Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Tell Me About It: You can escape that nickname if you try

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: A parent insists on calling an adult child (as in career, married, kids, 30s, etc.) a babyish childhood nickname. The child has asked multiple times that the parent not use the name. The parent claims they cannot change that easily, and seems (to outside parties) to be using the name more frequently. The parent will slip into this nickname at public events as well, including events involving the child's colleagues.

The child does not believe the parent has bothered trying to adhere to the request at all. Is either side being unreasonable?

Answer: The parent who sticks to the name is being unreasonable, I suspect with intent. Power trip? Usually is.

If you've spent any time in this forum at all, you know I'm going to say you can be right about your nickname - you're the adult child, obviously - and still not control your parent's use of it.

But, you can choose not to fuss, since that's part of the power-trip circuit, and it's best not to complete it. And you can choose not to respond to the nickname. When this parent calls you Pookie, s/he might as well be saying "armchair." Your head does not turn.

And those "outside parties" who support you can all do the same, including play dumb. " 'Pookie'? I'm sorry, who? Oh, you mean Dana."

You can also limit this parent's presence at events.

And, you can take deep cleansing breaths and remind yourself that a defiant, public nickname-abuser is actually making more of a fool of him/herself than of Pookie.

Refusing to try to see it that way is where the adult child would enter the unreasonable zone.

Fair?

Response: Thanks, Carolyn, that does make sense (and makes me feel like I'm not nuts for being irritated by it).

What if the parent sends e-mails that begin with "Pookie, (rest of e-mail)"? Would you suggest ignoring the e-mail altogether?

Answer: Well, at least we know it's deliberate now!

You can state clearly to the parent: "I'm just letting you know, from now on, if you start an e-mail with Pookie, I will delete it unread" - and stick to it. Or, you can decide this is private communication and not worth the trouble, and fight your battle on the public turf. It's a matter of your best judgment, both on the size of the battle you're fighting and on the possibility of collateral damage.

Reader comment: In defense of the parents: We have the same situation in our family, and it really is hard to remember to call the person by his given name. My brother is in his late 20s now, and I still find myself calling him in public settings by his very distinctive childhood nickname. Heck, he's even listed that way in my address book - so it is hard!

Answer: Right. But: If he has asked you to stop using it, then you can change the way he's listed in your address book. That is not hard. Using his real name in e-mail? Not hard. And small things like that not only reinforce using his real name, but also reinforce the validity of using his real name. Hiding behind sentimentality = no fairsies.

 


tellme@washpost.com

Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

 

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