Mrs. Johnson? Ms. Amy? Dylan’s Mom? What Are You Teaching Your Kids to Call Other Adults?

Long before I had kids of my own, I knew that I wanted to raise my children to have good manners. Have I succeeded? Well, it depends on the day, but I’d say…mostly. But one area of etiquette that is sometimes hard to advise your kids on is how to address other adults. Be it your friends, a piano teacher, a neighbor, or the parents of one of their friends, the rules for this are all over the place and seemingly vary from home to home.

I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, in a “dyed in the wool” Southern home in South Texas. I lived in a small, close-knit, conservative community where everyone knew everyone’s family (and where families have been friends for generations). In my small town, never would I have ever dreamed of calling a friend’s mom or dad by their given name.

In fact, even now, when I’ve encountered an adult from my childhood, there’s absolutely no way that I could call them anything other than Mrs. Suchandsuch. It just feels wrong to even have their first name in my mouth. Dang Southern upbringing.

This was all so much easier when I was a kid. Back then, most kids I knew had the same last name as their parents, so there was no confusion there. These days though, things are vastly different. Families today come in so many different configurations: some are blended, single parent, same-sex, grandparents parenting…the list goes on and on. Even as an adult, with a full arsenal of manners and problem solving, I’m often unsure how to address another adult!

As my own kids get older and start socializing more on their own, I’ve been wishing for a better tool to give them to help them respectfully navigate how to address adults. So, I did what any 21-century basic mom would do: I took to social media and did some crowdsourcing to see where everyone stands on this topic.

Here’s what I learned about how different parents handle this custom:

It depends on the family. Many, like me, grew up in homes where “Mrs. Suchandsuch” was the only way to address another adult. To a lot of us, it feels disrespectful for our kids to call another adult by their given name, and to be honest, some adults in our lives just kind of elicit the “Mr./Mrs. Suchandsuch” model (e.g., perhaps your neighbor who is a retired school principal).

Let the other adult light the path. If you’re around when your child is introduced to a new adult, ask that adult how they’d like to be referred to. That certainly takes the guesswork out of this predicament and helps your child to better navigate this dialog.

It can be cultural. In many cultures, if you’re close friends with someone, you might give them the title of “Aunt/Auntie/Tía” even though they’re not technically related by blood. This type of honor is reserved for only the closest of close friends—ideally, friends who will play a large part in your child’s upbringing and be in their lives for the long term—so it’s not a label to throw around, willy-nilly.

“Stacy’s Mom” (has got it goin’ on). While many kids will default to this in a pinch—and it certainly does the job—it could be seen as dismissive to some moms. Most moms I know would rather be seen as a separate human, with a name all their own, instead of just “Stacy’s Mom.” 

“Ms./Mrs. Jenny” for the win. The overwhelmingly favored moniker from most of the moms I polled was “Miss/Ms./Mrs. Followedbytheirgivenname” (Ms./Mrs. Jenny, in my case). This shows the same respect that Mrs. Suchandsuch shows (for us Southern Belles), but with a bit more familiarity. Plus, it’s just easier and probably wouldn’t offend too many people in the process.

When in doubt, a good rule of thumb is to do some research. Reach out and get to know the other adults in your child’s life. Based on my highly  scientific research, it looks like you’re safest defaulting to the Miss/Ms./Mrs. Jenny model, but help your kids to figure this out on their own so that they can feel comfortable addressing adults with respect. Feeling confident addressing adults is an important skill to learn that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

Jenny is a 40-something, married mother of two (Anna, 2007 and Jack, 2009), who migrated to the Hill Country after doing a 14 year stint in Houston. When Jenny isn’t walking her slightly neurotic (and completely beloved) rescued Weimaraner, she enjoys writing, making to-do lists, and folding laundry (and sarcasm). Jenny holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Texas A&M University--Corpus Christi, and completed graduate coursework in Guidance and Counseling. She is a freelance writer who writes a weekly pet column for a Houston newspaper, and is a contributor at Dog Friendly San Antonio, New Braunfels Monthly and San Antonio Woman, as well as assorted other publications. You can also find her on Instagram (introvertsguidetosobriety). Favorite Restaurant: Bohanan's Favorite Landmark: The Alamo (duh) Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Wurstfest (not technically SAT, but closer to Jenny's stomping grounds).