Saturday, 30 December 2017

Being a childless aunt

I’m enjoying having our twin nieces and their parents in town for the first time in over eight years (see my post Scattered Families on A Separate Life). I’ve bemoaned the fact (many times!) that we have no siblings living in this town, and my husband has no siblings in this country. It makes it harder as we have sole responsibility for caring for his parents, we won’t have the companionship of siblings here when we age so will be faced with decisions (friends vs family – perhaps another post to come), and we lose out on relationships with nieces and nephews too.

I was keen to spend as much time with them as I can. And then got thinking the other day about the depth of feeling I have around spending time with and getting to know the girls during the all-to-brief time they’re here in New Zealand. Mostly, in the past, I’ve put this down to the fact that they live so far away. After all, missing them and wanting to see them is a perfectly normal emotion. It’s not just on my side either. I know they feel the loss of not having any relationships with their father’s side of the family. Aside from us and their grandparents, the girls have never met any of them, including their cousins, and I find that really sad.

Then I stepped back, and thought about it some more. Do I feel this way because I don't have children? Or because I don’t have the luxury of having many other children in my life? If I had children myself, would I feel this real need to get to know them, and for them to know me?

I know that I would always want to get to know them, to +an extent. But I doubt that the need would be the same. If I were a parent, my primary relationships with children would be as a mother. But my primary relationships – actually, my only relationships – with children are instead as an aunt through my nieces and nephews, and through a few children of my friends. (Though as friends’ children grow, their parents’ friends see them much less. With nieces and nephews, that relationship always exists.)

And so I feel the loss. I’m not so much mourning the loss of my own children, because I’ve come to terms with that. But I do feel the loss of the relationships with nieces and nephews. They’re my only connection with the next generation, and I value that, when I can get it. They’re the only people who will remember me when I’m gone. I’m not sure that worries me too much – being forgotten, I mean. But it is nice to know that there will be some people after I’m gone who might have valued having me in their lives.

Still, I can’t do much about it. And I know to try to fill that void by pressuring myself or the girls (or other nieces and nephews) to intensify our relationships wouldn’t work for any of us. The best is to take it naturally, and enjoy it when it happens. Which is what I’ve been doing over the last few weeks.

5 comments:

  1. Relationships with children who live overseas are hard. We try to see Q's entire family every two years, but we all really feel the loss in terms of our relationships with the kids and the kids' relationships with each other. The cousins will never be close, and that's sad. I'm glad Q's sister has two boys, as I think that mitigates the loss somewhat for his mum.

    I didn't think twice about living on the other side of the world when I was in my early twenties and childless. But the older I get, the more grateful I am that I was able to come back (and that my sisters did too).

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  2. Being a childless aunt myself, I do understand you.
    You have written it so beautifully: "But it is nice to know that there will be some people after I’m gone who might have valued having me in their lives."

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  3. Yes to all of this. I'm thankful we've been a presence in our two nephews' lives as they've grown up -- and yet I wish we'd been as close to them geographically as we are now -- how much more fun we could have had! That said, there were opportunities I didn't take or even think about to build those relationships, because I just assumed we'd have our own kids someday & be doing those activities with them. :(

    We lived several hundred miles away from our extended family, growing up, so my relationships with my aunts, uncles & cousins is perhaps not quite as close as the ones dh had with his relatives, most of whom lived within walking distance as he grew up. And yet, the bonds are there, and I treasure them all the more the older I get.

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  4. I know that I would always want to get to know them, to +an extent. But "I doubt that the need would be the same. If I were a parent, my primary relationships with children would be as a mother. But my primary relationships – actually, my only relationships – with children are instead as an aunt through my nieces and nephews, and through a few children of my friends."

    I say...that depends. I had childless aunts and aunts with children. And I had a different relationship with each of them, but it was a specific relationship between me and each one of them. They all saw me and treated me as an individual family member. And, maybe I only recognize this because my husband's family is so different - he has one aunt, and he never saw or interacted with her. My MIL was adopted and grew up without siblings (although she has a great number of them - we've just never met them because they live in Italy and Canada). My husband is one of 6 and NONE of his siblings knows how to be an aunt or an uncle. They act like other people's children don't exist in reality. When my daughter is there, they might talk with her for a minute or two, but she mostly does not exist for them unless she's right in front of them. It makes me terribly sad for her. My girl has a better relationship with my sisters, who she sees once a year if she's lucky, than she has with her aunts and uncles who live close by. So your wish to be close to your nieces is more about how you perceive family than whether you have children or not, IMO.

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  5. Fellow childless aunt here. I identify with much of what you share here. I once laughed that I needed good relationships with these kids because they'd be picking my nursing home. It's now funny-adjacent instead of funny. It's kind of true. And it can be a short spiral down into "I'm a throwaway human." Lots of emotional baggage here.

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