To Yes Ma’am or Not to Yes Ma’am


There are the “Yes, ma’am” moms, and then there are the rest of us. (Do you ever get the feeling I’m here to make you feel good about your parenting? I’m happy to provide this service for you.) My ears perk up when I hear a kid answer, “Yes, ma’am.” Their mom has it going on. Their dad is in this parenting marathon. This kid probably does chores, without grumbling. Probably adores his grandparents. Probably looks out for siblings. Probably works for his spending money. Probably plays violin. Wait, what? Okay, I don’t know where that last one came from.


Granted, maybe it’s not so simple a marker.

I have trained my kids to say a full “yes” – no “yeah” or “uh-huh.” Is that Emily Post I hear writhing in the grave? I have rationalized the most important thing is eye contact and attitude…not necessarily the words they use.  Eye contact is a pet peeve of mine. I’m constantly coaching, alright nagging, my kids with look-them-in-the-eye reminders as they are speaking with someone.

I’m considering making a late-game change here at my house. Perhaps I should have been a “Yes, ma’am” mom from the start. (Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda: They are gonna be the death of me.) My mother is from Alabama, you know. Ma’am-ing and Sir-ing: It’s what southerners do, right? Sir-ing. Now, that’s funny. This mid-stream transition will be tougher now, of course. Is it worth it? Does it show respect? Is it a robotic antiquated answer? Is this a geographical mannerism? Do northerners think it sounds whacko?

A parallel thought: Have you noticed ma’am-and-sir parents commonly insist on formal surnames for all adults? I have friends whose children call me “Mrs. Ferrell.”  And I’m still not sure how I feel about it.  Others call me “Miss Andrea.” Sometimes I lament the slide of respectful manner book traditions. Other days, I’m referred to as stuffy old Mrs. Ferrell, and I’m not lamenting.

Did you have ma’am-and-sir parents? Are you a ma’am-and-sir parent? Should I join the “Yes, ma’am” moms? Will my northern friends roll their cultural eyes? I hope not. I really like my northern friends, ya’ll.

And if my three little crazies become yes ma’am-ers…that means they will do chores without grumbling, right?

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  • kristie@thedecorologist

    I’m a “yes ma’am” mom, but maybe because I was raised by one. Honestly, I tend to have a softer response toward my girls when I hear them say “yes ma’am” to me. I don’t know why. But I get super-irritated when I get a “yeah.” So I guess I’m hoping if it has that effect on me, then other adults might be nicer to them if my kids speak that way. But I must say, it’s a difficult transition to make into adulthood – I remember in my 20′s working in a professional atmosphere and constantly calling everyone ma’am and sir (by reflex). Some people were offended that I was treating them like old people, while others probably judged me as younger and less sophisticated than I wished them to.

  • Chelle Greene

    I was raised in the North. If you said yes sir to someone that meant you were smarting off, or it was used to catch your waiter/waitresses attention. I was appalled when I came to college here in the South and in my first class someone said, “Yes sir” to the teacher. I could not believe that teacher didn’t get all over him. I have since learned that that is what is polite here. But I couldn’t get used to it for a VERY long time. Whether you teach to say it or not, what’s important is that they are being polite. I was taught to say, “Yes please” or “No thank you”. I was actually worried about that when I started dating a Southerner that his parents would think I was rude. But I had him tell them and they said they hadn’t even noticed. So that is what I try to instill in my children. I have one who says, “Yes Ma’am” because that is what was instilled in him in Chinese school. Thankfully it doesn’t bother me anymore.

    The Miss Chelle thing really bugged me much longer than it should have. Please call me Mrs. Greene or Chelle or even Mrs. Chelle. (For goodness sake I’m married.)

  • Susan @

    I think the nomenclature thing has become quite an elephant in the room, and not just between the yes-maam and non yes-maam crowds. The options of what you have your child call another adult seem to be: a) First Name, b) Mrs. (or Miss) First Name, c) Mrs. Last Name, and d) nothing. Because there’s no agreed-on norm in our culture, tons of parents go for option D by default, leaving children with no way to acknowledge an adult by name. It’s a tough spot for all concerned.

    We’re a “Mrs Last Name” family, and we’re in the minority but OK with it. I don’t mind when other children call me Mrs. Susan or Susan, but I definitely do mind when they call me “Jed’s mom…”

  • Kelli B.

    I am a Yes Ma’am Mom. I also grew up in the south and recently moved to CA. It is not the norm here. But that doesn’t matter one bit to me. We are teaching our children that they are not the center of the universe. Respect for adults and ‘elders’ is not something I am willing to let go just because it’s not popular anymore. We do it to show respect. It’s up to the other person to decide how to deal with the respect our children give. I agree that the Mrs./Miss first name or Mrs. Last name issue is harder to figure out. We just play it by ear and try to address adults with at least Mr/Mrs. first name but if others address them with last name we do that.

    My children do have chores…..but that not grumbling thing….Does that really happen?

  • Missy June

    I was raised in the midwest and now live solidly in the south. I was taught the ma’ams sirs, now I insist on “Yes, please” or “Yes, Ma’am” along with “Yes Sir” and or “No, thank you.” I the emphasis on eye contact – very important. As a single mother of three, I want to do all I can to be sure my children are respected and putting their best feet forward and down here, it helps.

    With a name like Missy, Ms. Missy just doesn’t work! In fact it makes me a little nauseous. So, I am simply Missy or they use my surname. More often, I’m just Jake’s (or Faith’s or Caleb’s) Mama. =).

  • Addie

    another Southern mom here… and yes, its mandatory to use “yes, maam;, no, maam; yes sir and no sir” or at the least instead of saying maam or sir, you can subsitute with thank you… Ive seen too many ill mannered children so ours have learned this from the start – of course, they are kids and often forget (and no, dont get punished just corrected if they dont say it)

    For adult names, we usually have them say Miss or Mr “first name”, just so they know that they deserve respect and if they are told to do something, then they should mind

  • http://www, Jan Griffin

    I am the mother of three amazingly kind and respectful kids. I have been a Yes Ma’am mom. They were born in the Midwest and when we moved to California wwhen they were in elementary school, I was shocked to hear teachers and other adults called by their first name, and other kids call me by my first name. Not only did my kids ALWAYS say Ma’am, Sir; please and thank you, they called adults by the appropriate formal title. We now live in Montana and adults here are surprised when my kids call them Mr or Mrs and say ma’am or sir – even though they are now teenagers.

  • Beka LeMaster

    I’m a northerner, married to a southerner and living in the south. I was not taught to say ma’am or sir, but was forced to call people by their surname (kinda weird). However, my husband is a definite yes sir, yes ma’am person. So we are trying to instill it in our children, which is easier said than done, because I still forget half the time. But, our children call people by Mr. or Miss and their first name. It is just the culture here. In fact, many of my in-laws friends are still Miss so-and-so to my husband and I, even though we are in our 30′s.

    Also, I hate to break your bubble, but your children will still probably whine about doing their chores! :)