Deciding What to Call Your In-Laws



So, for the most part, I’m a big fan of meeting your “intended” at a relatively young age, while he or she is still living with parents and all of that jazz. We were in college when we met– and far from home– so we didn’t have any family members actually around us, but we still went “home” to them.


One of the problems with dating/courting/whatever in that situation, however, is that, at least if you were brought up like me, the odds are very good you will start out calling his parents “Mr. and Mrs. _____.”


And that’s great. That works fine. It’s easy enough to do and it shows respect. It all works fine and dandy.




Until what? Until you get married.


Once you marry their child, Mr. and Mrs. ____ probably don’t want to be called that anymore. And who can blame them? It’s awfully formal for family.


What to Call the In-Laws


You’re left with two big options:


1. You start calling them by their first names.

2. You start calling them Mom and Dad.


Both choices are popular and both have their merits and problems.


First names are casual and friendly and establish that you’re fairly close. They sound more intimate than last names, but not quite so much as “Mom and Dad.” It can be hard, however, to get used to calling your elders by first names if it’s not how you were raised. (*waves hand enthusiastically*)


Using “Mom and Dad” lends a feeling of true family to the relationship, but might feel awkward as these people are not REALLY your parents in the same way as the people who birthed and/or raised you. You might not feel comfortable affording them the same label as those you’ve called Mom and Dad for 20+ years.


You need to take into account how you personally feel about the various options and also how they’ll feel about whatever you choose.


Sometimes, it’s even more complicated. I had a very close relationship with my father-in-law and a (disappointingly, to me) strained one with my mother-in-law. Though it may have been the most appropriate and comfortable for me, calling them “Dad and Pat” was not an option.


My solution? Well, my solution stinks. I basically avoided calling them anything, if possible. Now that it’s just my mother-in-law, I write “Mom” in cards from the two of us, but call her Pat if I’m forced to use SOMETHING for a name. Honestly, I can’t see calling her Mom. While I owe her a great deal for raising this wonderful man I married and I will always pay her due respect, I cannot compare her role in my life to my own mother.


My sibs-in-law? Well, they call my parents Mom and Dad. And that’s cool. It seems to work for everyone. My siblings themselves use first names for their in-laws, I’m pretty sure. So… yeah.


It’s a hard one, isn’t it? I have no genius suggestions, since, as I already admitted, I’ve totally tried to cop out of this one.


But I’m curious–


What do you call YOUR in-laws? 

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16 comments to Deciding What to Call Your In-Laws

  • Laraba

    I call my MIL “Mom”, most of the time. My dh calls my parents by their first names, which works fine. Interestingly, I was raised to call my aunts and uncles by their first names, which seems odd in retrospect. Our children call their aunts and uncles “Aunt ______” and “Uncle __________”. Families definitely differ!

    • Families DO definitely differ! That’s for sure. We use “Aunt” and “Uncle” along with first names for those relationships– that’s one area in which my whole family seems to be pretty consistent! :)

  • Jennie

    I call my in-laws by their first names. I just can’t call them Mom and Dad. I started calling them by their first names when we were dating and that’s never changed. Funny though, my father-in-law calls me daughter but my MIL calls me by my first name.

    Both of my parents have passed. Not sure what my husband would have called them.

    • I don’t want to know what my MIL calls me!! ;)

      My husband doesn’t really call my parents anything, to be honest. He called my mother Mom at our wedding reception, I remember, but he doesn’t usually “label” them, either. He and I are both in this awkward limbo…

  • Sarah

    Unfortunately, I am not close to my in-laws. Before kids, I called them by their first names if I had to get their attention, but now I call them by their grandparent names.

    • I understand this, Sarah. I truly envy those who have closer relationships with their in-laws, but I just do not. I do refer to my MIL as “grandma” very, very frequently. Or, well, I just avoid calling her anything. It’s not a great method…

  • For most of the women that married into my husband’s family, they avoided calling the in-laws anything until they had kids and suddenly they could just call them “Grandma & Grandpa.”

    I tried calling my MIL Mom once and the look she gave me told me not to do it anymore, but after she passed away, I called my FIL Dad once and he loved it…started signing e-mails to me as Dad so it stuck. He has since remarried and his wife wants everyone to call her Mom but the kids (all full-grown) aren’t ok with this, so I just call her by her first name.

    • That “Grandma and Grandpa” thing works GREAT as long as the kids are in the room. I run up against a wall when it’s just the two of us! Man, you’d think this would be easy, seeing as I’m supposed to be a GROWN-UP and all. ;) (I love that your FIL likes being called “Dad” so much… that’s so special!)

  • My in-laws are a piece-of-work. When I have to address them, I use their first names. Unfortunately, my husband doesn’t want a close relationship with them, so we don’t talk often. I don’t fault him for how he feels about them; however, I do my best to stay out of their relationship.

    We are fairly close with his Aunt and Uncle, I address them as Aunt ___ and Uncle ___.

    My husband calls my mom “ma”- they get along great. They have a 2-4 hour phone conversation about once a month. My mom loves him, like her own. He also calls the rest of my family whatever I call them.

  • Mary

    I have always called my in-laws by their first names. I tried using Mom and Dad but didn’t feel right. My parents are gone and I don’t remember what my husband called them. We both reference them as “your mom” and “your dad” unless talking to the kids then they became “my mom” or Grandma ___, etc. I was introduced to my husbands grandmother first and called her grandma, as I did my own, but when she introduced me to my now in-laws she referred to them by first name.

    My parents were different, Dad would call Mom’s parents Mom and Dad, Mom called his Grandma and Grandpa. She told me she had a difficult relationship with Grandma and didn’t call her with a name until I was born (her first) and then it was much easier.

    My aunts and uncles are “aunt ____”, my husbands are by first name on his mother’s side and “aunt___” on his dad’s. Our kids call theirs by first name.

    The kids learn what to call your siblings by what you refer to them, ie., Your Aunt ____, my brother ____, etc.

    As long as we don’t intentionally insult others
    it may not matter what we call them. I know some people ask what to call the relatives, and get acceptable answers.

    Just my two cents worth of comment.

    • Oh, I don’t know that I think it matters what we call people– in that, there’s not a “right” answer here at all! I’ve just found it fascinating (and comforting) that I’m not the only person out there who has struggled with this a little bit. In some families, I think it’s pretty cut and dried. In others, it seems to be awkward. Unfortunately, I fall in that latter group!

  • earleyml

    HAHA!! I also avoided calling my in-laws anything. If in the same room ast them, I’d just start talking to them. If in public and I needed to get their attention, I’d just call them by their first name. What has helped me is kids!! I now call them Nana and PopPop. :) Here I thought I was the only one with this issue.

  • Mary B.

    I’m quite blessed in having fantastic in-laws…I called them Mom and Dad from the time we were engaged and it’s never been awkward. The difference for me is when talking about them in conversation to other people. I just say Mom ____ (last name) to differentiate between the two, while my hubby will say “Mary’s Mom.” We’ve never had issues, thankfully!

  • Beth

    I use a combination of first names and avoidance tactics, but it gets tricky because in my family there is “Tom” the FIL and “Tom” the BIL. The solution would probably be to call the FIL “Dad” but that doesn’t feel comfortable with me.

    I have a great relationship with my inlaws, but still choose not to call them mom/dad. I’ve addressed it (poorly) by chalking it up to my family culture- my parents called their inlaws by their first names, my sibs aren’t yet married yet, so I don’t know what they’ll do. To me, though, it just doesn’t quite fit to start calling someone mom/dad midlife. And, my inlaws and husband are ok with that. It would probably be best to discuss it directly with my inlaws, but thus far (married 10 years), I’ve only discussed it with my husband, who has then talked about it with his parents.

  • Heather

    This must’ve been during the spell I didn’t receive the emails. I always felt it was weird calling people that aren’t your patents mom & dad. Can’t do it. On cards I’d write mom or dad B to differentiate from mine G, just do ghevtight person gets it. To others I’d say first names or Kyle’s mom. To their face? I’d just talk. Thankfully I was 32 when we met. The mr. & Mrs. Thing would be such a bizarre change! I never though of that! I had one pal whose mom said use her first name. I just could not, so I said “hey lonney’s mom” and she calked me “Marion’s daughter.”

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