Aunt and Niece: The Unique Relationship
Becoming an Aunt
Becoming an aunt is completely out of one's control. When your sister or sister-in-law becomes a mom, you become an aunt. There is no life planning or great thought put into this occasion: basically, it just happens! And it changes your life.
In a similar vein, one does not choose to become a niece. You simply are one, by virtue of being born into a certain family.
A niece is a daughter of a sister or brother, a name, and a technical term. It is a female related by blood. It is not a parental relationship, where roles are clearly defined. Nor is it a stranger, where no roles are necessary. It is a special relationship, nonetheless.
In this article, I will take a look at the unique bond that exists between aunts and nieces: two females brought together by blood, but kept together by love.
The Unique Relationship
There is something special about the relationship between aunties and nieces that is like no other. The aunt plays a unique role in a little girl's life, different than a mother's role or a grandmother's role. The aunt is usually a peer to the mother, and equal in the family hierarchy, unlike the grandmother, who is one generation up. The aunt is the mom's equal.
The aunt knew the mom first, and the niece is born into that female relationship, whatever that might be. If the parent was close to the aunt beforehand, the niece will benefit from that relationship.
If that relationship is strained, the one with the nieces may be a bit distant, unless the two make an effort to repair it. The aunt is a woman in the child's life that will always be there: through moves and changes, ups and downs. Unlike friends, who can come and go, aunts will always be aunts: a steady presence in a niece's life.
The aunt has known the child as long as the Mom and Dad has. She knows the history of the family, but from a different angle. The aunt knows the family history, too, and can give a powerful sense of perspective to a niece who wants to know more about the pre-her life of mommy and daddy.
My First Niece
When my oldest niece was born nine and half years ago, the waiting room was busy with her family who were absolutely breathless to see her. Two of her new relatives were two aunts that loved her equally, and waited together in intense anticipation.
I was auntie number one, the sister of the mother. Auntie number two was the sister of the father. Both of us became aunts that day, and what a day that was.
My sister had a difficult pregnancy, to say the least. She had lung complications to start with and then the little darling refused to come out on time, forcing mommy into a Cesarean delivery that lasted over twenty-four hours.
We all waited around the clock, hovering at or near the hospital, praying for a miracle. And come out she did, finally. Screaming and all-out mad at being shoved so abruptly into this world. And she was the most gorgeous piece of baby you ever saw! Not that I'm biased.
When she came out, her mom and dad held her for a short while. Then she was whisked away to the incubator room, where she lay writhing and crying under a hot light. Her grandma and her two aunties made inquiries and managed to track her down within the labyrinth of that enormous hospital.
As soon as we spotted this explosive little bundle with dark curly hair and a perfect little red body, we could not hold back our excitement and screamed in utter jubilation.
My mom, the grandmother and the matriarch, did not wait for protocol, and check with the nurse to see if we could hold her. No, taking all rights into her hands, she went in to hold her granddaughter and welcome her into the family. We aunts held back a bit, waiting for permission, but beamed in pride at having now become aunties. We now shared a new bond, these two aunties, forever together in a love for this child that would never end.
My Second Niece
Only An Aunt ...
can give hugs
like a mother,
can keep secrets
like a sister,
and share love
like a friend.
I was not able to be there in person for the birth of my second niece. I was living too far away to get there on time, and even when I did, she had bonded so strongly to mommy that she hardly took notice of me for the first year and a half.
The relationship with my second niece was one I had to work a bit harder to establish. Because I did not see her every day, she saw me as more of a stranger. Whenever I saw her, though, I played with her, and loved on her, all the while giving her space.
Around the age of five, she declared to her mother, "I miss Auntie," and from then on, she and I have been close. She loves to show me her room, and last summer, she learned how to sew, and made an incredible pillow, with the word "Aunt" stitched upon it.
Portrayal in Literature
In literature, an aunt is often portrayed as the alternative caregiver for a child if the mother passes away. She is often cold and uncaring, forced into caring for the young one, but doing so only as a duty. This typical aunt is found in the novel, Jane Eyre, with the wicked and cruel Mrs. Reed, Jane's aunt by marriage, who treats Jane as less than her own family.
Another common aunt type is a female who must come in after the mother has passed away, to help care for the children and the household. For better or worse, the aunt is a presence in the child's life, and may seem to act quite selfishly. An example of this is in To Kill A Mockingbird, where a prissy Aunt Alexandra comes to care for Scout, and try to persuade her out of her tomboy ways.
A much more flattering image of an aunt can be found in the modern novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, where Aunt Sissy is the flirtatious sister of the Katie Nolan, whose generous nature gets her trouble with men, but makes her love her nieces and nephews extravagantly.
We Are Fun!
Unlike the often troubled images of aunts portrayed in literature, aunts in real life are often considered to be fun. Some aunts are the fun shadow of the mother: unencumbered by the daily tasks of cleaning, bathing and disciplining the child, and able to add extra colour and excitement to a child's life.
I myself remember very clearly my Aunt Dale taking us for rides, and making a song about every single thing that you saw, such as:
"There goes the blue blue cadillac,
It would look better if it was black.
The rain is coming fast and true,
As we ride along this day anew."
Literally, she would make songs about nothing! And it was fun. Some aunts are just like that.
Our Special Relationship
I suppose I will always be known as Charlie's Aunt.— Princess Margaret
I am an auntie, and I am proud of it. As an aunt, I feel a strong obligation to be there for my nieces. I share a bond with each of them that is very special. Because of the distance, I only see my nieces three or four times a year.
But these visits are an essential part of our lives. With my one niece, I talk about books and fantasy literature, like C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. With my both my nieces, we are silly together.
They are silly with me, and I with them, in a different way than they are with their Mom. I am like a kid with them, and that is okay, because I don't have to be the one to discipline them every day.
The Aunt of the Twenty-First Century
In doing research for this article, I came across an interesting website called Savvy Auntie. This site is a place for women, including aunts, godparents, and great aunties, who love the kids in their lives, but don't have kids of their own.
Run by Melanie Notkin, the site offers activity ideas, gift suggestions, free articles and a community for aunts. Melanie has also written a companion volume to the website called Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids. The book has excellent reviews, and is one that I would like to pick up myself.
A resource directed at the other side of the aunt-niece relationship, is called What Aunts Do Best, What Uncles Do Best. This sweet little book showcases all the cool things that aunts (and also uncles) can do for their nieces or nephews.
Aunt Marion was right . . . Never marry a musician, and never answer the door.— Charles Schultz (found on BrainyQuote)
Traditions With My Nieces
Are You an Aunt?
Since my nieces have been born, I have developed certain traditions with them that I endeavour to keep the best that I can. First of all, we usually spend Christmas together, although last year was the unfortunate year that we were not able to do so. During the Christmas season, my sister and I try to maintain some of the family customs that our family did to celebrate the Savior's birth.
While I'm there my nieces and I usually do at least two sleepovers. The way it usually goes is that the girls come down to the guest room where I am sleeping, and we talk until very late at night, finally stopping the fun with the tired protestation that I simply cannot stay awake a minute longer, and that mommy is going to get mad at us if we don't finally fall asleep.
Another thing I love to do is buy a book for each of them, for birthdays and Christmas. As the bookish aunt, I want to share my love of books with them. They already do read prolifically, but I also want to share that passion with them.
Another habit that we have as a trio, is to share certain stories, told over and over again—joyous ribaldry! One of those stories is the story of how my grandpa, their great-grandfather, "accidentally" used the lady's bathroom at the camp, thus creating dire embarrassment in the hearts of his two daughters, my mom and my aunt. This story has been passed on from my mother, to me, and now to my nieces. I love passing on family history.
My nieces also love to talk about past summers and Christmases, and we love to recall in great detail the time we got locked out of the pool at my apartment. My nieces also remember my pre-marriage days, which they barely can remember, but ask me to fill in the details.
© 2011 Sharilee Swaity