By Nina Badzin
In one of our earliest parenting disagreements, my husband proclaimed that our kids should address adults as Mr. or Ms./Mrs. and that our kids’ friends should call us Mr. and Mrs. Badzin. While I agreed with my husband in theory, I found the practice surprisingly difficult. I didn’t want to send mixed messages to our children about how to speak to adults, nor did I want to argue with our friends who prefer their first names, or make a big deal about going by Mrs. Badzin myself. Rather than uniting on the issue, for many years we split the difference: we were Nina and Mr. Badzin.
I knew going by Nina would contradict our shared intention to teach our kids about the importance of demonstrating respect towards adults and setting a clear boundary between children and grownups. In those early years, however, it seemed that being called Nina was the best way to handle what was more often than not the uncomfortable situation of everyone else in our social circle preferring first names.
A typical dinner with another family at our house, for example, might end like this:
Jane Smith would face her child, who we will call Billy: “Billy, say thank you to Nina and Bryan for dinner.”
Bryan would turn to our eldest child while I froze in indecision about whether to match our friend and use her first name, or stick to our intention to teach our kids to say Mr. or Mrs, at least at first.
Bryan: “Sam, please thank Mrs. Smith for bringing a great dessert.”
Jane, visibly horrified: “He can totally call me Jane. Mrs. Smith sounds so old.”
Bryan, in the friendliest tone possible and with a smile on his face: “How about when he’s old enough to vote he can call you Jane?”
Jane, not having it: “Mrs. Smith is my mother-in-law. Really, I want your kids to call me Jane.”
It would usually occur to the other adults in that moment that perhaps we didn’t want to be Bryan and Nina to their kids, even if it made us look stuffy and formal, or at least that’s what I’d always assumed. I argued with Bryan that times had changed and furthermore, that it was rude to tell other people what our kids would be calling them. “Let her be Jane,” I had to say on more than one occasion. When the other adults in the conversation inevitably asked if we preferred their kids address us as Mr. and Mrs. Badzin, I often said, “He’s Mr. Badzin, but call me Nina.”
I knew I was sending a mixed message to my kids by encouraging them to use the formal option with other adults (unless any particular adult objected), but that other kids could call their mother “Nina.” Despite any confusion I was perpetuating, I could not picture the kids of my best friends who had been hanging around my house since they were babies calling me Mrs. Badzin. And if I’m being honest, I couldn’t picture any of my kids’ new friends calling me Mrs. Badzin either.
Maybe, like all the “Jane”s, I was the one who didn’t want to feel old. I was also unwilling to take a contradictory stand vis-a-vis my friends. I worried that going by Mrs. Badzin when all the other moms I knew went by their first names would imply a judgment.
The first time my opinion shifted was the day that Sam, four at the time, had a new friend over for a playdate who walked up to me and said, “Mrs. Badzin, may we please have a snack?” Call me Nina was on the tip of my tongue, but I realized that this little boy calling me Mrs. Badzin was not about me. It was about his parents’ wish for their child to demonstrate respect, and there was no question those parents had succeeded. I remember feeling envious of this mom I barely knew, a woman who cared less about what people thought than I did. I admired both of the boy’s parents for going against the modern trend. That day planted the Mrs. Badzin seed. As our kids starting having more playdates, I was struck by the undeniable fact that compared to a child, I was old, and I ought to be respected for my experience.
As our four kids and their friends have marched up through the elementary years with Sam entering middle school next fall, I’ve found myself wanting to be Mrs. Badzin more than Nina. Having been on the “just call me Nina side,” I understand why some people feel Mr. and Mrs. sounds rigid and impersonal. My friends tell me they want their kids’ friends to feel comfortable at their houses. I get that. But when I think back to the adults I called Mr. and Mrs. as a child (everyone), I picture the parents of my good friends, most of whom I found warm and nurturing and still think of fondly today. Using the proper titles for them didn’t make their homes any less familiar. And on the occasions that calling me Mrs. Badzin does make me seem more uptight than other people’s parents, I almost welcome that boundary. We’re not an anything goes house so I don’t mind if that’s exactly what calling me Mrs. Badzin makes my kids’ friends think.
I’m curious how other people deal with this issue. Does it bother you when other kids call you Mr. or Mrs.? If so, why? On the flip side, if you’re teaching your children to say Mr. and Mrs., how do you handle it when adults tell your children otherwise? And let us know where you’re from as regional norms come into play here, too.
Nina Badzin is a freelance writer and blogger living in Minneapolis with her husband and four kids. You can find her updates weekly at http://ninabadzin.com and on Twitter @NinaBadzin.