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I have a friend whose family I also know. Her mother likes me, and addresses me as her "(my ethnicity) daughter", or herself as my "(her ethnicity) mother" as a form of endearment. I live in a Western, English-speaking country where I am an ethnic minority, and she is part of the ethnic majority.

I don't have a problem with her being friendly, and even pointing out my minority status continuously doesn't bother me as much as the fact that she calls herself my mother. I have a very close relationship with my own mother, who is the only mother I need, and feel quite uncomfortable that my friend's mother is almost putting herself on equal footing with my mother despite not having 'earned it'.

At the same time, I understand it is her way of expressing affection, and would like to tell her that calling me her daughter, or herself as my mother makes me uncomfortable without coming across as rude. This has also gone on for many years and I have not previously indicated that it was unwelcome (although I have also never encouraged it or used the terms myself).

Edits to include comments:

  1. The mentioned friend is her daughter, and they have a good relationship, so it is not the case that I am 'a daughter she always wanted', but she just has a normal level of affection for me.
  2. I have always called her by her first name. She also doesn't exclusively refer to me as 'daughter', more often it is by my first name, but the term 'daughter' does surface once in a while.
  3. I would be happy with any non-familial endearment term, and some familial or quasi-familial terms (e.g. aunty), where there is no restriction on the number of these that you can have (as opposed to godmother, where there is typically just one).
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I will suggest that you don't ask her to stop calling you "daughter". Doing this is likely to hurt her feelings and it's something that you don't want.

What you could do instead is asking here to us another nickname for you. Nickname are us between people who have a special connection. From experience, a nickname between two people can stay the same during all their life or can change with time (I gave my little sister a lot of different nickname during her life). So changing one nickname might not be as odd as one could fear.


Here is how I suggest going about the change of nickname:

Start by using a nickname when you talk to her. For example: "(your ethnicity) aunty". If you use it often enough, she will probably start using it to designate her by herself as it's a thing that often happen with nickname.


This doesn't fix the main issue, though. Her calling you "daughter". For this, I would suggest choosing a nickname for yourself that you will be fine for her to use and ask her:

I love you and I would be very happy if you could call me "Hagen" (instead of "daughter" as it makes me a little uncomfortable).

When giving her another way to call you, you are acknowledging that there is something special between you. The part where you explain why you want to change your nickname might not be necessary. I would suggest using it only if you think she won't call you as you wish otherwise.

In the case where you don't explain why you want to change nickname, be prepare for her to ask. Also, she might want to know if the new nickname has a specific meaning.

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I'm pleased to read that you don't mind her mentioning your ethnicity. It would be so easy for you to use that angle to get her to stop saying it, but she could end up feeling that you are accusing her of some form of racism, and that would be totally at odds with what you are trying to achieve.

This may seem overly simple, but I think the best approach here is a direct one. Just tell her specifically which part of the term makes you uncomfortable.

Next time she uses the term, you could perhaps say:

Thank you for your kind words. I hope you don't mind me saying this, but I do feel a little uncomfortable when you say you are my mother. To me it feels disrespectful to my own mother. I know that you are just expressing affection and I am not offended, but I hope you don't mind my mentioning it.

As you are stating a preference that she does not understand there is a good chance she will assume, rightly or wrongly, that your request is connected to your culture in some way. I am fairly sure that the way you feel about this is not directly connected to your family's culture, as I also find it a little odd that she has taken it upon herself to describe your relationship as a mother-daughter one, and I am not part of any ethnic minority. It is up to you if you want to allow her to think that, or put it right. I don't personally think that would be an "abuse" of your minority status. It saves you having to explain or justify the way you feel. So long as you are clear that you are not offended and understand her motives, your request should be understood and accepted by her.

  • Thanks for the suggestion, but I'm a little hesitant to try this to be honest. I feel like she will probably be hurt by the "it feels disrespectful to my own mother" part, since she will be 1) taken aback by how sudden it came, and 2) possibly defensive. I guess also generally from a NZ context, any kind of "no" needs to be phrased as much like a "yes" as possible :( – The Hagen Nov 20 '18 at 13:34
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This is going to be a very distinct frame-challenge, and hopefully it is useful.

Try to change how you view the situation

It sounds at least like you have a positive outlook on her reasons for saying that you are her daughter. Accepting that she's doing it from a place of affection is a really important step in maintaining a positive relation with her.

The core of this issue is thus; there is a mismatched relationship.

Unfortunately, correcting a mismatched relationship by dragging it back never ends well in my experience. You could think of it as very similar to what some guys will call "the friend zone"- they have (at some level) upgrading the relationship to something more, but the other individual has not. This can cause resentment, and often-times the only way to resolve it is by hurting one person or the other. Such is the nature of human relationships.

So how does this relate? She sees you as another daughter, but you only see her as an affectionate adult.

I don't think there is any way to prevent this behavior without negatively impacting your relationship with her in a serious way. Even if you are as gentle as possible or use some sort of fantastic quantum communication to beam your thoughts to her, the core of what you want to accomplish is still "she doesn't want me to treat her as a daughter". You are rejecting her as a faux mother, and it bothered you enough to even consider bringing it up. The obvious conclusion then is that she was bothering you, which would make her feel terrible. Even moreso because the 'bother' was that she was being affectionate towards you.

You have two options

1) Try to change your own mind. If you think about it, maybe you'll find that there isn't any harm in accepting how she feels about you after all, and there isn't really any reason you can't have another Mom that you might care slightly less about after all. This was the option I chose when I was younger- it seemed like a net gain to me. Another mom, when my first was already so great? Why the heck not?

2) Change her mind. Changes from outside are never easy- it's why people always have an easier time convincing themselves than they do convincing others. You can flatly or politely tell her to stop referring to you this way however you like, but no matter what in order to get your point across you must hurt her in order to accomplish a state-change in her mental outlook.

You have to decide.

It's about where your priorities lie. I hope my information has been helpful. Good luck. :)

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    Hey there! :) Although we don't mind frame-challenging answers, there are a few issues I could see with your contribution. The first option you offer does not involve interpersonal skills, as it's your thinking you're aiming at changing. Also, it would be nice if you could add back up explaining why what you're offering OP to do would work in your opinion. Why do you think that trying to change her mind would help in solving OP's issue? It'd be great if you could edit your answer regarding those points. – avazula Nov 20 '18 at 16:19
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    @avazula Hey, thanks for the comment. I think the first option involves interpersonal skills because it is directly related to an interpersonal interaction. It is context for why my interpersonal suggestion for this matter is 'Don't do anything'. The reason why my suggestion for "don't do anything" was stated to be helpful is because the alternative (Doing something) would be hurtful. Is there anything I could change in particular to make that more clear? Thanks again. – Onyz Nov 20 '18 at 16:30
  • thanks for clarifying. I think it'd be great if you could add that explanation on how doing the alternative would be hurtful (to whom, btw? Both?) in your answer. It would already be a beginning of a backup to your suggestion :) On the other side, I get your point of view for the first option, even if I don't agree to. As I'm not sure whether it indeed is about IPS skills, I think we should let the other members read your answer and tell us what they think :) – avazula Nov 20 '18 at 16:41
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    I added a bit to try and explain who would be hurt and why, thank you. – Onyz Nov 20 '18 at 16:48
  • I personally don't understand the down votes, I found this answer very helpful and it gave me a lot to think about. I guess the core of the issue for me is that I feel my mother has done so much for me that no one can be compared with her, including relatives who have looked after me since childhood and including this friend's mother. But you're right that it is a rejection nonetheless. I will have to think some more... – The Hagen Nov 20 '18 at 20:48

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