Practicing parenting on my nephews
One of the benefits to being the youngest sibling is that I got to learn about and practice parenting on my sibling's children before I had my own. I learned (and am still learning) from my sister's successes and mistakes while having a real interest (though not exactly responsibility) in how my nephews turn out - and hopefully being able to make a real contribution to their lives.
My sister's boys are great kids. Really, lots and lots of fun. They were also unwittingly, in the time we spent together, my guinea pigs for starting to figure out my parenting style. With them, I tried out the permissive persona, the super-strict persona and most in between. In addition to forgiving me for my experiments, they taught me so much about individual personalities and how what might work for one may not work for the other.
Each of my nephews has his own communication style, his own talents, his own quirks, just like every set of siblings. I've been quite close to and less close to each of them over time, as their own adolescences ebbed and flowed and my life went from crazy busy to absolutely insane and back again and again and again. I have my own funny and sweet stories about each of them that are distinct from their parents' stories. I've really been very privileged to be part of their lives.
Knowing when to say whenAt some point, the parenting-related experimenting stopped. I feel lucky that I did that before I went too far and couldn't "just" be their loving (or annoying, as the case may be) aunt. They already have a mother, after all, and don't need another. As an aunt, a related very interested party, I've tried to be something of a constant in their lives, even if it's at a geographic distance.
My oldest nephew, now in his early 20s, is spending the summer near us. In some ways, I get to practice parenting again, see what it might like to have a child that old, one who is mostly adult but still a little bit young. But he doesn't need to be parented like my kids do. He does, however, still need a related very interested party as a sounding board, for emotional support-and for a regular place to crash away from his internship.
A glimpse into the futureWhen I look at this almost grown man whom I once held in one hand, then glance at my own children, I see the future. I see how Alfs might be years from now after we get through the teen years. A hulking presence in the family room but also a really nice guy. Someone I and my kids and my husband like to have around.
I also see my nephew trying out what I can only deduce as parenting-type personas as he interacts with my kids. He's seeing what works for each and getting to know them. He's trying things out. He's a very interested party in their lives with real interest in how they turn out, and I'm sure will make a real contribution to their lives.
The circle continues.