When I see kids running around the mall referring to their mothers as “Deb” instead of mom, I instantly think they’re the product of some method of New Age parenting attempting to blur the boundaries between mother and child to build a stronger, more comfortable bond. My mom would say they were disrespectful ingrates who need their behinds whooped.
Skater Mama, Eva Glettner would beg to disagree. In her essay, Why I Don’t Want My Kids to Call Me Mom she speaks of her roles as both “Mom” and “Ms. Eva” (the title which she prefers from her son) being two different people. Mom, being responsible and health conscious and Ms. Eva, her young and free counterpart who allows her son to eat Doritos and Cheetoes and doesn’t have to turn her head fifty times whenever a child calls out “Mom” in a crowded supermarket.
Although I think Ms. Eva is mocking those who take the line between parent and child too seriously, she does point out that when a child refers to a parent by a first name it insinuates that they’re on an equal playing field; when your children feel they are on the same level as you it becomes an excuse to not recognize your authority. But does that solely depend on what they call you or the relationship you create?
For as long as I know, I’ve had two mothers. No, this isn’t a plea for marriage equality and alternative types of families, it’s an observation of just how much respect and responsibility is attached to the word “mother”. See, my grandmother on my father’s side demanded that, starting with her first set of grandbabies, she be referred to as “Mother” and not “Grandma”. She felt that being referred to as “Mother” would retain her youth and energy. But being called “Mother” didn’t stop her hips from hurting, her hair from turning shades of salt and pepper or stop her from having to take her sugar pill each day.
So what exactly is in a name? Well, a lot, actually, as I learned when I first began my career as an educator. I’m 5’2” and 120 pounds, and most people will tell you I don’t look a day over 18, although I’m pushing thirty. Most women would think that’s ideal, but in education it’s hard to get taken seriously when security repeatedly mistakes you as a student questioning why you’re not in uniform. I often feel like I have to work twice as hard to earn my respect from students when I walk into a classroom because their first impression is that I look like one of their Facebook friends. It doesn’t help that when teaching sex-ed it doesn’t cut it to show up to class in a tailored “bank teller” type pants suit. Students feel more comfortable talking to someone who routinely rocks blue highlights and listens to Wale on the subway before teaching a class. What often makes the most difference is my confidence, experience and my ability to make boundaries clear. But until that happens all I have is my name. I can’t be “Toya” I have to be “Ms. Natoya”. An honorific plus a first name seemed like a decent compromise and defined that as relaxed as a relationship between an educator and a student can be, I am not your bestie or your homegirl, I’m your teacher.
Great parents and teachers face the same challenge when it comes to building a respectful relationship with youth. I’m not that big on titles. Whether your child calls you “Mother Supreme” or “That Broad Down The Hall” doesn’t matter half as much as the respect they show you. But let’s be honest, being on a first name basis with your kids can open a door for disrespect if you don’t have the clear boundaries and the integrity to back it up. And while we’re at it, respect works both ways. You can’t expect to be addressed respectfully if you feel you can call your kids whatever you feel like at the moment. Whenever I see a mom telling her child they’re being a little “a**hole” or acting like a “d**khead” it makes me wonder if they’re even being worthy of being called mom. Just because you gave birth doesn’t mean you’re a mother.
Parents who don’t clearly define their roles and responsibilities can be confusing for a child, and traditionally that role is first defined by the titles of “mother” and “father”. Does it matter what your kids call you? Yes, but not half as much as how they treat you. Before getting caught up in the name game, make sure your relationship is one of mutual respect. Boundaries show your kids you care, whether you’re Mom, Mother, Mama or Ms. Deb.
Is it OK for your child to call you by your first name?
Toya Sharee is a program associate for a Philadelphia non-profit that focuses on parenting education and building healthy relationships between parents, children and co-parents. She also has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog BulletsandBlessings.