Aunties are living proof of our infinite capacity to love. My sister has a packed and rich family life, each of her children having their own hobbies, challenges, lives and needs, yet she always has time for my daughter, taking a keen interest in her life and being there to help if she’s ever struggling.
And that’s absolutely reciprocated with my nephews.
Being an auntie is a different kind of love. Possibly a little how grandparents feel as depending on your relationship, you get all of the best bits. But it doesn't have to be dependent on biology. Few parents would knock back help and interest in their children, and few children and young people would knock back the attention of someone who loves them and cares about their wellbeing. That's why so many people are honorary aunties - it's because of who they are, not who they're related to.
My 18 year-old nephew Alfie is built like a 7 ft SMEG refrigerator, sharp as a tack and completely independent. But as an adorable three-year old, he sometimes used to come and stay at my house at weekends. I’ve always loved reading, and I used to read him JR Tolkien. He LOVED it!!! I also remember spending an afternoon reading him (appropriate) excerpts of We need to talk about Kevin on a sunbed in Tenerife and my sister told me that he talked about it all night back at their apartment. He still loves reading now, and is articulate and smart. How wonderful to think I could have helped instil in him a love of the written word.
All this was before I’d started thinking properly about whether I’d have my own children. The love I had for my only nephew was a beautiful example of how our hearts can embrace and respond to what we have, not what we don’t. It was Alfie's photo on my desk at work. It was him I talked fondly about with my friends, and his hobbies and interests I took a keen interest in. And him I’d take for meals out with my friend and her children, feeling proud of how smart and clean he looked despite being in my care!
Now, I’m grateful to have my own child, but one of the reasons I wanted to write this piece is to acknowledge the imprint we have on our nephews and nieces lives as something that can not be underestimated or trivialised. I know this because I remember all too well how much fulfilment and meaning I got from being an auntie before and after I had my own child. Either way, its importance never wavered.
I also see the huge impact my sister has on my daughter. How she still says: “can we go to Auntie Rachel’s?” every Sunday, even at nearly 14 years old. How she can listen, talk to and validate her in a way few others can. And how, whenever she’s doing something important, she’ll drop everything to be there (I remember the whole family doing this for a three-minute gymnastics routine – it’s just how we are).
And it works both ways. My younger nephews are always excited to come to my house for an hour or two, even though I always think it must be really boring for them. If they’re doing anything remotely significant, like Tommy’s horseriding competitions or Woody’s biking, we show up en masse. In fact, my son joined Tommy’s wheelchair basketball club because we loved going to watch him so much.
Young people can never have too many positive role models and supportive fans. It can be totally transformative for them. So if you’re an auntie or uncle, biologically or honorary, your care, your effort and your love will bloom, thrive and live on and on. And that is pretty meaningful and special.