Whether you're an ABC (aunt by choice) or ABR (aunt by relation) there's more that meets the eye than simply becoming the dazzling aunt by default. It's an important role in a child's life that shouldn't be taken lightly.
"Finally, we have a voice. The aunt is often the unsung hero of the family," says Notkin, founder of SavvyAuntie.com. "She mends a scraped knee…she needs tools to cope with that and children look to this adult to discipline them. She's not a grown up playmate."
As aunties all around the land rejoice with acknowledgment, there's finally a community to connect, learn, and grow. In particular if you're an auntie with a little nephew or niece on the way you can get schooled on all things related to your new fabulous family role.
The 4-1-1 on ABC's and ABR's
An aunt herself, Notkin created the community to connect and share best practices among both ABC's and ABR's to get information and content. Coining the term PANK – professional aunt, no kids - she says aunts should be respectful that we aren't the parents of our nieces or nephews and we're not replacing the parent. However, as the aunt you have a responsibility to be cognizant of the parents' discipline style. "An important point is to have the discussion so you're not out of line," she says.
Once you dish with the parents you'll have a better understanding as to how they run the household ranging from discipline right down to birthday presents. For instance, if they're strict about gifts you may not want to indulge the child with countless toys. On the other hand, if they're community focused by emphasizing volunteering or forward thinking instead of toys, they may prefer that you do something related to volunteering or contribute to their college fund.
Creating the bond
Presents aside, it's important to create a special bond with the child and be cognizant that each child in the family is different. "Really, every child is unique...Creating that bond with the child and that child loving you back with such loyalty and unconditional love – that's the joy!" proclaims Auntie Melanie. Do things with your niece that they don't often do with their parents, such as taking her to get a mani/pedi, going to a special restaurant or providing input on her first prom dress.
Aunts who don't live nearby, that would be LDA's (long-distance aunties), are at a geographical disadvantage in cultivating a nurturing relationship just by nature of the locations. Then, of course another variation of the traditional aunt is the mommy auntie; women who became aunts before they became a mom. LDA's can foster the aunt-niece bond through email, phone calls or even Facebook while mommy auntie's can foster the cousin bond by going on fun family outings such as the zoo or a waterpark. No matter what the unique circumstance, Notkin says, "They never lose the relationship of being the aunt."
Auntie as role model
The aunt also plays an important role in influencing the child. "Maybe you're green and organic and like to give sustainable toys." Or maybe your lifestyle engenders sustainability that your niece or nephew can try to emulate. Regardless of your style, Notkin says the aunt can use her personality to create a stronger bond with the child.
Above all, just as parents realize each of their children is an individual so does the aunt. Notkin notes that every child is unique; the aunt is sometimes the one adult a child feels safe with, the insider in the family with whom secrets are shared. Or she's on the cutting edge, she knows about trends before the kids' parents do. She's not at the PTA meetings but manages to intrinsically know exactly what kids are into. Let's face it, she's cutting edge cool.