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Mr. & Mrs.: The Lost Art

Today I am featuring a guest post from Cole at Twinning Babywise. She is talking about teaching our children to use Mr. and Mrs. when addressing adults. There’s definitely been a shift in our society and we seem to be using formal address less and less. Great read!

I am guest posting over at The Journey of Parenthood today on methods of correction that can be used with your toddler.

Mr. & Mrs.: The Lost Art


I looked down and there stood a dirty three year old. Can I have a muffin?

I see this three year old every week. This three year old knows my name. I scanned the group of moms beside me as I struggled to find a response. Did they all just hear this? Are they really going to let this fly? I guess so. Hey you, it is.

Sure, sweetheart, here’s a muffin. 

The use of Mr. and Mrs. is a lost art around here. I don’t know if it’s that we live in California or if this phenomenon is occurring everywhere, but addressing adults by their last name has become extremely uncommon. Far more common is addressing adults by their first name only, although some parents do aim for a sort of hybrid by putting “Miss” in front of the first name (e.g. “Miss Cole”).

I have to admit that when our first child turned one and we had to actually start referring to people, I was unsure myself what names I should use. I mean, I grew up using the formal Mr. and Mrs. but now many adults introduce themselves by their first name. This was a conundrum: do I respect the adult by insisting on the formal address or do I respect the adult by using the name in which they choose to introduce themselves?

I’m thankful to my husband for being the voice of reason on this one. From the beginning, he has absolutely insisted that our kids use last names to address adults. Initially I just went with it because I wanted to honor his lead, but as the years have gone by I can see why he felt so strongly about it.

Using Mr. and Mrs. Shows Respect

We live in a time where it’s far more common for children to address adults by their first name, so most younger adults are not offended by it. I personally am not offended when a child calls me “Cole” or “Miss Cole”. A child isn’t intentionally disrespecting me by calling me by my first name – they just don’t know any better. The “HEY YOU” I mentioned in the beginning crossed the line for me, but in general I’m not going to get my chonies in a bunch over a kid addressing me informally.

But that’s because I’m twenty-nine. I am raising my kids right now. This feels normal. For adults who raised their kids in a different time, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and all kids used the formal address, being on a first name basis with a six year old does feel disrespectful.

Calling an adult from my generation by their last name may be a little awkward, but it’s probably not going to offend anyone. Therefore the path of least offense – or the way to best show respect to all ages – is to just teach your kids to use Mr. and Mrs. with everyone.

The Formal Address Puts Kids In Their Place

Let’s say hypothetically you live in a community with no one over the age of thirty-five. Is there still a point to teaching your kids to use the formal address?

YES, absolutely.

Here’s the thing. Using Mr. and Mrs. has very little to do with the adult. I feel comfortable in my position of authority over a child whether they call me Mrs. Ramirez or not. Using the formal address has to do with the child.

Gary Ezzo’s On Becoming Childwise puts it this way:

“When a child applies the titles of Mr. and Mrs., he acknowledges that he is not the adult’s equal… [it] is the child’s acknowledgement that he is still young and in need of wisdom and life’s experiences. He is still growing intellectually and needs the benefits offered by the elder population. Those reasons are legitimate and virtuous ones for honoring age” (pg 102).

When a child calls an adult by their first name, the line between the two of them is blurred. Who’s the authority? Who’s in charge? My friends are not my children’s friends. They are my children’s superiors. I want my kids to know and understand this fact. If another adult is watching my children and asks them to do or not to do something, I want my kids to listen and obey as if it were me instructing them. For this to happen, they need to see other adults as authorities and respect them as such. Calling adults by their last name creates a clear separation between the child and the adult and sets the stage for showing the respect and obedience due to elders.

Kids that Use Last Names Are More Likable

You can scoff all you want, but it is my experience that children who address me by my last name are more likable kids. They are better behaved and therefore more fun to be around. I assume this has more to do with the general child-rearing practices of their parents than the formal address itself, but the fact remains: Children who use Mr. and Mrs. are generally respectful and likable.

It’s like anything: if you want to be good at something, find someone who is good at that thing and emulate them. I want my kids to be respectful and likable. Parents of kids who are respectful and likable generally make their children use the formal address. My kids will use the formal address and hopefully someday they too will be respectful and likable.

 Cole is mom to four mostly happy children and blogs at Twinning Babywise.

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