How should I address my soon to be in-laws?
April 25, 2013 10:24 AM   Subscribe

I have no idea how to address my in-laws. Please help.

I am from South Asia and my fiancee is an American.

All my life, I have been taught not to address elders by their first name. So, I call all my friends' parents Mr. or Mrs.

My fiancee and her parents have both asked me to call them by first name, but I can't bring myself to do it. It also feels weird to call them Mr. and Mrs. or mom and dad.

Any ideas?
posted by reenum to Human Relations (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
They have asked you to call them by their first names, and probably feel at least a little bit weird themselves when you don't. Call them by their first names, within a few visits with them it won't feel so inappropriate to you.
posted by chudmonkey at 10:26 AM on April 25, 2013 [24 favorites]

One gets used to it (i.e. calling them by their first names (speaking as a South Asian, married to a half american)).
posted by dhruva at 10:27 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

I had a ton of trouble the first few hundred times I was asked to call *any* adult by their first name. You'll get used to it!
posted by ftm at 10:28 AM on April 25, 2013 [11 favorites]

I'm American, but I married a man I've known since I was a kid, and therefore grew up calling his parents Mrs. and Dr. It took a while, but I'm used to addressing them by their first names now. It's the common thing to do and you will become accustomed to it over time.
posted by something something at 10:29 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm of the opinion that you call people what they ask you to (so if they say, "My nickname is such-and-such," I use that, or if they insist on "Dr. So-and-So," I use that). They asked you to use first names, so I'd do that.
posted by xingcat at 10:31 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

I felt the same as you (I just didn't call them anything) like others, over the years I finally became comfortable calling them by their first names.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:32 AM on April 25, 2013

Calling elders Mr. and Mrs. is intended to show respect, right? Consider that your in-laws will likely feel more respected if you honor their request to address them by their first names than if you default to Mr. and Mrs. out of your personal preference.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:35 AM on April 25, 2013 [18 favorites]

Same boat as you. I called my in-laws Da and Ma, although now it's usually (versions of) Grandpa and Grandma because of my kids.

Whatever you choose, you'll get used to it soon enough, even if you feel self-conscious the first few (hundred) times.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:37 AM on April 25, 2013

It's weird, no doubt. You've just got to suck it up and do it. It gets easier. Heck, my wife grew up calling her Stepdad by his first name, and it was still hard for me to do it, even though I could just follow her example. But yeah, don't ignore their wishes to make yourself more comfortable.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:38 AM on April 25, 2013

Meg_Murry has hit the nail on the head. You will show respect by honoring their request.

It is possible that they have asked you to do this to show you that you are a part of their family now, and would be hurt if you were unwilling to do so.
posted by blurker at 10:38 AM on April 25, 2013

When you're a kid you heed the wishes of your parents. When you're an adult you ask other adults how they would like to be addressed.

Your in laws have told you how they want to be addressed.

Heed their request.
posted by dfriedman at 10:50 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've had people get angry at me for using honorifics. People say it makes them feel old. In America, that's more of a problem than in other places, so take it seriously. Good luck. Practice on your own beforehand.
posted by amtho at 10:55 AM on April 25, 2013

If you feel REALLY weirded out by it, you can take a page out of the southerners notebook and call them Miss firstname and Mister firstname. Miss Jane, Mister John.

That would be an ok way for you to get used to saying their first names so you can eventually transition into calling them by first name alone.
posted by phunniemee at 10:55 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

My father called my mother's father Mr. Torrence all his life. Really, it's whatever you are comfortable with. If you call him Mr. Whatever, and he say "Please, call me Bob.", then that's what you call him.

My daughter's fiance called us Mr. And Mrs. until we insisted he call us by our names. No biggie. I too his use of Mr. to be a sign of respect.

My wife has always called my mother "Mom" after we were married. My mom loves that.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:58 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

It might help feel less weird if you practice -- talk to your fiancee about their parents, and in the conversation practice saying their first names instead of "your parents" or "Mr. and Mrs." Since you're just practicing, you can laugh at how strange it is and it's okay if you stumble, but it will get easier and start feeling more natural when you're actually addressing the parents.
posted by Pwoink at 11:35 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

I would try your best to do it their way, and when you inevitably and accidentally slip up and call them Mr. So and So, explain your cultural background. They might feel tickled to learn that you are showing respect in your own way while trying so hard, despite great cultural conditioning, to show respect in a way that is meaningful to them.

Plus, a good laugh between in-laws will go a long way to establishing good will.
posted by Liesl at 11:55 AM on April 25, 2013

If it makes you feel better, be thankful they've at least told you what to call them. I used to date a guy whose mom used to sign off every email to me as "John's Mom". FOR FOUR YEARS.

So at least you know how to proceed.
posted by phunniemee at 12:01 PM on April 25, 2013

I avoided calling my in-laws by name ever for like two solid years because I felt so awkward about calling them by their first names. It takes time and practice to not feel ridiculously awkward about it if you're used to using Mr. Lastname. It helps to practice by telling stories about them to others, "I was talking to Mary, my mother-in-law, last week, and she said ...." That makes it a little easier to call her Mary to her face. But yeah, I basically choked the word out the first dozen or so times I managed it.

Now it's no longer weird, though!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:07 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Maybe you could try a combo deal, at least until you get more comfortable not using Mr. and Mrs.: try something like Mother or Momma Mary, Father Joe.
posted by easily confused at 12:18 PM on April 25, 2013

In my husband's South Asian family, we call close family members by their first name plus the Telugu word for their relationship to us - so my nephews call me Periscope atta and call my husband hisfirstname anna. We also call adult friends of the family by their first name and attach either Auntie or Uncle afterward (e.g. Raman Uncle, Pushpa Auntie). Maybe you could talk with them and explain your discomfort and then develop with them a strategy of calling them by their first name followed by Auntie or Uncle, or mother-in-law and father-in-law in your native language (if it has a term for that relationship). That way you would be appropriately respecting them (which you want) and also indicating that you're family (which they want). That being said, I call my husband's parents Mom and Dad, at their request. I still find it awkward after almost 10 years of marriage.
posted by periscope at 1:00 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is no really great way in American English to address mothers and fathers in law, so yes, here the tradition is whatever they ask you to do. I have the opposite problem, I am trying to get my (American) daughter in law to call me by my first name and not Mrs. Lastname.

We tend to be an informal culture in general so, really, you will be perfectly fine calling them the names they are asking you to use. It really means they really do welcome you into the family, btw.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:24 PM on April 25, 2013

Does your fiancé know what other friends call his parents? Personally I just asked my husband what his parents want to be called.

It can also be tricky if they go by a short or longer name. My father in law is Richard, so he goes both by Rich and Richard.

You can call them, Mr. and Mrs. at first if you want and if they say "Please call me by my first name" then do that. Calling them by Mr. and Mrs. is never a wrong approach.

Also, now after being married for a year, they also refer to themselves as "mom" and "dad" sometimes. For instance my mother in law is filling me in on their vacation via Facebook message and she just keeps saying "Your mom just went zip lining" and "Dad and I are going on a boat tonight." (Also for Mother's day and Father's day I send them "mother" and "father" gifts and I signed my Christmas cards "We love you mom and dad".)

In general I call them by their first name.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:51 PM on April 25, 2013

If you're South Asian, then in your culture, you would probably call your in-laws mom and dad (or mummy and papa, or whatever your SO calls them), so I think the awkwardness is probably just coming from you, more than it is a cultural thing. That said, I'm south asian, and my husband is not. I flat out asked his parents what they wanted me to call them, they said mom and dad, and yes, it was very awkward for me at first, but now that I've gotten used to it, it's just fine. You'll get used to it, too (whether it's by first name or calling them mom/dad).
posted by echo0720 at 4:00 PM on April 25, 2013

Are you asking for an alternative or a way to get more comfortable with calling them by their first name? Because I don't know the answer to the former, and am with those that say you'll get used to it regarding the latter... but... they do know that this makes you uncomfortable, and why, right?

I'm not sure if it will make sense as I'm explaining it but, you could try practicing calling them by their first name and working your way up to addressing them by their first name. E.G., "Jim played a helluva golf game" versus "Hi Nancy, it's reenum."
posted by sm1tten at 5:00 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Before I opened this question, I really thought it would be the common case where the in-laws don't say anything about what they want to be called, so you have to figure it out yourselves.

But, no, they've told you, but based on your culture you don't feel comfortable with it. IMHO, you have two options:
1. suck it up and use the names they gave you. Practice a lot, and then get over it and just do it.
2. Talk to them and acknowledge what they told you, and then tell them how your culture does it and the propose what you would like to call them. They may be fine with it, or they may insist on their first choice. But at least you'll know.
ok, 3 options:
3. take the same path that LOTS of American in-laws do and just don't call them anything. Never get in a position where you have to address them by name - just arrange the conversation so you are already in their sight and make eye contact and start talking. When talking about them to others, use "spouse's mom" to refer to them. If talking to others in the in-law family, use "your mom" or "your other half" (with a joking smile) to refer to them.
posted by CathyG at 1:50 PM on April 26, 2013

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