My sister had her baby a few weeks ago (a beautiful baby boy!), and it has had me reflecting on all the ways the different adults in our lives matter to our children. In particular, the importance of having and being an aunt.
Being an aunt is a rich and vital role. An aunt is at once not a mom, not quite a friend, but also, a little bit mom and a little bit friend. I have been blessed with aunts who served as major role models of how to be strong, independent, nurturing, loving women, while also managing to give insight into my parents and their lives, while giving us the best presents.
They set the stage of what I think being an aunt really means. I was an aunt before I was a mom and I’ve learned what a tremendous joy, privilege and complex relationship it is from this side.
My niece recently asked me what aunts are supposed to do. I didn’t have a great answer for her in the moment, but I can’t stop thinking about the question. I finally had to write this because I ultimately came up with too many things (as I am wont to do).
So to my nieces and nephews, the following is what we aunts are supposed to, and more importantly, get to do:
We get to know and love you whole-heartedly without the immense responsibility of raising you.
We get to watch you blossom and thrive in each phase, from your tiny, curled infancy to your strong-legged tree climbing childhood, to what I’m sure will be your angsty adolescence, and thriving adulthood. Bearing witness to you becoming yourselves, expressing your differences and reveling in your similarities.
We get to hold your ideas and successes, your anguish and fears, your hair, your toys, your books, your hands.
We get to watch our own children thrill in the special nature of their relationships with you as their cousins.
We get to witness our siblings and best friends develop from the silly and knobby-kneed kids of our youth, the bratty and hilarious teenagers of our adolescence, the beer-swigging free-spirits of our twenties, develop into these responsible, loving, open, vulnerable versions of themselves as they become your capable, beautiful parents.
We get to tell you stories about your mamas and dads from before you were born. Embarrassing, sweet, filling my own mind and heart with memories long-tucked away until they are relevant once again.
We get to watch how your expressions reflect those of your parents, perfect mirrors of the kids or young adults we once knew. It’s how your mannerisms and interests and quirks are uniquely your own and also blueprinted from my own childhood.
We get to nurture your strengths and quirks and talents and differences.
We get to support your parents in all the myriad of challenges and joys they experience raising you.
We get to expose you to music, movies, make-up, games, books, you never would have discovered without us.
We get to shower you with gifts whenever and wherever possible. To come up with excuses to give you gifts. It’s Monday! It’s a unicorn notebook that demands to be given!
We get to give your parents a break.
We get to show you how different adults are in the world. We get to model different jobs, houses, places in the world that are options for you, too.
We get to hold you in our hearts most dearly and tenderly. In the spots reserved for the children we love most that just keeps growing with every birth.
We get to bail you out of bad parties, fights with your parents and siblings, god-forbid jail (but seriously, call me).
We get to be the sounding board for you as future adults of the world. Your ideas, your hopes, your worries, your issues.
We get to play and play and play.
We get to be a haven against the harshness of adolescence.
We get to welcome you into the fold of our weird, messy, loud, dramatic, loving family.
We get to celebrate every milestone. Walking! Talking! Reading! Swimming! Driving! Graduating! Each step a blessing, each milestone a gift that makes every adult in your lives weep, for we have held you since you were small and cooing, sang you songs, dried your tears, held your hands crossing the street, took your photos, taught you ways to annoy your parents and watched you grow in the miraculous way every child does.
In short, we get to know you. We get to love you.
Pretty cool, huh?