- Family and Parenting
Attention All Aunts: How To Make The Most Of This Special Role
An aunt is typically defined as a woman whose nieces and/or nephews are directly related to her through her sisters and/or brothers. Since some women don’t have the option of being an aunt under these circumstances, in this category I include women who are honorary aunts to the children belonging to their friends or coworkers.
I’ve been an aunt for almost six years, and I have two nieces and two nephews. As someone who has always loved children—and especially babies—becoming an aunt was one of the most significant events of my life. In addition, since I am unmarried and childless, having nieces and nephews is one way I know I can leave a lasting legacy. Over the past six years, I have lived as close as an hour away from my nieces and nephews, as well as over 1000 miles away from them. Consequently, I am well-versed in how to remain an involved aunt no matter the physical distance.
Despite having close relationships with several of my aunts growing up, I honestly didn’t know what to expect before I became an aunt. That is, of course, aside from the fuzzy expectation I would frequently hold my first niece as much as possible. My relative lack of expectations was helpful because I wasn’t haunted by a sense of “I should have bonded this much with my nieces by now” or “I thought being an aunt would be less work.” Limited expectations about your role as an aunt can help you enjoy this position of influence without overthinking it. Another reason to reduce expectations is because you will likely have a very different relationship with each niece and nephew—partly due to your personality, their personality, how old you were when they were born, etc.—and therefore it isn’t helpful to think, “Because I read many books to my first niece, I will read as many books to her baby brother.” Hopes can be healthier than expectations because they at least acknowledge that what you are hoping for may not come to pass. For example, I hope to go hiking in Colorado with my nieces and nephews one day, yet I recognize that this may not happen for numerous reasons.
As an aunt, it is important to remember that the love, devotion, encouragement, and affection you offer your nieces and nephews is much more important than any gifts, no matter how expensive, you give them. While a niece or nephew may be very excited to get a fun toy, what will matter ten years from now is that they had an adult in their lives, aside from their parents, who loved them. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t give your nieces and nephews gifts; it is merely a reminder how important it is for them to know that you care.
One way to express your care is through nicknames. This is especially true if you call them a nickname that their parents do not. Not all nicknames are well-received, however, and for this reason you must be willing to stop using these nicknames immediately.
Another way to appreciate your unique role as an aunt is to develop inside jokes with your nieces and nephews. My oldest niece and I have an inside joke regarding a favorite children’s book, and over the past three years this has helped us bond on numerous occasions.
It’s also helpful to be the fun adult when possible, as this helps the bond between an aunt and her nieces and nephews form. This can mean anything from taking your nieces and nephews to the park, a movie, out for ice cream, reading to them, or simply playing with them when all the other adults are too busy.
What was your favorite thing to do with your aunts when you were growing up?
In your role as aunt you are able to observe as the personalities of your nieces and nephews emerge and evolve. This window into who they are now and who they may become enables you to encourage them. Compliments ranging from “You are so helpful when your mommy asks you to help” to “You are a talented football player” are one way to encourage them. Encouragement can also come in the form of clapping enthusiastically when your nieces or nephews put on impromptu shows, as well as telling them that you care with appropriate phrases.
Especially if you don’t have children of your own, try not to be overly opinionated about the best way for your nieces and nephews to be raised. You should speak up if your believe your nieces or nephews to be in danger, of course, yet for the smaller matters the best option is often to keep your opinion to yourself.
If you live far away, there are several ways to stay in touch. One is Skype, and, especially in cases where either you or your nieces and nephews live overseas, this is a priceless option. Other options include text messages with nieces and nephews who are old enough to text, as well as phone calls, letters, care packages, and emails. Care packages aren’t only for Christmas or birthdays. Case in point: one of my smoothest moves as an aunt was sending princess stickers to my oldest niece out-of-the-blue. She was thrilled, and, with her mom’s help, left me a startled, happy message about how beautiful she thought the stickers were.
Another part of being an aunt is realizing that you are a potential role model to your nieces and nephews. This may inspire you to be extra ambitious and career-orientated, or it may inspire you to pursue your passion even though financial success is less guaranteed. Whatever you do, remember that you can help encourage your nieces and nephews to explore their passions and interests, invest in relationships, take chances, and have adventures. My biggest adventure happened in 2012 when I hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. I had two nieces and no nephews at that time, and both nieces were too young to remember my absence from their daily lives as I pursued this goal. Despite this, I rest assured that one day I’ll tell them and my two nephews about how important it was for me to follow this dream.
Enjoy the little years of your nieces and nephews
Last August a fellow aunt told me that being an aunt only keeps getting better as your nieces and nephews get older. Since I have savored these early years, I sincerely hope she is right. What I do know is I want to make the most of this special relationship and never take for granted how fortunate I am to have two nieces and two nephews. Since I know that certain memories of my nieces and nephews will quickly fade, I am trying to intentionally record the most priceless moments now so I can one day tell them about their younger selves. This is a worthwhile pursuit for any aunt because by recording such information you can better keep track of how they change over the years. While tracking the changes of your nieces and nephews isn’t an exact science, the act of doing this may help grant you greater perspective on how your have matured and changed since the day you first became an aunt.