Several months ago, David and I gave our girls the freedom to address us by our first names. This change came after we realised that we desired an authentic relationship with our children as our companions and not as our subordinates.

Rose in bloom, August 2011
What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

David and I used to be big into titles. We had discussed our preferred term of address for our children’s peers and felt slighted when that was circumvented. I was “Aunty Lauren” to the kids who visited our home, and David preferred “Mr Fisher” — even thinking that the term “uncle” was too familiar for certain children. When particular children called us by our first names, it felt disrespectful, too familiar, and uncomfortable, especially because they were doing so without invitation. We had set ourselves up to be addressed by a certain standard, and when a child deviated from it — even though the poor child was probably ignorant of our sensibilities — we felt offended.

Almost a year ago, I was approached by a family friend who is the same age as Aisha. He wanted to know when he could call me “Lauren” and drop the “Aunty”. Upon hearing the question, I was aghast — how dare he presume to be an equal with me? My quick answer was that he could call me “Lauren” when he started driving.

The memory of this uneasy interaction kept bubbling up in my mind for several months. As I learned more about myself, I recognised that this was not my finest moment in friendship and parenting. I was reacting personally because I felt affronted, and my response was not given in love but in self-preservation. I was trying to uphold the false god that I had created — an idol of myself that was better than someone else purely because of the age difference.

Some of the particularly immature behaviour that David and I have demonstrated in the past has made us hold our tongues the next time we came to articulate to our children why it is that we are superior to them.

When I realised that my ego, my sin-nature was the one insisting on titular address, the first thing I did was apologise to that young man. He didn’t necessarily understand my changed position, but in time, he will, and when I see him again in person, I’ll reiterate my invitation for him to call me “Lauren”.

The next step was with our children. We asked them if they would always call us “Mummy” and “Daddy”, even when they’re adults. Our children understand the culture around them and have seen that adults call other adults by their first names. They laughed at the idea that they would extend their childishness into their adulthood.

David and I then invited our girls to call us by our first names from that day. Since then, when speaking about one another to the children, we started referring to each other as “David” and “Lauren” rather than “Daddy” and “Mummy”. We still answer to “Mummy” and “Daddy” — our intention is to not insist on a particular form of address and so our children have the freedom to call us by our titles or our names, whatever feels comfortable to them.

Aisha was the first to start addressing us by our names. Interestingly, she calls us by our names when she is approaching us in maturity, when she is walking in righteousness. If she’s cranky, sulky, selfish or immature, she’ll revert to calling us “Daddy” and “Mummy”. For us, this is an easy barometer of how much spiritual energy she has, whether Aisha is in a state of godliness or not.

As we have moved away from the hierarchical family structure given to us by our traditions in religion, David and I have come to see our position in the family as that of guardian angels rather than superiors. When we recognise that our children are souls on their own spiritual journey, we see the folly in trying to pull rank merely from the fact that we have come to Earth before them.

In insisting on titular address such as “Daddy” and “Mummy” or “Mother” and “Father”, we create a mental barrier which inhibits the intimacy of companionship. Our children are now free to call us by any name or title they choose.

Sure, I may have birthed these beautiful children, and they come from a combination of David’s and my genetic codes, but we can share our lives as companions, as friends. I have nothing to teach our children except that which I can demonstrate in excellence and godliness, and to insist otherwise simply reinforces my position as Chief Hypocrite.

If titular address is a matter of respect to me, then I need to recognise that craving “respect” from another person is a stumbling block in my own spiritual path. If I am dependent on receiving “respect” from others and I am demanding this “respect” by insisting someone call me a certain name or title, I am sadly misguided and am giving power to others to determine my emotional well-being. I can exist happily, I can find contentment, I can grow in godliness without the perceived “respect” of others if I care not for the idea of “respect”.

In seeking to build authentic relationships with those around us, we naturally start with those closest to us. By letting go of the hierarchical structures within our family, we demonstrate that we are journeying together as companions, both physically as our adventures take us around the world and spiritually as we grow in faith, hope and love.