ever, lives up to the myth of happy-ever-after and instead, offer love, acceptance and understanding through every part of the journey.

Instead of saying this, why not say: ‘It’s understandable that he is trying to make sense of his history.’ ‘I’m praying for him as he works through this.’ ‘Is there anything I can do to support him and you?’

‘Just tell her to sit still/be quiet/calm down/stop fidgeting’

Whilst it is not the case that every child or young person from care will have additional needs or struggle in some way, many will. The outworking of attachment difficulties, FASD, separation anxiety, a lack of permanence, trauma, neglect or abuse looks different for every child and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to dealing with challenging behaviours, stress or anxiety.

Expecting silence, calm, or full attention – even for only minutes – may be completely beyond some children, and such an expectation or request may be hugely detrimental to them and the trust they are building with their parents or carers.

As we explored in this article, caring for vulnerable children usually requires strategies that are different to traditional parenting techniques and methods of discipline, and it may take a carer months or years to work out how best to care for each individual child (only for the child to move onto a new struggle or stage of development so they must start all over again). Your understanding and support could make a huge difference while this is ongoing.

Instead of saying this, why not say: ‘How can we help her feel comfortable here?’ ‘You are doing so brilliantly, well done.’ ‘The relentlessness must be exhausting at times.’

‘But you can just give them back’

Please, never make this suggestion. In reality, foster carers and adoptive parents know this is a genuine possibility, and that knowledge alone can be deeply painful. Caring for vulnerable children is a daily choice to love, nurture, forgive, and even at times, suffer, for the sake of the child.

Summoning the courage to persevere through each new day can take every ounce of strength, and many parents and carers would appreciate any love, prayers and practical help you are able to offer – without comment or judgement.

The heartbreaking reality is that sometimes foster placements and adoptions are not able to continue, and if this happens – or is even being contemplated – it is absolutely devastating to all involved.

Instead of saying this, why not say: ‘Here’s a casserole I made for your family.’ ‘I’m praying for you every day – what can I pray for specifically?’ ‘I’m so sorry this is hard, but we will be sticking with you as you press on.’

‘You just need to love them more’

It is sadly the case that no amount of love can ‘fix’ the damage of early trauma. Of course, love is an incredibly powerful tool in the process, and foster carers and adoptive parents tend to have more of it than we can ever imagine as they constantly immerse their children in boundless affection, acceptance and grace.

But in reality, this must be coupled with consistent routines, clear boundaries, ongoing therapeutic input, and at times, professional support, to enable vulnerable children and young people to thrive.

It is also important to love children in appropriate ways, for example, showering a child with gifts or attention when they have attachment difficulties will likely do more harm than good.

We hope and pray that the right combination of consistent and committed care will make a difference for vulnerable children and young people. Love can and does play a huge part in this, but it will take time, and sadly, there may still be ongoing challenges and things may not always improve in the way we want them to.

Your love, shown through acceptance, understanding and commitment, will be a support to any foster or adoptive family who are doing all they can for their children.

Instead of saying this, why not say: ‘I can’t imagine how hard this is for you.’ ‘The way you keep on loving is incredible.’ ‘What can I do to help you?’

Thank you for reading this and considering how you can support families through your words and actions. For more suggestions, you could read:

What the Church needs to know about parenting vulnerable children

Five things to ask foster carers or adoptive parents (and three questions to avoid)

What the Church needs to know about the real impact of support

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