Addressing Your In-Laws - FamilyEducation

Addressing Your In-Laws

When you don't know what to call your new in-laws, things can get awkward. Read about some common obstacles to settling this issue.

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Not to scare you, but in some relationships, what to call the parents-in-law might be a major issue. That's because it carries such emotional overtones and has such long-range repercussions. In fact, deciding what to call the parents-in-law can set the tone for the entire relationship that follows.

For example, your mother-in-law is not likely to appreciate "Hatchet Face"; it's only the rare son-in-law who tolerates being called "Meathead" by his father-in-law.

Most of us aren't comfortable calling our mother-in-law "Mom"; after all, we already have one "Mom" (and one is usually more than enough). Besides, what happens if you do call your mother-in-law "Mom" and both "Moms" are in the room at the same time? Do you end up with Mom #1 and Mom #2? Who gets to be the Alpha Mom?

Here's an example of what can happen when the issue isn't resolvedÂ…...

Don't Go There

When we deal with someone who doesn't address us by our correct name or who calls us by a name we don't like, we feel devalued, discounted, and insulted.

Words to the Wise

Triangulation -- When a third party gets sucked into helping two people communicate with each other.

Sarah and Bill were cleaning up after the party when they realized that Bill's mother had left her book behind. "She's going to want to read this on the bus," Sarah said. "If I run, maybe I can catch her before the bus comes." Sarah grabbed her jacket and dashed out the door.

As she turned the corner, Sarah saw her mother-in-law heading for the bus stop. Sarah quickened her pace, but her mother-in-law was moving even faster. "Darn those senior aerobics," she thought. As Sarah picked up the speed, her mother-in-law kicked it up a notch. "It's almost as though she's trying to out-run me," Sarah thought, red-faced and panting.

Finally Sarah had enough. "Millie!" she called out to get her mother-in-law's attention. Her mother-in-law stopped. A moment passed and she turned around to face her daughter-in-law. "I was wondering when you'd finally decide what to call me," she said. "Millie is fine with me."

Pretty silly, eh? Unfortunately, it's fairly typical. Like so many newlyweds, Sarah and Bill had never figured out what to call each other's parents. The issue dragged on so long that it finally took on a life of its own, like the meatloaf in the back of the refrigerator or the rumor about alligators in the New York City sewers.

If you haven't settled on names for your parents-in-law, you'll notice the situation becoming increasingly tense. No one wants to be the one to say what everyone knows: You never address your parents-in-law directly. Everyone else in the family will tiptoe around the issue. Worst of all, if you don't establish a name for your mother-in-law or father-in-law, you're all too likely to end up talking to your in-laws through other people -- or most tragically, not at all.