05/15/2012 05:09 pm ET Updated Jul 15, 2012

The Trouble with Mr. and Mrs.

From the moment our oldest child learned to talk, my husband said he wanted our kids to address adults as Mr. and Mrs.

"Too formal," I said. We're not those kind of people.

"The kind with well-mannered kids?" he asked.

What could I say to that? My arguments weren't solid, but we agreed to disagree. He introduced adults to our kids as Mr. and Mrs., and I smiled triumphantly when an overwhelming majority of people we encountered insisted our kids use their first names.

Then one day my son had a new friend over for a play date. This four-year-old boy called me Mrs. Badzin the entire time.

My first thought: Wow, that kid has excellent manners. Kudos to his parents.

My second thought: I'm so not a Mrs. Badzin.

In fact, "Call me Nina" was on the tip of my tongue, but I quickly realized this little boy calling me Mrs. Badzin was not about me. What right did I have to undo his parents' lesson on good manners? Although "Mrs. Badzin" sounded strange to me and made me feel ancient, I let the child address me in that formal manner every time he played at our house. Frankly, I admired his parents for going against the modern trend in our community. The truth was, the boy was our son's friend, not mine.

My next thought: Shoot, my husband was right. I've since joined his side in the Mr./Mrs. "debate."

Obviously, having been in the "just call me Nina" camp, I understand why some people object to Mr. or Mrs. It sounds rigid and impersonal. Some tell me they want their kids' friends to feel comfortable at their house. I get that. But when I think back to the adults I called Mr. and Mrs. as I child (pretty much everyone), I picture the parents of my good friends, most of whom I found warm and nurturing and still think of fondly today.

There's isn't one right answer, and here's where the issue of "Mr. and Mrs." gets especially complicated. As I already pointed out, most people immediately tell our kids to use their first name. This leaves me with two options, neither of which I like.

Option #1: I can let it go. Perhaps the preference of the adult who strongly objects to being called Mr. or Mrs. trumps our preference that our kids use the title as a sign of respect. Furthermore, if I override the adult in question, am I being rude?

Option #2: I can say on the spot, "I prefer my kids call you Mr. and Mrs. X." Unfortunately, this puts me in the position of looking exactly like the stuffy fuddy-duddy I considered my husband to be at first. Even worse, two questions hang unpleasantly in the air. By insisting our kids use Mr. and Mrs. when most people we know do not, do others feel we're judging them? (We're not, but I'm afraid it looks otherwise.) And finally, what are their kids supposed to call us?

I'm curious how other people deal with this issue. Does it bother you when kids call you Mr. or Mrs.? If so, why? On the flip side, if you're teaching your children to say Mr. and Mrs., how do you handle it when adults tell your children otherwise?