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What Do You Teach Your Kids to Call Adults?

Photograph by Twenty20

"ARIS!" my son yells down the street. Aris is walking with Steve, who goes to school with Paul. Aris is Steve's dad. Paul and Steve are three and a half and Aris is somewhere in his 40's.

On the one hand, I'm delighted that we have these great neighbors with whom Paul feels comfortable. But on the other hand, something doesn't feel right that Paul yells out "Aris!" the way he could call out "Steve!" or "Daddy!"

Am I uptight? Maybe a little. I was raised in a strict "Mr." and "Mrs." household. My parents have friends who have known me since I was brand-new and later came to my wedding and sent me baby gifts. Despite knowing them for forever, their first names would catch in my throat—they're still "Mr." and "Mrs." to me.

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But thus far we haven't been raising our son to say "Mr." and "Mrs." too much. A large part of it is that most of my married friends—like my husband and I—don't have the same last name, so I think it's insane to have a little kid remember all those last names. But even if we did have the same last name, we're just not "Mr. and Mrs." people. We're more like "Portlandia" parents—we think we're cool and live near a cool city so, like, we just don't do that, man.

No, but seriously, I just don't know when we'd teach our son to say "Mr. Georgiadis and Ms. York" when Steve and I are mostly saying things like "Are we bringing wine to Aris and Emily's?" (Answer: yes.)

I think respect is a form of self-control which is important for kids to practice. My kid calls his teachers "Mr." and "Mrs." and if that ever went away, that would feel weird.

So we are trying, when possible, to do this Mr. or Ms. First Name thing that feels a little bit phony to us, like we're in a staged version of "Steel Magnolias." At least it feels more natural with older folks. As wrong as it sounds for Paul to call our friends by their first names, it would feel bizarre for him to call our yard guy by anything other than "Mr. Vic" because "Mr. Vic" is in his 70s and I think a little respectful distance is pretty okay there.

It's not like I'm a hippie who's like, "Parental/adult respect is an oppressive force in a child's life!" I think respect is a form of self-control which is important for kids to practice. My kid calls his teachers "Mr." and "Mrs." and if that ever went away, that would feel weird.

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Just the other day I went to my son's school to do story time and was greeted enthusiastically by his friend Steve. "Ca-wayah!" he yelled in front of his classmates, who all stared at me. "You can call me Miss Claire!" I said, and he and the kids all seemed unfazed by this and proceeded to call me thusly. It didn't feel stiff or unnatural or fussy, it was cute and felt right.

I'm starting to realize as my older son starts forming his own social circles that there's a self that I show to my kids and their friends and another that I show to my friends and loved ones—so maybe it makes sense that they have different names.

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