What's Our Policy On This?

Sometimes it just happens, when you least expect it, you’re put on the spot, and have to decide in the moment what your policy is going to be. The four year-old was meeting his friend’s mom and asked her what her name is, she looked to me (which at first, I thought was weird, because most people get at least that answer correct on the test). I realized that she was wondering what our family policy was on names. Should she introduce herself as Mrs. ___ or by her first name? I had a slight panic, because I wasn’t sure. Mr. Lindstrom and I had never talked about it, and I didn’t want to offend her if I insisted on one way and she preferred the other.

Let me take you on a journey into my mind (I apologize in advance, you will be free to leave again in a couple short minutes):

- As a young person, I always called my friend’s mothers by their first names, and reserved Mr. and Mrs. for teachers.

- When I got to high school, we called our teachers by their first names (most of them), and by the time I got to college, it was all first names.

- I never equated the title with respect; I always equated behavior with respect.

- The first time I realized I was totally an adult was when I got ma’amed for the first time. I think in the South, that is considered polite, but for the most part, we Yankees cringe a little bit when we get ma’amed.

- When I introduce myself to my friend’s children, I always ask them to call me by my first name.

Plus, now we live in a time where we are given the freedom to keep our maiden names (which I almost did. There’s a story there, but I’ll spare you… for now), and also with divorce, and remarriage, etc. sometimes the Mother’s last name doesn’t match that of the child, and then comes the question of whether they are a Mrs., Miss, or Ms. It can be sort of complicated, and the last thing anyone wants to do is offend another (at least by accident. I feel like it’s so much more fun to offend people on purpose).

What I probably should have done was ask her how she preferred to be addressed. What I did was tell her that if she is comfortable with him calling her by her first name, that’s how we do it at our house. I am probably over thinking this. Correction, I am definitely over thinking this. I am curious to know what other’s policies are on this? Share by commenting, or head on over to the Keeping Her Cool facebook page, click that cute little "like" button, and let me know what you think!


  1. I haven't thought about it but I will now. I was never taught to Ma'am but I think my husband was (military). And as a fellow Minnesota girl- Ma'am is like the worst thing to hear, ever. Not sure what I'd like to hear instead, but not that.

  2. Great post, Colleen. I've had a hard time with this myself. My parents (old, old-fashioned, and conservative) insisted we call any adult Mr./Mrs. unless asked by that person to use his/her first name. That has been ingrained in me and I find myself wanting James to do the same. At the same time, though, I HATE being called Mrs. Conklin (I, too, came very close to keeping my maiden name and still don't feel comfortable, 12 years later, being Anne Conklin, not to mention MRS. Conklin).

    So what I've been doing is telling James's friends they can call me Anne (most haven't known his last name up until recently so they wouldn't automatically call me Mrs. Conklin; in fact, it's often "James's mom," as in "James's mom, can James play on the playground after school?"). But if they call me Mrs. Conklin, I whince inwardly but I don't correct them or anything. I totally respect what their parents are teaching them.

    It's a toughie. And I know what you mean about making up policies on the fly -- argh!

  3. Interesting I equate children calling me by my first name like I equate adults calling me by my first name. If we are friends (I really like you and you really like me and we have a connection, and believe me, you will know if we have a connection) then we will call one another by first names. For example: I call your son Ollie. I am great with Ollie calling me Amelia (or LaLa which is reserved for special little people). Now, I know that it is weird for kids to think of adults as friends, but outside of my own kids, that's how I roll.

    However, there are friends of my children that I do not know well enough. When I introduce myself I say: Hi! My name is Mrs. Houdek (or Pastor Amelia or whatever). Until we are truly comfortable with one another formality reigns. I won't shorten a child's name unless invited.

    So, think about your policy and go with it! I love this post!

  4. You know, I've always had this anxiety from the other side. When you babysit an infant, you get the rundown on the very basics-- emergency numbers, where they'll be, which neighbors to ask for help, what time their child will probably be ready for bed. At that level, you can't think of anything else that could possibly come up that you'd need to know. And then they leave. And as you're changing this diaper in this strange house, you're suddenly struck with some realization. There's no diaper genie. Do I put the diaper in the small empty wastebasket in the room, or do they generally toss the smellier diapers in the kitchen trash where it will be disposed of sooner? It's this really little thing that probably doesn't make a difference in the long run, but it's bugging you, and you know it would be ridiculous to call and interrupt dinner to ask about which garbage to use... so you go with the option that seems the most sensible to you and hope that they won't be upset by your decision.

    And that's with infants, where you're just babysitting for about 4 hours in the evening. Up to a point, the older the child is, the more potential there is for something to go wrong. And then again, as a nanny, this has been easier in some ways and harder in some ways. It's easier because you're more familiar with the family's routines and practices, but there's still that hidden curriculum you're struggling to puzzle out. It's easy to think "well, this is a nice family, they probably have the same values I do" or "this is a nice sitter,... etc.", but as you've pointed out, there is no especially right way to parent. There's no objective set of "these are the values to follow in raising children." In fact, your babysitter may routinely work for a number of families, all of whom have different values and routines. Working with the same family several days a week means you are very comfortable with the kids-- you care about them. You worry about them.

    On the other hand, it means you're with them much of the time. You're responsible for them most of the time. For 3 summers, I nannied 3 boys for 11 hours a week. 11/(24*7 -- that's how responsible I was for raising these kids each summer. It's not necessarily my job to make sure they grow up to be good people, but I recognized that I did have a whole lot of influence on these boys.

    There are a host of things that are just never really talked about. How does discipline work in this house? What is okay, what is not okay? Who are they allowed to play with? What does the family believe? What do I tell them if something happens to their hamster, their fish, etc? Did he really practice piano 3 times? Why didn't I cross off the second one on the board? Will they be okay biking in the street with their friends? Is this friend really a good influence for them? What are they learning from him? Should I just have them play with him here, where I can supervise?

    I find myself in a mix between "what do their parents expect me to do?" and "what do I believe I should do?" I wonder if they're a comprehensive list of all the things parents and sitters should cover, just to get through all the basic situations (and to vaguely guide those situations which are compounded and in which you must inevitably compromise one value for another).


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