It’s a funny thing when your toddler realizes you have a real name, besides “Mom” or “Dad.” Repeating that real name is one of their early acts of independence, almost as if they are playing make-believe at adulthood. Maybe it’s an experiment in learning how far they can push the envelope. For a long time, my daughter thought people were calling me “Ma’am” (rather than Pam); so, I was Ma’am. I suppose she was mimicking how she saw other people treating me.
The novelty of “Ma’am” faded away during the preschool years. Then, out of nowhere, I became PJ to her (the first letters of my first name and middle name). I’ve said to her a million and one times in response to hearing that name, “There are only two people in this entire world who can call me Mom, so that’s what I want to be.” It does no good. Every once in awhile, my husband, will get a “Rick” out of our daughters, and it’s said in a playful way, likely for the shock value. As our pediatrician would say, “There are hills over which we wage battles, and this is not one of them.” I guess there are worse things she could call me. Even though I’ve always had nicknames for my daughters, “Princess,” “Sweetheart,” “Sweetie Pie,” it feels inexplicably awkward that my child should have one for me.
While I’ll go down kicking and screaming in advocating to be called Mom, our casual society is dropping some of the rules of social etiquette, like titles of respect, with which many of us Baby Boomers, and our parents and grandparents, grew up. Calling our parents by their first name was verboten. I’ve read numerous articles citing that many parents today feel differently, and are encouraging their children to call them by their first name. Parents say that being called by their first name helps their children to realize that they have a life outside of tending to their needs. It makes them feel younger. They feel like they’re not pulling rank by demanding a title. They feel that if their child needs friendly support, he or she would be more likely to call upon them if they used their first name. Other parents disagree, saying that it teaches children not to respect their elders, and blurs the line between being a parent to your child and being a friend to your child.
I haven’t been able to locate any professional literature supporting either side of the argument for children calling parents by their first name. There are a number of helpful hints for parents who do not want their children calling them by their first name, such as not responding, or having the heart-to-heart discussion about how special the name “mommy” is. It’s no surprise that I haven’t found anything from a parent who says that his or her child disputes using the first name. Most parents who contributed to the online chatter through various articles and blogs agree that how children address their parents is a matter of personal preference. We’ve come a long way since the days of Opie, Little Ricky and Beaver calling their fathers “sir,” haven’t we?
Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call 800-897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.