And they call Arp by his first name too. M at age 6, and J at age almost-4 have been calling us by our first names for years now.
It not a big deal in our house, but I’m sometimes caught off guard when other people question it. The most frequent reaction when people hear is one of wide eyes, and then the inevitable, “Why do your kids call you by your first names?” I’m usually caught off guard because I frankly don’t think about it much. But when I do think about it, it doesn’t bother me in the least. In fact, I think I actually prefer it. I feel it actually takes some of the hierarchy issues out of the family equation, and that is very much preferred by Arp and I in this unschooling family.
The other day, I was again confronted with the familiar question when I was at a friend’s house. When I talked a little about how I thought that M calling me by my first name took away some of the hierarchy in our relationship, this friend/mother told me something along the lines of that she wouldn’t really like it very much if her kids called her by her given name. So I got to thinking – why do people insist children call their parents by “mom” and “dad”?
Here’s why I think some people insist on kids calling parents by a title (mom or dad), and why I don’t think these reasons work for us:
- To show respect or honor. This is definitely not something I’m concerned with. I don’t need the title of Mom to know that my kids respect me. That’s because, in our family, respect is not generally based on age, power, or role. Respect is based on our own individual human identity. I treat my kids with respect, and they respect me because of that, and because I love and honor them for who they are. It has nothing to do with the fact that I happened to give birth to them.
I like how this blogger puts it:
If anything, you honor your parents more by calling them by their first names — by acknowledging them as individuals with complex identities, histories, hopes and dreams of their own, not just the ones centered around you. Calling them ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’ exclusively is reducing them to only the role they play in relation to you, just as if they were to call you ‘Son’ or ‘Daughter’ exclusively.
Words are hypnotic. You are lulling each other into the familiar comfort of habitual roles and behavior patterns. You are one-dimensionalizing each other, type-casting each other. You are reinforcing limits around your relationships (some of which, I realize, are there for good reason, but not all) and the identities of each individual involved.
- To reinforce hierarchy and enforce discipline. Again, this is nothing that I’m concerned about. In a traditional (read, archaic) family, discipline may be based on power and hierarchy. Not in our family. In our family, we all respect each other and learn from each other. Discipline is about learning. Learning how to survive in the world, how to set your own goals and achieve them. I don’t want my children to do things just because someone in power told them to do them. I want them to think critically and act with kindness. They are learning to do that by our example, not just because I told them to do it. So if I don’t need the power, why do I need the title?
- Social Custom. No doubt about it – calling your parents by “mom” and “dad” is a social custom in some cultures. But interestingly, it’s not a custom in all cultures. I googled this issue and came to find that kids in the Tongan culture, for example, call their parents by given name. I’m not sure, but I have a feeling that I could probably dig up a few more cultures that do the same if I had the time. Now, customs can be useful, but some customs are not. I’ve never been one to keep useless or objectionable customs just for the sake of the custom. For example, when Arp and I got married, together we chose a new last name. The custom of a woman taking her husband’s name wasn’t working for me for several reasons, but I wanted our family to all have the same name. So we broke with custom and both chose a new name.
- “Mom” and “Dad” as a term of endearment. I can kind of understand this one. When you first hear your baby say “ma” or “da”, you can’t help but feel love. Likewise, sometime when I’m spending time with my kids, I say things like, “you are the best son/daughter in the whole world!” It’s a way of saying, “I love you!” But I see signs of love all the time in our family, and they are mostly not based on whether my kids call me mom. When M started calling me Trish, I looked deep and realized that he still loved me exactly as he did before. And he still knows I’m his mom, he just doesn’t always have to declare it.
So there you have it. No “mom” and “dad” needed. We still love each other and know how we are related, and my kids are still pretty polite and well-behaved. Is that really that shocking?