What does it mean to be an aunt?
It means that you know a certain, special kind of love that you can feel no other way. It means that you care about these special little people in a way that you never knew possible. It means that you can be a mother figure and a friend, a partner in adventure and a shoulder to cry on. It means discovery and compassion and learning for both you and your nieces/nephews. It means you get to know these little people like no other- because you’re the aunt, you’re a confidant, and sometimes you have to be strict like a mom (but usually they know they can get away with more with you than they can mom or dad) and it also means that it gives you a chance to relive your own childish impulses.
It’s a special kind of balance that one must find, to be an aunt. You can’t let them get away with anything dangerous- but you can run through the sprinklers with them on Easter afternoon and if anyone looks at you funny, you can say “Oh I’m not their mom, I’m their aunt.” And people laugh. You’re expected to be a child and you’re expected to be fun, but also expected to be an adult. Like I said, a balance.
I’ve been through every stage of aunthood from newborn to preteen, and I’ve learned more in these years than I would learn any other way without them. I honestly could not imagine life without them- and even more of an honest admittance, they’ve probably kept me out of more trouble than I care to admit. (I became an aunt for the first time at 16. When you’re an aunt and faced with a tough and/or potentially irresponsible decision, your thoughts become “What will my nieces think of me?” Or even better yet, “What if they copy me??” No way.)
So I’ve learned every trick in the book to find that balance between friend and substitute mother (though, I still know nothing.) I have some tips for all those who are aunties (and I’m sure this whole blog pertains to uncles, too.)
**The pictures in this blog are for affect. They’re not my actual nieces because I have no permission from their mothers to use their pictures. Yes, as the aunt, you need their mother’s permission as much as they do.**
The Newborns to six months:
If you’re holding a baby this age, chances are mama needs a break. By now, you’ve already learned the tricks to rocking a baby to sleep, feeding them, calming their tears- or having patience when none of the above works. Once in a while, you’re going to have to change a diaper or two. But in some cases, when any of the above occurs- You can hand them right back to their mamas.
The upside: You get to be there from the first days of their lives and watch their milestones- their first smile, their first coo and expressions, the joy you feel when they finally learn to roll over on their own (and learning what panic REALLY feels like for the first time when they demonstrate their new ability right as you’re changing their diaper and they roll WAYY too close to the edge. Oops. Don’t tell mom. It’s a well-known fact that moms panic worse than aunties.) You get to share in the new moments that come with their first bites of “solid” food and when they can sit up (with assistance) and kick their legs and- it’s a beautiful time.
The Infants six months to two years:
This is a busy age. And an ever-changing one. In such a short span of time they go from scooting to crawling to toddling to walking to running (in that uncoordinated toddler way that often leads to bumps on their bottom. Hurray for diapers. Sometimes I think they’re better for breaking falls than their original purpose.) They go from puree cereal to finger-picking whole cheerios and you get to learn just how many inventive ways a child this age can get messy and how many ways it’s truly unpreventable and how often they must be cleaned. The element of surprise is essential. Playing is sometimes as easy as hiding behind a washcloth and saying “peek-a-boo” when they least expect it.
The upside: This is a FUN age. These are the months where you really get to know them, learn who they are with them, their habits and their likes and dislikes and personalities. This is also the age you’ll find yourself crawling around with them on the floor, picking them up and rocking them, giving them rides on your shoulders and calming their tears. Sharing with them smiles and giggles and toys and learning all the ways that a simple gesture of love can fix a boo-boo. A kiss or a cuddle or a talking stuffed animal (whose voice is supplied by you, of course. But they don’t know that.)
The Toddler two to four years:
These are the years that spawn the words “Uh-oh”, “No-no” and “I love you”. These are the years where infancy disappears and suddenly you’re left with this rambunctious little one with the wildest ideas and the funniest things to say. And sometimes, the most righteous tantrums you’ve ever seen.
The upside: You get your exercise, you learn what fun really is, and just how much love one tiny little person can have for you, and certainly vice versa. By now, you should know their food choices and that they change day-to day, with the occasional months-long phases of eating nothing but one single item (usually something like chicken nuggets). You learn that playing pretend is more than just a game. That when they designate you a fairy or an elephant- you ARE that fairy or elephant until further notice (which may be NOW, and it may be in three days). You learn that repetition doesn’t mean something repeated two or three times. It’s something that is done over and over and over until 1. You find an adequate distraction or 2. THEY get tired or bored. Because your exhaustion means nothing, and your boredom certainly doesn’t count. You know that children learn through repetition- and you don’t have nearly as much energy as they do. Also, as an aunt, when they throw a tantrum, unless in immediate harms’ way- it’s time to get mama and watch her argue with a stubborn-as-stone toddler. But best of all: You learn that their hugs can fix you just as much as your hugs can fix them.
The Little One four to six years:
Guess what? This age is even faster. And just when you think they’ve outgrown the dangerous phases, they get worse. The boo-boos often go from bumped noggins and stubbed toes to skinned knees and twisted ankles. More bandaids are needed (and not just for the affect of caring for a non or barely-existent wound and magically curing it with a bandaid) but because now, they’re actually needed. Your job, as the aunt, is to keep up with them. But if something goes really wrong or you get tired- it’s time to get mom or dad.
The upside: As they continue to grow and learn and experience life- you find yourself doing the same thing. You can relate to them on a child’s level and relive your childhood. Barbies and dinosaurs are highlights of their days and weekends and every waking moment. Sidewalk chalk and crayons and pencils. You get to watch them learn their colors and alphabets and numbers. You’re expected to join in at their level. Pretend to be a child again.
The Big Kids ages six to ten:
What an age. School and homework and outside friends that are less playmates and more close and meaningful friendships, also increasing the potential for drama that your niece or nephew are stuck trying to figure out how to handle. By this time, you’re usually done tying shoes and wiping little faces and putting on hats and chopping up their food so they don’t choke. Now you’re beginning to learn that they’re growing up, but haven’t grown up yet. As an aunt, you need to keep a close eye on what they no longer need help with (shoes) to what they do still need help with (that difficult jacket) and sometimes they still need a hug and a kiss with their bandaid to fix their boo-boo, and sometimes they roll their eyes and can “do it themselves now, duh.”
The upside: Despite the fact that you’re having to step back a little more and give them room to grow and breathe and become independent- as the aunt, you’re still the one they can go back to when they’re insecure and need to be a little kid again for awhile before resuming their roles as the Big Kid. They know they can still be read to, curl up in your lap, get a hug and get tucked in at night. They’re not afraid to cry and throw tantrums and know you’ll be as understanding and patient as you can possibly be.
The Preteen ages ten to thirteen:
Oh boy. What an age. The gifts you give them are no longer that barbie they’ve had their eyes on- but those pretty pink earrings and hip new shirts or accessories or makeup (I honestly have no idea what boys this age like. I have nieces, so this particular age group is girl oriented.) You’re finding yourself more overwhelmed as an aunt than any other age. You thought holding a screaming baby was hard. Try comforting the tears of a ten year old who was insulted by her best friend in school. Boys are beginning to outgrow their cooties in the eyes of a girl. Tears and emotional upsets and independence and looks and shoes and relationships suddenly become their priorities (when I say relationships, I don’t mean love interests. What I refer to that their relationships with all the people in theirs lives change, fromthe friend to the parents to the teachers and boys.) You find yourself at a loss the moment you realize they’re no longer Big Kids. From the first swear word they say (and mean) to the first time they refer to the opposite sex as anything but “icky.”
The Upside: As an aunt your job is very, very tricky. You find yourself reliving the moments of your own pre-adolescence and the times you began noticing boys and learning about your body and barbies are no longer the interest of your life. The trick is to use this remembrance as much as possible to help you understand your Preteen niece or nephew and be there to hold their hand when they need it, and let go when they feel they don’t. You’re going to see them fall, you’re going to see them fail, and you’re going to stand back and let them know you’re there when they need you. You’re going to see them get back up, you’re going to see them succeed, and if you’re in their lives for any amount of time, you’re going to realize that you had a hand in it all along, and your influence now is just as important as every other time in their life.
I don’t know what being an aunt to a teen is like yet, but I can tell you, I’m looking forward to the new experiences it will bring. Of course, as I google the word “Teens” to find a decent picture of a teenager or a picture to portray the essence of a teen for this blog, my screen is utterly FILLED to the brim of oversexualized teens either kissing, borderlining porn, trying to look like models, and even some pregnant ones. I realize now: Oh boy, I’ve got my work cut out for me. As the aunt, am I allowed to declare boys, tank tops, make up, driving, magazines, bikinis, and Justin Beiber off-limits? Do I have that power?
Being an aunt is a tricky job all around, and an important one. Here are some tips and tricks to help you through the times.
When a child asks a difficult question:
Inappropriate response: “Uh, I don’t know.”
Adequate response: “Go ask your mom.”
Bandaids go a long way. Even if the injury in question isn’t there- slap a bandaid on it.
When a preteen comes crying about their friends or boys, it’s your job to be a crying shoulder and a listener- not a dictator or the one to give a lecture. Just listen. It’s ok to relay your own experiences when you were their age, and how you handled it. In fact, it’s essential at times to do just that. But never lecture. They came to you for comfort and friendship and support. You’re not the substitute mother right now.
Newborns and Infants: Baby, Little Baby, Love, Goober (haha, if the parents don’t know) and adding an “ee” sound to the end of their names.
Toddlers to Little Ones: Sweetie, Honey, Little One, Monkey, Banana, Bug, Big Girl/Boy
Big Kids: Sweetie, Monkey, Big Kid,or personalized nicknames. All of these are subject to change depending on whether the child finds them public appropriate or not. You can usually get away with calling them these things when not around their friends or strangers, or when they’re feeling mushy or not feeling good, even around others.
Preteens: Don’t nickname them unless they have an already well-established nickname that they consider public appropriate. They will let you know exactly when they have outgrown a nickname and when they haven’t. The same rule for Big Kids applies for Preteens however: Sometimes you can get away with pet names or nick names when not around friends or strangers. And guess what? You’re the aunt, you can pet name or nickname them all you want, haha. Even if they complain. So if you’ve called them “Monkey” since birth, then by gosh, call them Monkey at eleven years old. Just not in front of their friends.
Essentially, what it means to be an aunt is that you are an important and loving part of their lives, and they an important and loving part of yours. And whether you realize it or not- your presence in their lives will making an impression with them for all time. Be proud to be an aunt. I know I am.
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