Simply Yes (Why I Don’t Force My Kids to Say Yes Ma’am)

Recently while perusing Facebook, in my not so free time, I came across a post from a good friend. This friend always has the cutest post about her kids, and this time was no different. It was all about how she and her daughter were in a store and a lady asked her a question to which her daughter simply replied “Yes.” The lady then corrected her and said, “Yes Ma’am.” Now I was waiting for the rant that I felt this lady deserved about correcting someone else’s child, but instead what I got was an interesting lesson.

My friend went on to school us about her Spanish heritage (she is bicultural and speaks Spanish). In the Spanish language, the word for ma’am is señora which is used in regard to a female stranger. This is the same for the term señor. So, in my friend’s family, it would seem quite odd and actually hurtful to use it in regard to a loved one. Therefore, they are not taught the phrases “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am” or “yes sir” or “no sir.” The lightbulb went off for me, as I never knew this Spanish cultural fact. She went on to explain how she would never call her beloved grandmother ma’am, and that if she did, her grandma would probably think she had lost her mind. So, for this reason she does not teach her children to say “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am.”

Growing up in my family, we were forced to say yes and no ma’am and were even berated if we did not say it. We were told we were being disrespectful if we didn’t. As a child I never understood this, yet I have continued this tradition with my kids. I have done this, even though I don’t necessarily feel it’s disrespectful for a child to simply say yes or no. I mean why do we expect kids to say ma’am or sir to their grandparents and aunts and uncles? Those are very formal terms by definition and not really terms of endearment. I wouldn’t say that to my close friend. I only use it with people I feel are older than me or strangers to me.

This isn’t a debate on right and wrong, just food for thought. Although I would think twice the next time I hear a stranger’s child say “yes” before opening my mouth to correct them with a “yes ma’am.” There could be many reasons why kids do or don’t do this practice. In my opinion, the lady in the store probably was being more disrespectful butting in than my friend’s daughter that simply said “yes.”

One Response to Simply Yes (Why I Don’t Force My Kids to Say Yes Ma’am)

  1. Gabrielle April 18, 2018 at 4:44 pm #

    I wasn’t taught that it was disrespectful to simply say yes (depending on how it was said) but that it was respectful to say yes ma’am. (Yeah was disrespectful.) There is a subtle but important difference. It was a matter of practicing good manners and a regular gentle reminder to remain humble.

    I have taught my child to “ma’am and sir” and since our move to an international community, I have been surprised by how touched adults who don’t come from a culture that does this have been when they hear it coming from my child. They comment about it regularly, about what a polite and respectful child she is. Even when it isn’t an expected gesture of respect, it seems it is appreciated as one. Even In cultures where it isn’t taught, it is perceived to be a sign of a well-brought-up child.

    It is interesting that such a simple gesture which is, in part, meant to be a sign of humility, is giving her an advantage. What a reward!

    It is certainly a culturally distinctive thing to ma’am and sir, and while not every cultural practice is good and should be maintained, this one is, at the very least, pleasant and civilized. Differing cultures are what make the world interesting and what drew me abroad, so wherever I can share the unique and interesting aspects of my culture I am happy to do so. I hope we will always preserve this charming aspect of our culture.

Leave a Reply