What To Call The New In-Laws?

Katie Young
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Wednesday - June 20, 2007
| Del.icio.us

“Call me Mom,” my friend’s soon-to-be mother-in-law was telling her at a family get-together.

“Uh ... OK,” my friend Alexia replied.

But for some reason, Alexia just couldn’t bring herself to do it. Even after she and her husband were married, she still found herself referring to her mother-in-law as “Mrs. Fujii.”

“Please call me Mom!” her mother-in-law insisted.

Alexia would always say OK, but could never pull through. She even found ways of getting around having to address her mother-in-law by name at all, offering a “How are you?” instead.

“Why won’t you call my mother ‘Mom’?” Alexia’s husband, Arnold, finally asked one day. “I think she’s a little hurt by it.”

“I don’t know!” Alexia confessed. “It just feels so strange to me. I try, but it just feels awkward.”

Alexia’s dilemma is a common one, I’d imagine. I was brought up to call adults “Mr. or Mrs. so-and-so” as a sign of respect. And who deserves more respect than your mother- or father-in-law, the parents of your partner in life? I would certainly rather call my future in-laws “Mr. or Mrs.” as opposed to their first names (even though that seems to be the trend nowadays.)

But bringing yourself to call your in-laws “Mom and Dad” also takes a little work. There is power and intimacy in those names. They are the most precious words in any language to a child. After all, most of us have only known one “Mom and Dad” our whole lives. And even if a new parental figure had become a part of our evolving family, they are often referred to as “Uncle” or “Aunty,” not “Mom” or “Dad.”

For Alexia’s own mother, it hurt a little to hear her child call someone else “Mom.” The name, she felt, was a title that was earned through years of sacrifice, devotion and protection of another human being - not just a name given freely by right of marriage.

But Alexia did want to make her new mother-in-law feel appreciated without feeling like she was dishonoring her own parents.

Oddly enough, however, Alexia’s father had no interest in his son-in-law calling him “Dad.”

“Call me Mr. Wong,” he told Arnold the day Arnold jokingly called him “Dad” and slapped him on the shoulder before the wedding. Mr. Wong felt extremely uncomfortable in having that type of intimacy with a boy he’d known for only two years.

In neither case was the name a reflection of the tender feelings Alexia had for her mother-in-law or the acceptance Mr. Wong had for his son-inlaw.

What it boils down to is respect. Though it was uncomfortable for Alexia to call her in-laws “Mom” and “Dad,” she needed to try to do it to respect her new place in their family. And Arnold needed to respect that, at least for now, his father-in-law was not comfortable being called “Dad.”

Sometimes it just takes time to adjust to your place in a new relationship - especially ties that make you part of an entirely new family. The easiest way to deal with your new place is maybe first to ask your in-laws

what they’d like to be called and then accept that it might just take everyone a little time to get comfortable with it all.

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