The Name Game: Addressing Your In-Laws

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This dilemma is as old as relationships; how do you address your in-laws? This is a delicate maneuver where there is no clear right or wrong. The only thing right or wrong is how you handle it.

First and foremost, the entire situation needs to be handled both directly and quickly. As a newcomer, your first task is to ask them how they would prefer to be addressed. Just as it was odd, at first, to refer to yourself ‘engaged’ or ‘married’  it became the norm and you got used to it. Beware: once you begin calling your partner’s parents “Mom & Dad” you may find yourself becoming closer to them emotionally and treating them just like (dare I say) family.

Second there is your comfort level. This will be based on several things including your relationship with your own family and the relationship you have with your partner’s parents. If you are not very close to your in-laws, calling them “Mom and Dad” may feel like you are trying too hard. Don’t force it if you don’t feel it. Let’s face it – some parents are more nurturing than others.

There is also respect involved. To be respectful you should always address them as “Mr. & Mrs.” until after the wedding unless they have requested otherwise. It may make them very resentful if you call them by their first name without any prior conversation. This is especially true with mothers, you know how we are.

Parents who don’t want to age are big problem, too. They still live in their glory days, dress too young, whatever. The problem is that they don’t think they are old enough to be the parent of an adult and really think other people feel the same. Most of the time they are wrong but, fighting this battle is not worth the time. Call them by their first name or whatever they ask you to… it’s much easier.

No take-backs. If you begin calling your in-laws “Mom & Dad” early on and then have spat and casually refer to one of them by their first name this could drive a wedge between you. It will break a bond that may take years to repair. They are family – argue as much as you like but, keep it respectful.

The first time I ever met my father-in-law he asked to me to call him “Daddy”. Okay. Except I was 38, already married and 4 months pregnant with his first grandchild. I guess I was reticent because he was not a big part of my husband’s life at that point in time. My mother-in-law was as close in age to me in one direction as my husband was in the other so calling her ‘Mom’ seemed insulting. She was 9 years older than me, my husband is 9 years younger….. awkward.

In modern times there are more situations like mine, where blended or divorced families have close, semi-close or distant relationships. Odd age differences, step-parents, etc.  What matters is that you both agree on how you address the issue. As a couple, you have to stand together and remember the only rule is that there are are no rules. Of course once children are involved everything changes.

-Penny Frulla for Bridal Expo Chicago