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Not so formal, m’am

I have been transplanted into the south of the United States.  I came willingly, and I enjoy living here for now.  But one thing really seems strange to me, being called m’am.

It is so normal here, everyone does it. It is expected and I assume it is considered rude not to call a person m’am or sir. But it isn’t normal to me and it doesn’t fit my culture.

See, that is the problem with cultural norms – they are culturally specific. If you didn’t grow up in that culture, you don’t have the same responses to it as those who are within that culture. And while I know the women who do this expect it to be taken as a sign of respect, to me it feels very cold.  I would even venture to call it artificial, to call every person by the same title rather than learning names.  They are individuals and should be respected as such – but that is my cultural bias.

I bring this up because it is possible to mistake one’s culture for what is right or Godly without ever testing it against scripture. Is it better for my southern ladies to refer to me as m’am?  Does it please God more? They mean it as a sign of respect, but it irritates me and does not respect how I would like to be addressed – does that make it less respectful?  Who is right?  Which one is Godly?

This is vitally important on many levels.  First, it is important for those who work with families to understand how to interact with that family in a way that is acceptable and agreeable to them.  If you want to work in the birth world, you need to be able to put aside your cultural expectations rather than trying to make families put aside theirs.

Secondly, cultural ideals is often what drives a family to raise their children to one standard or another.  Each culture picks what it thinks is important and families tend to strive for those values.  You are doing this, I am doing this, and the families we work with are doing this.  But, you may say, I am counter culture.  You may be counter the mainstream culture, but I bet there are others who agree with you.  Others who are helping you shape what you think is important. Others who are part of your culture.

Third, when you are seeking advice or care for pregnancy or your children, understand that there will probably be cultural differences between those who are assisting you and yourself. They may value different things, they may see the world differently.  As long as you are willing to acknowledge it and work through the cultural issues that should not be too big a problem.

Just some things to think about as you decide the lists of dos and don’ts you plan to teach your child so he or she can be Godly. It can be hard to discern the difference between culturally appropriate and Godly, but when you are willing to seek the truth from God, he will make it clear.

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Jennifer Vanderlaan CNM MPH is the author of the website. She has been working with expectant families since 2000, training doulas and childbirth educators, and midwives. She has worked with midwives in Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Her interest in public health grew in 2010, and she is now a PhD student in a nursing program learning to become a producer of knowledge.

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