What should kids call their friends' parents?

"To have it on public record: for now, I prefer being called by my first name."

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Five-year-old Anna and her mom, Tara-Michelle.

“Say thank you to… Sophie’s mom.”

My five-year-old daughter, Anna, and I have company over. I realize, a little late, that I don’t know how Sophie’s mom prefers to be addressed by other kids, so I ask her. Her reply? “Usually the other kids just call me ‘Sophie’s mom.'” She seems surprised at the question, like she’d never been asked before. But, come to think of it, it’s not something I’ve ever been asked either.

There’s some humour to be found in the situation: often, after having kids, you lose your identity and simply become so-and-so’s parent to the outside world—or, at least to little kids. But language has a funny way of solidifying things. I remember the first time I referred to Anna as “my daughter” rather than “my baby” or “my kid,” and it felt like something else—something bigger. I once made a reference to my own friend as “Parker’s mom” and my friend had to take a moment to process that—it was the first time she’d been referred to as her son’s mom. In my experience, it started with “Tara-Michelle’s baby,” but quickly became “Anna’s mom.”

So what should kids call their friends’ and classmates’ parents? Does it matter if you’re friends with the parents, too? Should kids default to first names or “Mrs.” or “Ms.?” For example, I can’t imagine being called “Ms. Ziniuk,” even though I’m called that almost exclusively when renewing my passport or dealing with telemarketers.

I don’t share a last name with my mother, so I don’t have the “Oh no, that’s my mother, not me” reaction to being called Ms. Ziniuk—but I know there are other reasons some parents are against it. For some, the formality makes them feel old. However, I’m sure some prefer the polite separation between peers and authority figures.

When we’re with my friends and their kids, we call everyone by their first names. I have a few friends with older kids who call me by my first name and a couple others who call me “Auntie”—but to Anna’s classmates, friends and their parents, I’ve only ever been referred to as “Anna’s mom,” thus far. Is there an age when this changes? Is it up to me to introduce myself with the name I’d like to be addressed with, or is it the other parents’ responsibility to ask?

While I know it’s traditional, being referred to as “Ms.” seems old-fashioned and out of date. I suppose it’s also traditional for moms to be married, which I’m not and never have been. I suspect some people are still really into this sort of thing, but I’m not sure that includes anyone I’m close with. Still, I wouldn’t want to unintentionally insult or offend a parent by not enforcing a rule that hasn’t been made clear to me.

To have it on public record: for now, I prefer being called by my first name. I still expect my fair share of “Anna’s mom,” though.

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a five-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.

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