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Why Aunts Deserve a Day

When NBC's Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler accepted her Time 100 award last spring, she said: "I would like to take a moment to thank those people... who love your children as much as you do, and who inspire them and influence them and on behalf of every sister and mother and person who stands in your kitchen and helps you love your child, I say thank you and I celebrate you tonight." It was the first time I had heard a public figure mom honor, acknowledge and celebrate the aunts (among others) in her children's lives. Hopefully, it's not the last. 

When I launched Savvy Auntie, my first mission to change the way we look at aunts in America today. Often imagined as a relic of a couple of generations past, along with a dozen cats, ‘aunt' was more like an old "Auntique" than a modern, cosmopolitan woman. That's not to say I didn't love and honor our Great-Great-Aunts, but where were today's cool, contemporary aunt figures? As I explored this modern segment of American women who are not (yet) moms (The U.S. Census reports that number at 46 percent of women through age 44), I realized there are all types of aunts:

Aunties by Relation; Aunties by Choice; Great-Aunties; Godmothers; Cousin Aunties; Long-Distance Aunties; StepAunties; Single Aunties; Married Aunties; ParAunts (aunts who become the parent when one or both parents is no longer able); Straight Aunts, LesbiAunts; Teen Aunties; Child Aunties; Special-Needs Aunties; Teacher or Coach Aunties; Nanny Aunties; Fairy GodAunties; and Aunties to the World - the BenevolAunts who give so much to children they've never met. And there are also the Bon VivAunts, the GourmAunts, the BohemiAunts, the ConfidAunts, the Aunt-Rageous Rocker Aunties, the Crafty Aunties, and the eco-loving Auntie Earth among others. What a diverse group of positive influences for America's children!

Unfortunately, our contributions to the American Family Village often go unnoticed and under-appreciated. My second mission was to change that.

QualAuntie Time

Unlike parenting, there is no legal obligation to ‘aunt.' The time we spend with our nieces and nephews is most often always quality time, unencumbered by parental duties like making sure the kids have brushed their teeth, made their beds, done their homework (not to say aunts don't help with that too when they can). I've dubbed this time "QualAuntie Time."

When I asked Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, VP Education and Research, Sesame Workshop, how an Auntie can help develop the minds of our young nieces and nephews, she simply replied: "You're already doing it." By playing with our nieces and nephews, reading to them, even just chatting with them before they can even talk, we are helping them learn, she said. Just by being Auntie, we're helping!

Baking cookies with a niece? That's math and science. Constructing railroad tracks with a nephew? That's helping develop his motor dexterity and his understanding of spatial relations. To that end, Zero to Three, a nonprofit organization that fosters early childhood education, recommends an hour of unstructured play for a young child each day (e.g. tea parties, role-playing, puppet shows). All that pretending actually helps lay the groundwork for developing literacy down the line. And when mom has a newborn to care for, QualAuntie Time with the older sibling(s) is very important since mom may not have an hour to devote to uninterrupted play with her other kids.

If mom or dad is unable to take the all the kids outside (too hot or cold for baby, sick, or busy with homework or chores) Auntie can take the others out to play. Kids need more time outside because it helps reduce stress (yes, even little kids have stress), and being in nature - even the backyard - helps keep their minds focused (studies show kids with ADHD are more likely to do better in green settings than industrial ones.)

Even on a rainy day, for kids over the age of two, QualAuntie Time spent co-viewing children's television or a video, sharing lessons learned during and after the show, is more productive than mom leaving the child in front of the TV to go about her necessary household duties. But if watching a lot of TV or video can actually infringe on their vocabulary, reading to babies and toddlers can increase it. Aunties who read a favorite book to their niece or nephew (over and over again) are helping the child learn new words. Pointing out the pictures on the pages helps develop a baby's understanding of shapes, colors, counting, and emotions.

Aunthood is a Gift

Aunts by relation or choice give of their discretionary income and time to children-not-their-own in their immediate lives, in their communities and around the world every single day. Every boo boo they kiss, every little hand they hold, every hug they give is a gift. And as far as the other kinds of gifts - the kind tied up with a bow - are concerned, an Auntie will often stretch her budget to put a smile on the face of a niece or nephew on birthdays or the holidays. She's also more likely to jump on a plane for Thanksgiving than expect a family of four to travel to her.

Aunts not only give directly. When a co-worker mom leaves work early to tend to a sick child, or when that big assignment is due and working late or over the weekend is necessary, a childless woman is (often expected to be) the one to pick up the extra work so moms can have family time. While indirect, aunts deserve to be appreciated for their contributions to the American Family Village in this way too.

These are just some of the ways aunts give of themselves selflessly.

Sunday, July 24th, 2011 marks the third annual Auntie's DayTM. Like the tradition of Mother's Day, Father's Day and Grandparent's Day, it's a day to honor and celebrate the women in the American Family Village who love and give to children not-their-own. On Sunday, give the Auntie in your child's life a call, send her a card, or acknowledge her in whatever way you can to say thank you.

Aunthood is a gift. This day is theirs. And they deserve it.

3 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Why Aunts Deserve a Day”

  1. Aging Gal July 23, 2011 at 12:02 am

    Love this idea!  I’m am not a mother (unless you count my black Labradors), but teach and tutor many kids.  I have many times debated my decision not to have children (especially as my biological alarm has rung ever louder as I near 50).  As Hillary said, “It takes a village!”  Here’s to us!  Aging
    Gal

  2. Tinyogina July 26, 2011 at 2:45 am

    im not a  mom but i have lots of fun with the kids that i do claim as mine

  3. Mia August 22, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    I read an article on huff post (about being childless) that you wrote, which I thought was wonderful and heartfelt. I also think any sort of web community that is positive and engaging can only be a good thing – and for that too, well done.

    However, I don’t really buy into the idea of a day for aunts. I understand the reasons, and yes it takes many people to help in the development of every child on earth, but ultimately parents raise children. The impact of an aunt (I am, and love my niece dearly) is fine, but doesn’t come close to what it takes to be a parent (I am a mother of 4). I’m sure many people will take issue with this comment, esp given I am posting it here, but still I think at times you need to call a spade a spade. The role of a parent is light years harder and more important than any outside help (exceptional circumstances, where the parents are not around or neglectful aside of course).Again posting it here might be controversial for the very fact that if people are not parents, they will not know what it takes to raise children, although they may think they do (I suppose it would be akin to “understanding” what it means to be hungry, and actually Experiencing hunger).

    As a mother and an aunt, the idea of having a day for aunts seems to miss the point. If the idea is to honour everyone that has had an impact, than why not a day for friends, or other random strangers that were kind at times? What about shopkeepers and daycare assistants. or cousins day? And if there is a “day” does that give it more weight? Mother’s Day does not create good mothers, and although you might be a mother and see it all around, it is only meaningful if your children acknowledge it. A “day” just becomes a marketing ploy. I could care less about “mother’s day” that my husband and children do something on that day is lovely, but any day they do nice things is just as wonderful. I also don’t really think mother’s (or father’s) should need a “day”. When/if you become a parent, it is wonderful and difficult and surprising, but the act of parenting is it’s own reward. If you are a good parent and raise good kids, who love you and are good people – That is what is important. When my kids are happy and laugh and just being, that is the reward. It is a million times more imprtant and wonderful than some card (which is nice but not important) on a day that is bonanza to card and chocolate businesses.

    More troubling than the idea of a day for aunts though is where are men in this? I have been hugely shaped by the men – all good, kind men- that I have known throughout my life.

    With regard to needing or wanting a “day” to be acknowledged, surely, at some point there should be some recognition that being an aunt simply Does involve loving your neices and newphews. Should you need a day to honour that? To my mind that is being a good person, a good aunt – I think this idea that some sort of recognition must be paid is both pointless and sad, and as a European it also seems to be very much an American ideal. Not everything in life needs a hallmark card, flowers and requiste “day” for it to have value. If anything, I think it devalues it and makes it into a commodity.

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