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Though I met them two years ago and I’ve been their daughter-in-law for almost six months, I still feel sort of awkward when I’m around my husband’s parents? Why.

Because I don’t know what to call them.

I was thinking about this the other day when my husband and I were sitting in a restaurant waiting for his parents to show up for dinner. On one hand, I was giddy. The little things about married life are fun to me like signing my new last name, introducing him as my husband to strangers and meeting the in-laws for dinner. On the other hand I was kind of unsettled. Before they got there, I told my husband, “I’m always a little bit nervous around your parents.” He asked why but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Sitting there at dinner that day, I suddenly realized why: I don’t know how to address them and, as long as I’ve known them, I’ve never called them….anything. If this sounds impossibly awkward, that’s because it is. And truthfully, I blame my parents.

When I was growing up, my parents taught me to refer to adults by Mr-or-Mrs-Last-Name. If that person was family, I could call them by their first name as long as I used “Aunt” “Uncle” or “Cousin” before that name. Now that I’m an adult, I still refer to adults born in earlier generations as Mr-or-Mrs-Last-Name out of respect.

But wouldn’t it be weird to refer to my new in-laws as “Mr. and Mrs. Henry?” That just sounds cold and distant to me.

Of course using their (well, our) last name isn’t my only option. I could also call them Mom and Dad, but I’ve always thought calling anyone other than my parents “Mom” or “Dad” was odd. In fact, when I was a teen in the church youth group, some of the other kids would call a few of our adult group leaders “Mom” or “Dad” (as in their spiritual mom or dad I guess). I never got into that. For one, my mom went to the church, so calling another woman “Mom” no matter how much I admired or respected that woman seemed ridiculous. Also, my dad was very much in my life and it seemed disingenuous to call someone else “Dad” because no one else was a dad to me.

But now that I’m married, does that somehow make my husband’s parents my “Mom” and “Dad” too? I guess so, but them that just seems strange and kinda old school.

When my dad’s father was still alive and my parents were married, my mom always called my grandfather “Dad”. That never seemed weird to me back then because that’s all she ever called him. In fact, that’s how I learned that your spouse’s parents become your in-laws after marriage. When my parents divorced and my mother remarried a decade later, I marveled at how quickly and easily she began referring to my stepdad’s parents as “Mom” and “Dad”. I’m just not comfortable doing that with my own in-laws. When I overthink it, the “we’re married so let’s share parents” thing actually seems archaic.

Then there’s always the option of calling them by their first name. I noticed my husband’s brother’s wife does that. A few of my married friends call their in-laws by their first name too, but that just seems too comfortable for me. Though his parents probably wouldn’t have a problem with it, my own parents pretty much ingrained in me that calling an older adult by his or her first name is borderline disrespectful.

My husband doesn’t seem to have an issue with the in-law thing. My dad is passed away now, but he flips back and forth between calling my mother “Mom” and calling her by her first name. It sounds natural coming from him, and I can’t figure out why I’m so awkward when it comes to his parents.

For now, I just try to avoid using their names. When we are together, I walk across the room rather than call out a name to get their attention or I wait until they know I’m talking to them. Of course there are those times when they don’t realize I’m talking to them, so when I don’t get a response, I just pretend I didn’t say anything and hope no one else noticed. Sometimes, I direct the question through my husband, “ask your mom…” or “does your dad…” — much like people do when they don’t know someone’s name, but need their attention. Blundering I know, but it works so far.

Thinking about it now, I’m not sure how long I can keep this up before I make an executive decision on how I will refer to them. It’s a small thing and something that didn’t even occur to me until recently, but I’m curious what other people think. How do you (or would you) refer to your in-laws? First name? Mom and Dad? Mr. and Mrs.? Hey You?

Follow Alissa on Twitter @AlissaInPink or check out her blog This Cannot Be My Life

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