"Auntie! We're family!"
With a big wide-eyed smile, my then-2-year-old nephew had exclaimed the three words that changed my life. He was expressing his new-found understanding that I'm someone special in his life, a trusted grownup who would do everything in her power to keep him safe and happy while in her care. And in his eyes, I saw a love I had never seen before. It was the love of a child for his auntie. It is the kind of love an aunt earns simply by loving the child first, and the child understands, forever.
A few days ago, a fellow Huffington Post blogger, Jacqueline Melissen, wrote a beautiful and extraordinarily popular post (at this writing, the post has 500,000 Likes) entitled: Why Child-Free Aunties Are Amazing -- from a mom's point of view. As the founder of Savvy Auntie, the lifestyle brand for cool aunts, great-aunts, godmothers and all women who love kids, which I launched in 2008, I felt compelled to write a grateful reply on behalf of all the "amazing aunties."
Thank you, Jacqueline, for appreciating the time, presents and of course, the love, that your children's Auntie Katy offers them -- and for acknowledging her, and all the amazing aunts like her, as perfectly competent grown women who are able to manage the children in their care. And thank you to all the other moms who have given their sisters, sisters-in-law, best friends,and other women who love their children unconditionally the gift of aunthood.
I very much wanted to be a mother. Despite my efforts to find love, marry and become a mother, I've remained single with no kids. And now, in my mid-forties, I've moved forward from the dream of motherhood. Still, because I wanted children, I'm not comfortable saying I'm "child-free." And while I'm fine with the term "childless," I know many aunts are not OK with a "lesser" term. And so I offer "childfull" as an alternative. We aunts with no kids of our own are childfull; our lives are filled with children we love. Thank you, Jacqueline, and the arms-wide-open moms like you who generously welcome the aunts into your family village with love and appreciation.
With regard to the time aunts spend with their nieces and nephews that you mention in your post, I've dubbed it "qualauntie time," because Auntie time is quality time. For example, it's advised that our littlest nieces and nephews have one hour of uninterrupted playtime each day, which is challenging for parents to offer. But when Auntie comes to visit, our attention and is focused on your kids. And studies show all the ways we childfull aunties interact with your children with play, reading, baking cookies, etc., support their cognitive, social, and emotional development. And thank you for letting us share our passions with them as they grow older, inspiring your budding artists, musicians, writers, athletes, scientists, etc. We have such great appreciation for being able to help your children develop their potential. For some of us, it's our greatest legacy.
You mention all the presents we give! Thank you for appreciating our gifts to your kids as we are not obligated to give presents to anyone's children. We give from the heart. We give because we want to. And we give generously. In a joint 2012 North American study by Savvy Auntie, Weber Shandwick and KRC Research called the "Power of the PANK" -- or Professional Aunts No Kids, the term I coined for the 23 million childfull women -- showed that 76 percent of PANKs spend over $500 per child in their life, per year. Collectively, baseline just one child per PANK, that's $9 billion spent on nieces and nephews annually. But lest anyone think this money is spent only on toys, games and the cutest outfits we can find, 34 percent of PANKs also contribute to a child's education. Without children of our own, we are grateful to have beneficiaries of our hard work, whether through contributions to their college savings plan or by our paying for the tutors or coaching they need and more.
And as far as the love we give to your kids goes, well, that comes naturally to us. Babies are born from the womb, but maternity comes from the soul. There are many way to be maternal. Thank you for giving us a deeply meaningful way to exercise our maternal muscle.
Aunthood is a gift. You so eloquently stated in our own way how it's a gift to you, and all parents. Aunthood is a gift to the children -- literally and figuratively speaking. And finally, aunthood is a gift for us. Being aunties to your children, our nieces and nephews, is the greatest gift of all.
Moms like you can acknowledge the aunties in your children's lives with love and appreciation on Auntie's Day, the day I founded in 2009 to celebrate aunts by relation (ABRs) and aunts by choice (ABCs) -- i.e. your best friends who choose to be aunts to your children. Occurring every fourth Sunday in July, this year, the 7th annual Auntie's Day is Sunday, July 26. I suspect your kids' Auntie Katy may get a thoughtful gift or a living-room dance-party dedicated to her on that day. I hope all the amazing aunties are celebrated on Auntie's Day.
Aunthood is a gift. This day is theirs.
By the way, about those three little words my nephew said to me years ago... They are what inspired me to create the Savvy Auntie brand. I may not have given him life, but his love gave me mine.
Savvy Aunties are welcome to join the Auntourage on Facebook at Savvy Auntie
Melanie Notkin's second book, OTHERHOOD: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness (Seal Press/Penguin Canada), is available now. OTHERHOOD received a prestigious *starred review* by Booklist.