I grew up with plenty of aunts and uncles. In fact, every man or woman in our church, our school, my parents’ friendship circle and parents of my friends were by default either ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’. Even a total stranger was referred to as such.

In fact, as a child, anyone more than about ten years older was ‘Aunty So-and-So’ or ‘Uncle So-and-So’. As I grew older and into a teenager that gap became larger. Someone ten years older could be called by their first name, but anyone old enough to be my parents or grandparents were still respectfully addressed as ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’. As an adult there are bitterly few people I now address in that way, but I still understand respecting my ‘elders’, and someone who isn’t my ‘chum’ would be ‘Mr X’, ‘Mrs X’, or even, perhaps still, ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’.

I find it strange then, to be raising my child in a culture where people smile and tell me how old fashioned I am when I refer to them as ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’. I understand that she doesn’t yet understand the title, but starting as I mean to go on, I feel it is so important for her to learn from the beginning how to be respectful.

This is not to say that she should be ‘seen and not heard’. I certainly do not Vigeland Park, Oslo, Norwaybelieve that being reverential is synonymous with implying your are less than the other person, but in a society where esteem or regard for our fellow man is already so lacking, surely as parents we need to do what we can as soon as we can to instil this behaviour?

Now, I’m not saying that calling everyone a specific title is going to miraculously change the state of the world or the ‘youth of today’ but I do see it as a starting point. Something that I as a parent can build on.

I am also not a big believer in respect for respect’s sake – there is a difference between being respectful out of fear and being respectful out of politeness.

But I also think that how we treat other people is a reflection of how we view ourselves and our place in this world – and among the people we share it with. If I esteem myself highly – without vanity – then I am likely to also esteem others highly, unless they prove themselves unworthy of this esteem. And if I treat others well are they not more likely to return this good treatment, thereby reinforcing a sense of self, and of self-worth and eventually self-respect?

Is it wrong then, or old fashioned, to use the naming of people as ‘aunty’, ‘uncle’ or ‘missus’ or ‘mister’ as the starting point for teaching such a fundamental value? How else can we teach it, instil it and make it stick? I’m really asking here. I’m open to suggestions.


The First Vestiges of Respect?

  1. We do kind of a combo. I’ve not lived somewhere where it’s commonplace to call just ANY adult aunty or uncle, but my close friends are referred to as “aunty” or “uncle” and then their first names. Like, Aunty Kathleen and her boyfriend are coming to visit tomorrow. If it’s an adult I am close with, they’re addressed as Ms. or Mr. Firstname, and other adults by Ms/Mrs/Mr. Lastname. My son, like your daughter, isn’t old enough to use these addresses yet but I think they’re important and this way he’ll get used to hearing them.

  2. When we were growing up, we called my parents friends and our friends parents Mr. Lastname and Mrs. Lastname. Except for our godparents, the only people who were called Aunt and Uncle were our actual aunts and uncles.

    Our children call our friends by their first names. No aunty or uncle required. But I do expect them to respect other people in their lives, be they older, younger, or the same age. I hope they will learn that by observing the respect that my partner and I give to those around us, as well as some helpful reminders along the way. 🙂
    .-= Annie @ PhD in Parenting´s last blog ..This is why I’m a breastfeeding advocate =-.

  3. Its still a common thing to do here up north! When i was of an age to enquire about our family tree it did confuse me for a while that some of my ‘relatives’ were not my real realatives. But I understood it to be a polite manners thing and its stuck all the way thro our family. My friends children call me and my husband uncle Auntie and Uncle and i rather like it but did tell them they could call me my name but they prefer to call me auntie. That s fine by me.
    My half cousin is 8 yrs old and we had a good chat when our Gran died last year. My cousin was asking about our relation ship so I drew her a picture. SO she said ” your not my auntie but your as old as my dad it doent make sense” So I said” if its easier you can call me auntie or just Big Cousin – she liked big cousin best so it stuck.

    There s no easy answer and depends on your family and your feelings. I think children can be taught respect for those older than them without being given a title but some may find it easier with a title to use

    Good luck

  4. I always though the aunt/uncle thing was peculiar to the south. My family used it mostly for extended relatives, and Mr/Ms for everyone else. My son isn’t old enough to talk yet, but m,y husband is already referring to close friends as aunt/uncle, so I guess we’ll be using it. I do think manners are important, and I want to teach him to say sir, ma’am, please, thank you, etc, and to address people respectfully.

    I do sort of wonder why we give that respect based on age though, and if it might send a message that younger people are less deserving of respect. How do you explain that we call so-and-so Mrs. Jones or Auntie LaVonne, but her son is just Jayden, without implying that one is more deserving of respect or held in higher esteem than another? (Or is that one of those things adults think on and theorize about but children don’t really notice at the time?)
    .-= Raine´s last blog ..Why Tri? =-.

  5. Def a ticky one. Tried aunty and uncle, but “weird” as no one else does it here. But for me fundamentals in respect are elsewhere anyway

    1) respect your child. respect that they have wishes, respect that the have views, respect that they have feelings (even if irrational), keep your promises, talk to them and about them in a respectful way

    When Red TEd is older, I will take him with me on charity work – e.g. in the past I Have hosted tea parties for elderly worked on a summer camp and other things.Where appropriate will get him involved!

    on a simpler/ less deep note: teach them please and thank you (use sign language at first and the words will follow). Thank you is harder as they usually have by then what they want!

    Sorry re typos holding fidgety baby

    .-= Maggy´s last blog ..How to… make a No Sew Bib =-.

  6. Wow! That’s a really tough question 🙂

    Like you I grew up calling lots of people auntie and uncle (who actually weren’t relatives) – did it teach me to be respectful of my elders? I’m not sure that it was via the naming convention, but I do remember the ‘respect your elders’ thing being drummed into to me, and I was certainly very clear on what was expected of me in terms of behaviour.

    Is using the aunty/uncle/mr/mrs thing wrong? No, not at all. Perhaps some would see it as old fashioned, but I’m not sure that old fashioned values are a bad thing. If a child referred to me as Mrs Quick, I’d probably say that they could call me Lucy, but it certainly wouldn’t offend me.

    I think if the title helps to reinforce the respectful behaviour then there’s no harm whatsoever 🙂

    Very thought provoking post!
    .-= Lucy Quick´s last blog ..Surviving the Supermarket =-.

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