I became an aunt when I was 8 years old. I alcohol-wiped his tiny umbilical cord stump (hey, it was the 90s), changed diapers, and ooh’d and aah’d over all his miniature cuteness. I took an entire photo album of pictures from a 3-day trip to meet that nephew to my third grade class. It wasn’t even for show and tell.
I just wanted to show and tell EVERYONE—I was an aunt.
Now, a couple decades after that inaugural nephew made his debut, I am an aunt 32 times over, with more to come.
It’s a fundamental part of my identity, this concept of unconditionally loving and caring for these babies that aren’t my own. And it’s been that way from the day each of them was born, long before I was a mother myself.
One of the coolest studies I’ve ever read describes one of the ways all women—not just mothers—instinctively connect with infants. Thirty women were asked to smell a two-day-old infant; 15 had recently had children of their own, and the other 15 had never given birth. Brain scans showed almost identical results in all the women: the smell of a newborn baby elicited a reaction akin to being given an upper.
Babies are literally like drugs to women.
And aunts are no exception.
Aunts choose to nurture when there is no biological or legal requirement. They choose to love and invest and give without parental obligation. Sometimes an aunt is exactly what a kid needs.
Aunts are friends, examples, confidants, adventure buddies, advice givers, and indulgent providers. Sometimes they fill in the gaps where most parents simply can’t fit. And that is awesome.
And now as a mom who needs her own breaks once in a while, I can more fully understand and sincerely appreciate the role a good aunt plays in the life of a child. I can happily hand my son over to my sister with an absolute guarantee of limitless love, concern, and care. She won’t handle everything the way I do, she doesn’t parent like I do, but I know she is intrinsically happy to provide all she can, however she can.
Because she is an aunt.
Don’t forget to celebrate National Aunt & Uncle Day on July 26!