My niece sent me a link to the New York Times.com article by single-no-kids Kate Bolick, “Let’s Hear It For Aunthood.” Bolick makes some interesting points, starting with-because nearly 1 in 5 American women in her early 40s does not have children and that more women are marrying and having children later, if at all, “they have more time to…
..enjoy being an aunt.” She asks, “How many of these single, childless women wonder, as I have, if being an aunt beats being a mother?” This married, childfree aunt can weigh in on that.
To me, advantages to auntihood and uncle-hood for that matter include: if you want, you can play a role in young people’s lives without having to take on the huge role of parenthood, and you get to have a special kind of relationship with the kids of family members, without having to be the “authority figure or disciplinarian.” As Robert M. Milardo, a University of Maine sociologist says about aunts and uncles, “Their knowledge is unique, and to a certain extent, unburdened by the conventional expectations held of parents,” and “this may be especially true of childless aunts who are free to deviate from traditional views of mothering, domesticity, and femininity.”
In interviewing childfree women for Families of Two, more of them than you might expect spoke to an aunt they had who never had children, and how this opened their eyes to the fact that one is not destined to have kids. Too often, however, the aunt who is not married and does not have children is characterized less than positively, from a bit odd, to a spinster, or the like.
Me, when I was very young I had a single aunt with no children, and I sure did not see her this way, and neither did my family. Sadly, she died at the age of twenty-nine. There we are on the right. As a girl, I also had a special relationship with my then single, childfree uncle, UB, on left, and our bond remains special today.
Now, I am the childfree aunt to several nieces and nephews, and a non-blood auntie to my dear friend’s daughter. In thinking about Bolick’s question, it seems to me that it is not so much whether one “beats” the other–it boils down to whether you want the childfree life or the role of parent. For some who really want the experience of raising children, being an aunt or uncle might not be enough. For others, like Bolick, they may find that being an auntie or uncle makes them feel, as savvy auntie would say, “childfull.” Whether one “beats” the other, is a matter of how much you want the role and lifestyle of parent–or not.
Parents, however, still get the higher billing. While aunts and uncles can play a special role in children’s lives, Milardo points out that there has been little or no interest in studying this; aunts and uncles have been “conspicuously absent in his academic field of family studies.” But he has started to change this; he has recently authored the first comprehensive study of aunts and uncles, The Forgotten Kin. There is also the recent The Complete Book of Aunts by Rupert Christiansen.
Bolick speaks to how “the aunt does seem to be gaining some traction in celebrity circles.” Maybe if and when the role of aunts and uncles, childfree and not, were more touted and recognized, the question of whether one “beats” the other would not need to be pondered. Here’s to the day when people could choose their role when it comes to kids without judgment, and when one role is not ultimately “better” than another.
Do you have a special aunt or uncle? Are you one? Let’s hear some stories…