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When kids call parents by name

Melvin Muraya and Lillian Mwangi are shocked that their neighbour hit his child for calling him by name. To them, it is overreacting, absurd and nothing to lose a temper about.

“My three year old son, Tyler, has been calling his mother ‘Honey’ and ‘Miriam’ since he uttered his first word. Because I call my wife honey, he thinks it is her name or sometimes calls her Miriam when he hears other people call her by name and that does not bother her at all,” says 31-year-old Melvin.

Although his son calls him dad, Melvin and his wife find no offense in their son addressing them by their names. They say it is an innocent gesture. In the past, calling parents by name was insolent and forbidden. It would have called for harsh reprimanding and punishment.

Changes in time and parenting styles have made this taboo acceptable. Mwangi argues that ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ are just titles. “What matters is the relationship you have with your child. My daughter calls me mum, I don’t have restrictions,” she says. “These generation is going to hell!

How is it OK for a child to address a parent as if they are addressing their peers?” wonders Christine Oloo. “We should never let things get this far. It is disrespectful,” says Urbanus Kioko. Mercy Bosibori says her siblings and her refer to their parents by names, but when they are not listening.

“Some of my friends do that all the time. I don’t think they mean any disrespect,” she says. According to Dr Carol Njeri, a psychologist, each child’s upbringing is different and determines every detail of their growth.

She says that children grow up referring to their parents as mum or dad because they are constantly reminded that is how it should be. “However if they grow up where those close to their parents call them by names then they are more likely to do the same. How every parent reacts to their child calling them by name varies,” she says.

Dr Njeri adds that the kind of relationship between children and parents largely determines how they address each other. “If a child grows up in a hostile environment like where they are repeatedly abused or mistreated by their parents, the relationship becomes strained and the slightest respect that child had for them withers,” she says.

“Alternatively, if one parent is aggressive and violent towards their partner then their child might detest the abusive parent. In that case, the child will disassociate himself from the violent parent out of bitterness,” she says.

Without forgetting, Dr Njeri says that in the event of divorce or separation, a child may lose touch with a parent who moves out and cuts off communication. Failure to create and maintain a relationship turns them into strangers.

Kids may be aware of their parents’ existence, but without that bond, the familial title becomes void. She also notes that stepchildren may take time to accept someone else as their parent. In such instances, a stepchild cannot be rushed to let in someone new.

Some feel like their parent is being replaced or that by warming up to a stepparent, they are betraying their biological parent. For Simon Munya, a father of four, every parent remains mum or dad irrespective of the circumstances. “Whether a parent is part of your life or not they will never stop being your mother or father.

So that is how it should always be,” he says. He laments that modern parents are taking matters of choice and freedom too far. “Children run around with so much freedom that they fail to acknowledge authority. We have become soft and scared of punishing our kids because we want them to like us.

The most ridiculous reason is some parents who want to be called by their names because mum or dad makes them look old,” Munya says. Dr Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist in Connecticut, USA finds great fault in children referring to their parents by names. She sees it as toying with the balance of authority at home.

“Not only should parents set clear boundaries that they are the parents and not friends, but, by allowing a child to call you by your first name, you will lose your ability to have any authority. After all, friends don’t set limits like parents do. They don’t ask you if you did your laundry and whether you did your homework, ” she says.

Therapists and psychologists warn that if the unconventional trend is not curtailed, children will rubbish parental rules and guidance. Teenagers may, especially do this just to test boundaries and draw attention from their parents. Consequently they will acquire destructive behavioural tendencies.

While it is all about what works best for each family, experts advise that parents should never compromise their authority. Doing so is feared to be a threat to the very fabric that glues together the basis of a family. With trust and respect, a parent can still be their child’s best friend.

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