My boy Shakespeare once famously wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. This seems to indicate that what a thing is called is far less important than what that thing really is.
Shakespeare has a point here, as he always does. But lately, I find that maybe the issue is not quite so straightforward. As a parent, I am faced with a certain “naming dilemna” that I have not had to worry about up until now. I find myself wondering how exactly my boys should address adults, and whether we need a Family Policy in this area.
Back when I was a kid, the whole thing was so simple: adults were “Mr. Smith and Mrs. Smith.” They were never “Bill and Janet”: perish the thought. I would no more have called a friend’s mom by her first name than I would have rifled through her purse and stolen her spare change.
But these days, things are different — less formal, one could say, more anything-goes. This means that we parents have to make a call about something that my parents probably never had to consider. To “Mr. and Mrs.” or not to “Mr. and Mrs.” — that is the question.
In our own little family, we’re kind of all over the map here. There are certain adults in my boys’ lives whom they instinctively address by their first names — namely good friends of ours who have known the boys since before they were born. This was never a choice that was consciously made on our part; it just sort of happened. Thus our boys will address certain good friends of ours as Mark or Carolyn, and it seems to be okay with everyone.
If it’s an adult we have just gotten to know — the parents of one of the boys’ classmates, for example — it’s a different story. Then, I go automatically into “Mr. and Mrs.” mode. That feels appropriate to me.
But if it’s not a good friend who knew us back in the days before we were parents, and it’s not an adult we are just getting to know, that’s where things get a little more murky. Take our neighbors, for example. We are lucky enough to live on a street with a ton of other kids, and the parents are often outside chatting as the kids ride their bikes around or blow bubbles, and somehow I hesitate to give my kids carte blanche to address these parents by their first names. Thus far, we’ve effectively avoided the problem because Matthew and Luke seem to think that “Anna’s dad” is an actual name, a legitimate form of address. This leads the boys to utter questions like, “Anna’s Dad, can Anna come out and play?” The other parents seem to find this adorable, so we’ve just gone with it. Problem avoided … for now.
But really, I find myself wondering if we need a blanket policy here. Should we be getting them to address all adults, even the good friends who knew them when they were in utero, as “Mr.” or “Mrs.”? Is it a lack of respect if they don’t?
When I think about how my friends’ kids address me, I find that it’s different from family to family. I do have some good friends I’ve known for twenty years whose children call me “Mrs. Moyer.” On the one hand, it is nice to be called that. On the other hand, it makes me feel as though I should be wearing a frilly apron and fielding questions about the whereabouts of Wallace and Theodore. Yes, it’s kind of retro. Then again, retro is kind of nice.
Sheesh. I don’t know.
If you are a parent, how do you handle this issue? Do you have a blanket policy? And when a kid is talking to you directly, what form of address do you prefer? Share your thoughts and help a mother out.