Ask Scary Mommy: My MIL And I Disagree About What My Son Should Call Her

by Rita Templeton
My MIL And I Disagree About What My Son Should Call Her
Scary Mommy and grinvalds/Getty

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week: what do you do when Grandma wants to be called something besides “Grandma” … something that you don’t like? Do you let her have it her way? Have your own questions? Email

Dear Scary Mommy,

My son is only four months old, but I’m locked in a battle of wills with my mother-in-law over what he’s going to call her once he can talk. I want him to just call her Grandma; that’s what I called my grandmother, and I hate some of the “cutesy” grandparent names out there. But my MIL wants my son to call her NeNe, which I think sounds ridiculous. She’s always reinforcing it by saying things like “Come to NeNe!” and “Who’s NeNe’s boy?” and I try to temper it by referring to her as Grandma. I’m tired of the back-and-forth and I feel like we really need to settle on something, but every time I hear “NeNe” I cringe.

I get it. We’d all love our in-laws to just respect our wishes and go along with our preferences. But, like the many other areas where grandparents’ opinions differ (reasonable bedtime! acceptable amounts of sugar!), we ultimately have to decide if it’s worth the conflict.

Your mother-in-law likely isn’t doing the NeNe thing to spite you (and if she is, there are deeper issues at play than just the issue of what to call her, and this is the least of your worries). Try to consider why she wants to be called something other than Grandma. Maybe she’s dreamed of being called NeNe since the thought of grandchildren first crossed her mind. Maybe she feels that “Grandma” is just too plain. Maybe she had a beloved NeNe and carrying on that title makes her feel all warm inside. If you’re not sure, you could just straight-up ask her: hey Mother-in-Law, what made you want to be called “NeNe?” Knowing her reasons might actually make it a little less annoying to you.

And honestly, there’s a good chance your son won’t end up calling her Grandma or NeNe, but something else entirely. So many grandparent names come from the kids themselves — my own mom started out calling herself Grandma, but thanks to her oldest grandchild, she’s always been Mimi. Who’s to say your son won’t morph NeNe into Ninny or Nana … or something completely different?

In all likelihood, you have the upper hand here; your son presumably spends more time with you than he does with his grandmother, and he’ll pick up on whatever name you use when referring to her — so if that’s Grandma, then he’ll probably call her Grandma. But ask yourself if this is worth any possible tension between you and your mother-in-law. If she’s a good grandmother to your son, caring and involved, that carries far more weight than the trivial issue of what name she goes by. And if you can learn to tolerate your son calling her NeNe, you should try. There are more important hills to die on, so to speak.

Besides, when either one of you see his sweet little face light up as he sees her, you’ll be so in love that it doesn’t matter what he calls her.

Have a question? Email