Sage Advice: Are "Mom" and "Dad" Outdated?

By Amy Dickinson | January 29th, 2019

Do you ever reach an age where you can call your parents by their first names?

Mom and Dad

Dear Amy: My wife and I had a spirited discussion concerning whether adult children should call their parents by their first names, or by their titles (such as “Mom” or “Dad”).

I was raised to address my elders by their respective titles and so was my wife, but she now feels it’s outdated and no longer applicable.

What’s your take?

– Puzzled

Dear Puzzled: Certain things never go out of style: The Parthenon (for instance), Myrna Loy, or the titles “Mom” and “Dad” (or any of their countless affectionate variants).

Are you having this spirited discussion because your adult children have decided to address you by your first names? Are you aware of other adults choosing to do this with their parents?

Your question prompted me to do something I almost never do: I “crowdsourced” it on social media. I posed this question on Twitter (@AskingAmy): “Has it become common for young adults to call their parents by their first name? If you are a parent and your adult child started calling you by your first name, how would you interpret this?”

This question prompted over 200 replies.

When it comes to how children should/do address their parents, no respondent (including me) agrees with your wife’s take on this.

Addressing parents by their titles is respectful, appropriate and emotionally intimate.

A few people remarked that they have been through phases of calling their parents by their first names, and all said it was because they were rebelling — or had lost respect for their parents.

One respondent noted: “I did with my parents once I started attending boarding school in the early ’90s. Only later did I realize I did this out of contempt for my parents, and no longer do it. I would not be happy now if my sons called me by my first name.”

Teenagers sometimes enter a phase of calling their folks by their first names, and often do so when referring to their parents (to their peers) i.e.: “George and Martha are really on my case.”

The only time parents seem to feel OK about being addressed by their first names is when they are in a crowd, and where “Mom” or “Dad” might get lost in the shuffle. (In those circumstances, my own daughter will call out, “Amy Dickinson!,” and it always makes me laugh.)

Mainly, parents interpret their children calling them by their first names as a sign of disrespect, or as a denial of the parental relationship.

Another respondent reported a twist: “My mother invited me and my sister to call her (by her first name) when we turned 18 (in the ’80s). I mostly called her that until her death. She hoped it would signify that we were friends and equals. For me it was an acknowledgement that she didn’t want to nurture.”

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2019 by Amy Dickinson

More from Boomer