The Importance of Aunts


Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, was interviewed for Babble last year and talked about the importance of loving childless aunts. The Auntie Brigade, as she calls it, is the backbone in so many families, providing support (financially, emotionally) and giving those extra special treats that mom would never allow. Things kids deserve every now and then (another cookie, another toy, a later bedtime), but as parents we're obligated to not give into. It's our job to raise responsible little humans who know their boundaries and make healthy choices, but aunts don't have that weighing responsibility.

Gilbert writes,

As every mother knows — and I’ve heard people say it a million times — when you’re pregnant you have two hearts inside of you. It’s this strange moment in time when you’re carrying two human hearts, and then one of them leaves and you spend the rest of your life having to worry about it...There’s a sobriety to that that I think those of us who don’t have children never experience, and I think kids sense it in childless women. There’s an abandon that they feel when they’re with someone who’s, frankly, just not as responsible. It’s just ‘Wheee! Wow! What are we gonna do? Anything you want!’ You know? Every child needs somebody like that in their life, and I think every mother needs somebody like that in her life, to shunt the kids off to and let them experiment with things they can’t do at home.
— Elizabeth Gilbert


The first person this reminds me of is my sister, Nikki, who designates two "AUNT DAYS!" a week during the summer. During the school year (she just graduated with her teaching degree), my sister was super swamped with school and work and student teaching, so the summer is an extra special time — for both of them.

Days where they eat pancakes for lunch, ice cream after that, and spend hours swimming and running and laughing and swimming again.

He wakes up with a smile, saying "AUNT DAY!" and comes home — dirty, sweaty, giddyy —saying "AUNT DAY!" When Noah was 7 weeks new and I had to go back to work, Nikki spent the entire summer dedicated to Noah, saving me a few months to put off daycare — never asking for a penny, never complaining, and never flaking out. And I'm so grateful, so lucky. If she had kids of her own, she couldn't be so generous with her time and attention.

And the second person I think of is my Aunt Debbie (Noah's Great Aunt) who simply adores him. Growing up, she's played that ever-important childless aunt role that Gilbert was talking about, providing the kind of flexibility and generosity that a mom simply can't. She's helped out all of us cousins in one way or another — whether she's given a couch to crash on, a little extra spending money, or an opportunity that our parents just couldn't swing. Childless aunts! Everyone needs one!

Even the next generation reaps the benefits of the childless aunt, perhaps more so because there's no stink-eye from her siblings. Childless Great-Aunts are at the sweet spot for spoiling, and oh how Noah loves her. Okay, so part of that is because of the treat that's typically tucked into her handbag, but mostly because she gives him the kind of spacious attention that only a childless aunt can.

My Auntie Brigade, 3 out of 5 childless:

So THANK YOU to the childless sisters, aunts, cousins, and friends who invest so much of themselves in our children. You play such an underrepresented yet treasured role in our families, and we love you for it.