How should your kids address your friends?

Aug 11, 2009 at 1:10 a.m. ET

How should your kids address your friends? Growing up, I had an Uncle Rick. His loving and warm presence in my life from my earliest memories. The only thing is, "Uncle Rick" he wasn't a blood uncle at all. He was my father's close friend; someone for whom "Mr. Smith" was too formal and just "Rick" wasn't formal enough - and didn't convey the nature of the relationship.

Mother, Daughter, Aunt

I had several such "Aunties" and "Uncles" - not to be confused with actual "Aunts" and "Uncles." There were people who were a part of my life just as much as the blood relatives - in fact, I probably saw them more often, and the visits were less fraught with familial tension. It was just plain fun. But I didn't think much about how I addressed these people until I had children of my own - and had friends of my own with whom I hoped to develop and continue these strong bonds of non-blood family.

Formal? Or not so formal?

Some families are more formal than others. Our family tends toward the less formal; I've been married almost 20 years and I still don't always respond to "Mrs. Klein." But some formalities are necessary, and I'm getting better with them. Our older neighbors will always be "Mr." and "Mrs." to our kids - and I am even inclined to call them that though they've asked me to call them by their first names. It's a demonstration of respect and their relative stature in our little community.

Some families go with the more Southern-sounding but slightly less formal "Miss Jane" or "Mr John" designation for those who are closer than strangers but not quite family. It's kind of a hybrid and it works well in many situations - but it doesn't feel natural for me. I figured our names for close family friend would just evolve, and for the most part they have.

Picking names

As some age, I realized my kids friends should probably call me "Mrs." instead of my first name. But there are some among those friends who are closer than others. Similarly, there are some families among our friends that are closer to our children than others. After consulting with the adult contingent of those friends, we decided on the "Auntie" and "Uncle" designations among us. Our kids will still call other parents more formal names and some kids will still call me "Mrs" (and I'll invariably look around for someone else), but being called "Auntie Jen" by a small contingent of kids I love almost as well as my own feels quite right.

A variation on the "Auntie" and "Uncle" theme is to use those names from other languages, possibly recognizing cultural heritage: Tante, Oom, Tia, Tio, or a myriad other possibilities. You could also allow the kids to come up with their own endearments, or perhaps use another nickname. Just like grandparents can develop unique names when children are just learning language, so can close friends. "Tae tae," for example, or just about any nickname.

Over time, as I got older and Uncle Rick got older (and my other Aunties and Uncles got older, too), there came a time when "Uncle Rick" didn't feel quite right to either of us anymore. As I became an adult and related to this member of the family that wasn't exactly a member of the family, he slowly became just "Rick," and that was just fine for both of us. In so many ways he is still my Uncle Rick, and I appreciate that my family made the effort to show him that special respect. 

Tell us: What do your kids call your close friends? Comment below!

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