Many families are close-knit with aunts and uncles living nearby who attend every birthday party, soccer match, school play, and graduation. But I’ve always been the aunt who lived hundreds of miles away from my nieces and nephews. I wasn’t around so they haven’t known me well, but I knew more about them than they realized (after all, brothers and sisters do talk).
I used to regret living too far away to actively participate in their lives, but lately I’ve realized getting to know each other as adults is good. I can see them for who they are now. The adult version. Minus the endless stories of their youthful foibles to trip us up. We visit in-person once or twice a year and supplement our ties with social media posts and occasional texts.
During visits, I ask about their work or whatever is most important to them. When several of my nieces became mothers, we talked about their experiences. I validated their challenges—sometimes caring for tiny people is monotonous. Breastfeeding can be hard—do what’s best for your situation. A couple of nieces have expressed their thoughts about relationships, and I’ve supported whatever approach works for them. I happened to be around when one nephew was having a bad week and he shared his feelings with me. Conversations with another nephew might cover philosophy or food.
No doubt there are other older people in their lives—coworkers, in-laws—but as the sister or sister-in-law to their parents, I have a special perspective. I can share history and insights about their parents and other family members, rounding out what they know. I’m free to appreciate and accept them without the judgment a parent brings. Sometimes I offer different views than their parents’, but my nieces and nephews are old enough to draw their own conclusions. If nothing else, I’m an additional older person who likes and supports them.
In the moment, I think they appreciate my efforts. I don’t expect too much though, especially when I recall how little I knew my aunts and uncles when I was younger. They were kindly presences but largely peripheral, or so I thought. Now, I understand how aware aunts are, even if we remain behind the scenes.
My interactions with my nieces and nephews are brief—not much to go on—but they mean a lot to me. I always knew being an aunt was important, but I didn’t always know why. Finally, it’s this—they add to my life and I hope I add to theirs.