Momhood

Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Shall Remain Nameless

Once the wedding is over, the honeymoon spent, the gifts opened and the joint household established, there is one major hurdle that all newlyweds must face: What do you call your in-laws? It sounds like a simple dilemma, but ask your friends and you'll find it's fraught with obstacles and invisible hurdles. Many which last for decades.

I was barely 23 years old when I got married. I was fortunate that both of my parents were alive and well. My husband also had both of his parents and although healthy, they had at least 10 years on my parents. We had a brief discussion with my future in-laws and they said I could call them by their first names or something more traditional. And so, we all just assumed that I'd be calling my in-laws "Mom and Dad" with no problem, thinking that their more advanced age justified the title. I couldn't have been more wrong. I suddenly found myself stumbling when addressing my them. I started mumbling "mom and dad" in a soft whisper because it felt so unnatural. These people weren't my parents! And although they had many more children than my parents did, it just didn't feel right. When I finally stopped to think about it, I realized the problem. I felt like I was cheating on my parents. And so for the first of only a handful of times in my adult life, I took the proverbial bull by the horns, approached my mother-in-law and asked permission to use first names. She graciously agreed although perhaps there was a hint of disappointment which she never ever revealed again. Nevertheless, the problem was solved and I was relieved to be past it.

My husband, not so much. Being more of a casual guy, he's not big on using people's names except in business situations. He's good at making people feel very comfortable and his direct gaze is always warm and friendly. This is great until we were with my parents and he needed to say something to them and they were across the room. You see, he had never had "the talk" with my parents, not really wishing to have that awkward conversation. Gradually, I noticed that he'd walk across the room and sit next to them before speaking. Or, he'd speak louder in hopes that a raised voice would make it obvious to whom he was addressing his comments. He became like a ventriloquist attempting to throw his voice across the room in an effort to avoid calling them anything at all. Years went by before my husband dealt with it. Finally, he had to talk to them for business reasons and he just decided to go with first names. It was touchy at first, but he eventually got used to it.

My friend's daughter recently married and yesterday I asked her what her new son-in-law was calling her and her husband. "Nothing," she responded. She's tried every way to help him through this by giving him options or signing cards with their first names, but he still chooses not to choose. She understands that this is a dilemma for him because she said her husband still, after 25 years, doesn't call her parents anything. My other friend nodded in agreement because in her 20+ year marriage, her husband also does the same!

It's a much more delicate situation than it appears. My friend with the new son-in-law remembered when she started calling her new mother-in-law "Mom," (because it was requested,) and her own mother was upset. Here she was simply being a good daughter-in-law and she ended up unintentionally hurting her mom. Sometimes you just can't win.

Today our society is much more casual and the trend seems to lean toward the use of the more familiar first names. It gets tricky for younger couples, however, especially when they've been dating since high school and it's unlikely they'll easily jump from "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" to "Mary and Bob" overnight. It also seems to be a bigger challenge for men than women, with many never really facing it, instead choosing to remain silent on the issue.

When my time comes to become a mother-in-law, I hope to make it easy on my future daughter or son-in-law by giving them a simple choice. You can either call me "Karen" or "Mom" and if you don't choose, you will forever be banished to calling me "Your Royal Highness." You don't think it's too much, do you?

49 Comments:

At 9:40 AM , Blogger Kim said...

I LOVE it!! LOL! I think I'll make my hubby call me that regardless! :) I can see it now..."Your Royal Highness...can you grab me some clean underwear?". It totally works! :)

 
At 9:55 AM , Blogger owlhaven said...

I did the voice-throwing technique for the first year or two of my marriage too!!! Too funny!!

 
At 10:10 AM , Blogger Star said...

Good post. It's a hurdle we have all had to jump.y son-in-law calls me Mom and I love it, but my daughter uses their first names with her in-laws.

 
At 1:22 PM , Blogger used*to*be*me* said...

I don't think it is too much at all. In fact, I'm going to request they address me as "My Queen" because, well, I just like it.

 
At 2:29 PM , Blogger Zephra said...

I think the english language needs to create new words to address this problem. Maybe something like Extra Mom or Mother lite. I know those suck but the premise is good.

 
At 7:30 PM , Anonymous Anne Glamore said...

It IS an issue, but it gets easier once you have kids because EVERYONE can call the MIL her "Grandma" name as long as it's something cool like "Queen" and not old like "Grandma."

My MIL would die if I called HER Grandma!

 
At 11:36 PM , Blogger Erin said...

Only recently have I begun to call my MIL by her first name. Before that, it was 'you'. How sad!!

It's easier now that I have children, usually I just refer to her as the nickname my daughter and nephew came up with for her 'Ni Ni'.

Great post!!

 
At 8:06 AM , Anonymous chris said...

it IS one of the sticky bits, isn't it! your take was dead on. i've stuck with first names for my in-laws- because that was their choice. (my MIL is NOT someone to argue with!)

 
At 8:24 AM , Blogger Mike said...

I always called my in laws by their first names. To me, that's pretty much casual. And it sure was more comfortable than trying to call them "mom and dad"

 
At 10:22 AM , Blogger kenju said...

An excellent solution! Mine call me by my name, which I prefer. I called mine by their names, which I preferred. I could never have called them mom and dad, asit wouldn't feel right. I'd feel guilty too.

 
At 12:34 PM , Blogger used*to*be*me* said...

Here yesterday on my own. Today Michele sent me!

 
At 12:34 PM , Blogger Killired said...

hi Karen! Here via Michele! Nice Blog!

I call my in-laws by their name... too weird for me to call them mom/dad and i dont know why... i guess cause no one is my mom and dad EXCEPT my mom and dad!

 
At 1:52 PM , Anonymous Im Chele In [dot] LA said...

great post...
Over from the other Michele's

 
At 1:56 PM , Blogger golfwidow said...

Hi ... Michele sent me.

My mom introduced herself to my now-husband by her first name and introduced my dad to him as well.

My husband did not introduce me to his parents, and I had to ask him to find out for me what I should call them.

 
At 2:34 PM , Blogger Janet said...

I love your solution. My first ex-MIL I wasn't close to and I did the walk across the room and talk to her thing. My second ex-MIL didn't speak english so I didn't have to worry about it LOL!

 
At 2:36 PM , Blogger Katie said...

Michele sent me in your direction. My new brother-in-law never seemed to have a problem with this. He just immediately fell on Steve and Sue. My older sister too, didn't have a problem with her in-laws. Actually, first time I've heard about this. I guess it makes sense as a touchy subject though.

 
At 4:41 PM , Blogger Mama B said...

Come to think of it, I have never addressed them by anything. When I would call, I would say hi, it's me. I do feel uncomfortable calling them mom or dad or even by their first names.....so I just don't call them anything.

 
At 4:41 PM , Blogger Mama B said...

BTW, I forgot to say, Michele sent me. :)

 
At 4:48 PM , Blogger the Intuitive Woman said...

Hello! I haven't had the opportunity to read your blog yet, but wanted to say Hello! Michele sent me! You and I have the same template, coinkidink? I think not! I'll be back for more...

 
At 5:03 PM , Blogger d.challener roe said...

I guess I'll have to face this one in the future as I am not that close with either of my intended's parents.

PS. Michele sent me

 
At 6:29 PM , Blogger Jess Riley said...

I love this post! We're still facing this dilemma. Plus, there's the whole "Do I say 'Love you!' before I hang up the phone with my in-laws?" bit to contend with, too.

 
At 11:08 PM , Blogger Plumkrazzee said...

I could never call my in laws "mom" or "dad"...ick. They're lucky if I call them anything at all....=)

 
At 6:27 AM , Blogger Carmi said...

You've already learned the important lesson that will make things easier for the next generation.

This entry struck a nerve with me. On one level, the whole what-to-call-the-in-laws issue has always been more or less existent in our own marriage as well. On another level, however, it speaks to the fact that, even today, people are afraid to just come out and say it - whatever "it" is.

Instead, we take the path of least resistance, which is to say and do nothing. And we hope that's enough.

But it isn't, and it often results in years of wondering, brewing and stewing. Funny just one brief conversation early on could prevent all of this.

You nailed it. Again.

 
At 6:37 AM , Blogger panthergirl said...

What a great topic. It also applies to what your children's friends call you. I've always requested they call me Marian (you have to realize, too, that my last name is different from BOTH of my kids, and theirs are different from each other's, so i'm inevitably called "Mrs. ----" which is never correct anyway). Some kids really struggle with it.

I always called my in-laws by their first names (once cleared with them), but my first husband asked my mother what he should call her and she said "Mrs. ---- will be fine." (the irony there was that he called his OWN mother by her first name!)

My boss, who is 60 but I think of as being very young and hip, also wants his new DIL to call him Mr. ______ . I think that's insane, really.

You're right...it's a generational thing. I think it's more common for people to use first names now. (Unless you live in Greenwich, CT, where adults call each other Mrs. Whatever. Thank god I moved. Eight years of that was enough!)

 
At 8:14 AM , Anonymous Nancy said...

This is great. I got preganant right away, so I call my in-laws Nonny & Poppy. I have also been reduced to calling my parents Gram & Gramps.

DH has never had a problem and just calls them by their given names.

 
At 8:43 AM , Blogger Juggling Mother said...

Great post. the day we announced our engagement I took my potential MiL aside & told her I would not use "Mum", but she could chose anything else she preferred. we stuck with her first name, until the kids were born when she became Nanny (also much negotiating there!)

My hubby tries to avoid talking to my mother at all:-) But has always used her first name if necessary - I think I smoothed the way for him when I told her of the discussion I'd had with my MiL.

Here from Michele's today

 
At 9:47 AM , Anonymous surcie said...

Or at the very least, Y.R.H. seems appropriate to me.

Great post!

(Michele sent me!)

 
At 11:22 AM , Anonymous Kristen said...

LOL. I call my FIL Dad - mines dead and I'm fine with that. It still pains me to call my MIL Mom. She called one time and left a message: "Hi, This is Mrs. T..." Yup... Like I didn't birth your only grandchild - let me call you missus... PLEASE!

 
At 11:38 AM , Blogger Linda said...

Found your blog thru the Gnat's Trumpet comments...thought it sounded interesting...and I was right!

My first in-laws (I'm on round 2) I never called anything. I just ended up in the same room and would say "excuse me", lol.

This time around, my MIL is named Linda as well. So, I just use the name. It WAS uncomfortable at first, but I got used to it. My SIL's husband, on the other hand, never called her anything until they had kids...he now calls her GRANDMA....

Thanks for the great entry!

 
At 11:57 AM , Blogger the Intuitive Woman said...

This reminds me of a story from my childhood, a strange lesson I learned at the age of 8. I'll try to be brief: I had moved from one state to another, and a girl I had just met introduced me to her parents as Jack and Jill LastName. Me, being from the small hick town I'm from, where everyone called each other by their first names, said "hello Jack and Jill, I'm (the future) Intuitive Woman". These people looked at me like I'd lost my idiotic 8 yr old brain! And then? Told my parents on me! Apparently, in that neck of the woods, calling adults by their first name when you are a child is disrespectful. How was I supposed to know that? Anyhoo, from then on, I was so weirded out about calling my friends' parents anything, I'd just refer to them as So-n-So's Mom.

 
At 12:46 PM , Blogger Ally said...

Wonderful! After three years of marriage, I call my in-laws by their first names. We live very close by and get on really well ... and I am gradually finding myself calling them 'mum and dad'. It's feels slightly wierd, but nice.

 
At 2:32 PM , Blogger kenju said...

Michele sent me back, Karen. I hope you're having a good start to the weekend.

 
At 2:33 PM , Blogger Paste said...

Hi Karen, here from Michele's this evening.

 
At 12:18 AM , Blogger Marisa said...

That's great!

My dad called his in-laws Mr. & Mrs. until the day they died. I found it oddly endearing probably b/c I know how much he loved and respected them.

 
At 6:46 AM , Anonymous mar said...

Michele sent me to read your great post. I am married to a German and they just use first names to call the in-laws and the informal you as well. It is so much easier! My parents accepted being called by their first names too. My mom is unique, I have another mom who is from my host family as an exchange student and feel very close, but I couldn't ever call my MIL "mom", couldn't possible!

 
At 7:00 AM , Blogger Chatty said...

My mother begged my husband for years to call her mom. It's been ten and he just did it for the first time. At the wedding, my FIL told me to call him dad. He was so laid back that it was easy. I never felt right calling my MIL by her first name, which is what I think she secretly wanted. Adults were always treated formally growing up. Eventually it was just natural to call her mom. Sometimes it really depends on the relationship one has with their inlaws. Mine are wonderful, so it was really a no brainer. Your post was fabulous though...it brought it all back! LOL

Came in via Micheles!

 
At 8:53 AM , Blogger Viamarie said...

Hi! Michele sent me.

I did not have the chance to meet my in-laws. They died before I got married to their youngest child.

 
At 4:15 PM , Blogger margalit said...

My ex MIL was such a bitch that she INSISTED I call her Mrs X. I mean it, she wouldn't go for the first name thing at all (it was Belva) nor would she tolerate Mom. So I never called her anything. My ex never called my parents anything other than 'your mom and dad'. Sigh.

here via michele

 
At 8:46 AM , Blogger Jean-Luc Picard said...

I think some have a lot of choice names for their in-laws if they don't get on!

Michele sent me here.

 
At 8:56 AM , Blogger Beanhead said...

Funny I called my inlaws by their names until my kids were born and now they are mammaw and pappaw..
Here from Michele's

 
At 5:03 PM , Anonymous Stephanie Davies said...

LMAO! I've been married twice, and faced the same problem twice. I think I have officially settled on calling my in-laws by their first name. Mom & Dad seems a bit presumptious on my part, and Mr. & Mrs. _______ (insert my last name here) seems way too formal. So I just call them by their first name :D

Oh and Michele sent me this time!

 
At 5:06 PM , Blogger margalit said...

When I become a MIL, I want to be called Empress Margalit. And I want to rule the world.

Here via Michele.

 
At 5:10 PM , Blogger srp said...

Here from Michele.
My ex never called my folks anything. I used first names with my inlaws. It seems that this is more of a problem with the guys.
At least they guys aren't coming up with "hey you!"

 
At 5:39 PM , Blogger The Mistress of the Dark said...

This is something I hope to never have to deal with :) Though my brother's wife always calls our parents mom and dad.

Here via Michele's

 
At 7:52 PM , Anonymous Stephanie Davies said...

Here to make up for someone else skipping you :D On second thought, if I had had the chance in my first marriage, I would have entitled my MIL "Super B*tch" :D Yep, that sums it up!

My new inlaws are much better - they live 3,000 miles away in England and rarely call, so I don't have to really worry about them :D

 
At 7:57 PM , Blogger Mama B said...

I'm here again, via michele. Don't you hate it when you get skipped??!?!
I enjoy reading your blog. Come by mine sometime. I have an Endless Cliffhanger going on right now. :)

 
At 8:05 PM , Blogger OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I was here a few days ago and Michele sent me back today...And Happy To Be Here, Karen...!

 
At 9:48 AM , Blogger Shannon said...

hi karen!
here from micheles!
Mom and dad are my venue- although i think they choose not hear me sometimes!

 
At 9:51 PM , Blogger jac said...

LOL you know i hadn't thought about that.... well probably since i'm not and never have been and most likely never will be married. my uncles always called my grandparents by their first names, BUT with miss and mr in front of it. my current BF, i realized after reading this, doesn't refer to my mother by any name. heck, he hardly speaks to her (or anyone) much at all. yeah ... weird.
i'm here from michele's tonight

 

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