Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mama and Papa or Mummy and Daddy?

Photo: Dirk Herrmann
An interesting post caught my eye on the networking site Insego this week. A member asked if other parents preferred to be called mama or papa, like the Dutch use, or whether other expats preferred to use the terms of their native language - so in my case mummy and daddy. It struck a chord because it is something I have thought about since becoming a parent.

I speak English to my sons. The idea is that they speak (and in the case of my youngest, will speak) English back to me. However, my eldest calls me mama, which is what he learnt to call me from me and his 'papa'. I never really thought anything of the term mama, nor particularly consciously decided on mama instead of mummy, until one day my son called me mummy. And it felt weird. it somehow did not fit.

He had called me mama since the day he could talk and after an extended trip to the UK, he came out suddenly with mummy. I didn't react instantly because it took a second to realise he was actually addressing me. I corrected him with "mama" and he looked confused. Everyone else in England had used mummy when referring to me - "Shall we see if your mummy wants to do that?" "Maybe ask your mummy before you eat that." So he had adopted it and begun using it back in Holland. To my dismay. And I still am not sure, even now, why it dismayed me. But it did. And he now, generally, calls me mama. Every now and then he reverts to mummy but it is so infrequent it doesn't bother me.

I think I got used to hearing mama from him so when he used mummy it sounded alien. However, there is also another part that prefers mama because it reminds me of who we are as a family. My children are Dutch and no matter what my nationality is, they are currently more Dutch than English. And so, somehow, it seems more natural for them to call me mama.

What do your children call you? Do you use terms from your host or birth country?

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