The good aunt

Today marks the beginning of a new series on my blog. Each Monday during the next few months, I hope you’ll join me as we read the stories of women who don’t have children of their own and how they have created flourishing lives for themselves. (I’ll still post on Wednesdays with my usual fare about what makes life flourish: for me, that’s faith, music, running, art, gardening and books …)

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have children. That’s a story I’ll share with you along our journey, but not yet. Today, I’ll tell you a little bit about why I wanted to write this series and what you’ll find along the way.

But first, I want to wish my mother a happy birthday and a happy Mother’s Day. You may find it odd that I would do that here, in a post about good aunts, but if you knew my mother, you’d understand why it’s appropriate. 

My mother reading to three of my cousins

My mother was an aunt for 14 years before she became a mother, and her nieces and nephews – my cousins – enjoyed her attention and pampering during those years. They still enjoy her fierce and protective love, and she keeps track of them all through letters, emails, phone calls and updates from her brother – whose own brood of children and grandchildren she manages to keep track of, despite how far-flung they are.

Mom married at 29, later than many of those around her, and I often wonder if she ever worried about whether she would marry and have children. (I don’t remember ever asking her.) I have a sense she didn’t worry much back then, because she was busy first with a teaching career and then with graduate school and a new career beyond that.

Plus, she had several nieces and nephews to pamper: four nieces and four nephews all born before my brother and me – six of those on her side of the family and two on my dad’s side.

She always made time for my cousins when they called, and she loved most of all to visit with them and spend time catching up with everything going on in their lives. She also encouraged their questions about faith, a central part of her own life and one she very much wanted them to embrace in their own lives.

I adore my own nephews in the same fierce and protective way that I see in my mother’s love for my cousins. The unique love of an aunt is something I wanted to share with all of you. Of course, being an aunt isn’t simply about loving children and helping nurture them, and so through the series, I’ll share the complexity of an aunt’s life with you, too.

The reasons for the series
There are several reasons I wanted to share this series with you. Life can feel isolating to women who don’t have children. I live in a small neighborhood (basically three short streets) with 65 school-age children whose mothers are extremely busy raising them. I feel a bit of an outsider, though, and even when we all make an effort to gather, I get the sense that they don’t know what to talk to me about. My lack of children makes  it harder for us to relate to each other. I’d love to tear that barrier down – not just for me and my own small but flourishing neighborhood, but for women everywhere.

We also live in a culture where not having children opens women – and men, too – up to attack for not fitting in, for not behaving the way society expects us to. I felt this attack most keenly at a Christian women’s conference I attended shortly after my husband and I got married. It felt like everywhere I turned that weekend, I kept meeting women who demanded to know why I didn’t have children. My response that we were newlyweds abated some of the questions, but there were some women who simply wouldn’t let the subject drop. They pried and pushed and then assumed something was wrong with me physically, emotionally and spiritually for not planning to have children. I left the conference feeling battered. Not the way you would expect to feel after a Christian conference, right? And so through this series, I’d love to give those of you who are parents or plan to become parents a different way to think about and interact with those of us who aren’t.

I also wanted to write this series because it’s important to understand that we all have a unique, God-given purpose, and not all of us will fulfill that purpose through marriage and/or children. I see so many women in their 20s, 30s and 40s who are desperate to marry or have children or advance their careers (or all three). In their pursuit of these things, that they forget to nourish themselves spiritually. Corrie ten Boom has a wise take on this:

… often we set our minds on one thing we think will make us happy – a husband, children, a particular job, or even a “ministry” – and refuse to open our eyes to God’s better way. In fact, some believe so strongly that only this thing can bring happiness, that they reject the Lord Jesus Himself. Happiness is not found in marriage; or work; or ministry; or children. Happiness is found by being secure in Jesus. (Tramp for the Lord, 160).

So if you’re someone struggling with not being married, or not having children, I hope this can become a healing place for you. A place for you to read the stories of women who have traveled the path ahead of you, who demonstrate that life can be beautiful and full and fulfilled without those trappings of conventional family.

About the women in this series
Let me be clear: I don’t claim this as a professionally executed sociological study. I simply asked 13 women if they’d share their stories with me and allow me to share them with you. They range in age from early 30s to early 90s. Some are career driven. Some are free spirits. Some are biological aunts, and others are “aunts” to friends’ children. Some are Christian; some aren’t. Some are single, some married, and some widowed. They are all beautiful and brave and bold in their own ways. And above all, they are women you would want to call “friend.”

My friends, I look forward to this Monday journey with you. Do you have a good aunt you’d like to tell us about? Or are you a woman without children who has questions for us together to try to answer along the way? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

9 thoughts on “The good aunt

  1. Hope, this is going to be a wonderful blog and I am eager to read it. I’m also sending it to my cousin (and her husband) who have decided not to have children. I think it will be a little reassurance hug for her because I am sure it is hard being around “the family” and all the kids that go with it! GREAT IDEA!

    • Thanks, Jackie! I appreciate your response and am also glad you’ve shared the link with your cousin.

      Holidays and other family gatherings can be difficult. Mother’s Day is one of those days — hard for women who want children but haven’t been able to have them, difficult for women whose families may be pressuring them to have children, and certainly difficult for women who are estranged from their mothers or whose mothers have died.

      My hope is that through dialogue we will all be able to get to a more honest and comfortable place, especially within our own families.

  2. What a great idea for a series! I loved the story of your mom. I was an aunt for 23 years before I became a parent at age 39. (My niece actually has a daughter 8 months younger than my daughter.) I loved being with children all my life and valued each and every relationship I had with them for that relationship in and of itself. I was frustrated so many times when people would assume that babysitting, teaching or being with young people was “merely” training for parenthood. For many years I didn’t plan to be a parent and only changed my mind in my mid thirties. While I cherish my daughter and wouldn’t change things for a minute, I know that the relationships I can have with “other people’s children” are different and valuable and important for me, now as ever!

    • I love that you put “merely” in quotation marks. I do think our involvement with others’ children can be belittled when thought of as merely/only training for parenthood. Sounds like you’ve had some wonderful experiences as an aunt and now as a mother. I hope you’ll continue to weigh in with your experiences here as the series continues. Thanks for reading!

  3. I can’t wait to read what you have next Monday…this is an issue that strikes close to my heart. As much as I love my boys, they drain me and I am sometimes jealous of the “life of the mind and spirit” that my childless friends are able to have. Motherhood can be invigorating and joyful but it can also mean drudgery and heartbreak. Navigating the worlds between those with children and those without is always touchy and requires a spirit that is open to God and a realization that his plan for our world involves all of us nurturing each other. There is lots to learn and explore here…should be interesting and thought-provoking!

    • Thanks, Lauren. I look forward to the conversation about how to navigate those “worlds.” I agree that we are meant to nurture one another, regardless of how different our lives may look from one another. Can’t wait to have you join me for the journey ahead!

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