There is a gentle dance we all perform when trying to enter our spouse’s family. No matter how nice your in-laws are, breaking into an already established family—with its own traditions, habits, and way of doing things—is difficult. One of the first touchy subjects to come up is whether to call your in-laws mom and dad. Some parents expect their sons- and daughters-in-law to call them mom and dad as a sign of respect. Others don’t care. Some sons- and daughters-in-law feel that the title mom and dad should be reserved for the people who raised you and watched you grow up—and no one else.
Who’s right? Honestly, they all are. Calling someone mom or dad is a personal choice. It is up to you and your spouse to decide how you want to address your in-laws. Frankly, people earn the title of parent and don’t just get it bestowed upon them, even if it seems that way sometimes.
In the time leading up to your wedding and the first year of marriage, you will be establishing a deeper connection with your spouse and his or her family. That will be the period in which you decide how to refer to your in-laws and what kind of relationship you’ll have. Ideally, you’ll connect with one another based on your shared love of your spouse. Perhaps, this shared love will even keep your temper from flaring when you disagree with one another and will drive you to work out any differences you might have.
A Second Mom and Dad
As you spend more time with your spouse’s family and become closer, you may feel compelled to call your in-laws mom and dad. Letting the words come out naturally and fluidly in conversation would be a great way to establish the tradition. And it will show that they earned the title, which should engender respect.
Some in-laws might expect you to start calling them mom and dad either after the engagement or after the wedding. If this is the case, your spouse should inform you of the expectations. Then, you have to honestly express what you think about the idea.
If you’re against it, gently let your spouse know why you're not comfortable calling them mom and dad. Be sympathetic, and if your reason is that you don’t get along with your in-laws or don’t like them very much, refrain from saying anything bad about them. Thet raised your spouse, and for that, they deserve your respect and gratitude, if not the title of mom and dad. Work to create a relationship that works both ways and satisfies your in-laws and you.
Never Say Never
You might change your mind down the line. Perhaps, after you have kids and you see the bond your in-laws share with your children, you’ll feel like honoring them with the title of mom and dad. Some people need that kind of time to adjust to their new married life and this new relationship they have with another family. That’s perfectly natural.
Other people never feel comfortable calling their in-laws mom and dad, and that is perfectly all right, too. If your spouse or your in-laws are making you feel guilty about the decision, stick to your guns, rationally explain your reasons, and affirm your love for the family and devotion to your spouse and leave it at that.
Alternatives to Mom and Dad
Those who do not call their in-laws mom or dad should refer to them either as Mr. and Mrs. Smith or Jane and John. You can determine whether last names or first names are best based on the type of relationship you share, how well you know each other, and sometimes how far away you live from one another. Formal couples, who live far away from their kids and have only met their child’s spouse a few times before the wedding, might prefer being called by their last names, whereas a casual couple whose kids live down the block with their spouses might want you to call them by their first name or even a nickname. Follow their cues and your heart, and you’ll make the right decision for you and your new family.