The good aunt and sticky friendships, revisited

Back in July, I wrote about the struggle women without children have in maintaining friendships with their friends who are moms. If you missed the first post or have forgotten it, you might want to read it and then come back to this post.

I’m revisiting the issue, because so much of what I hear in response to the good aunt series has to do with the difficulty of navigating friendships.

I want to say it again: good aunts want to be good friends to the moms in their life, but there’s sometimes a difficulty in knowing the best way to approach those friendships.

Those of us who aren’t moms know that the job of mom is a demanding, all-consuming, draining, not-always-fun-and-games life. Really, I promise you moms out there, we do know that, even if it’s only in an intellectual way instead of the empathic way your other mom friends can truly understand. And so we know to expect changes in friendships when babies are born. What we don’t always know, though, is how to maintain the friendship and develop a relationship with the new little one, or if that’s even something the new mom wants.

A friend of mine and I sat chatting over coffee yesterday, and the topic of friendships with new moms came up. My friend is in her early thirties, is not yet a mom, and is experiencing that so familiar boom of babies being born among her group of friends.

She voiced what I have felt, too, though I’m farther from the baby boom with my friends than she is: each time another friend becomes a mom for the first time, there’s an uncomfortable shift, as the questions begin:

  • What does the friend expect from me now that she has less time for herself and her friends?
  • If I’m the only one making an effort to connect, is it because the new mom doesn’t need/want me in her life any more? Or is it because she’s overwhelmed and needs me to come to her aid whether she asks for it or not?
  • Does she still value me as a friend, even though I don’t have children and can’t adequately talk through the latest nappies or sleepless night solutions and can’t offer her any knowledge about nannies, or juggling work and babies?

The questions that arise out of this natural separation in a friendship are not comfortable or easy. And each friendship will resolve the questions differently.

Some friendships will strengthen with the answering of these questions, even if the questions are never asked or answered out loud. Other friendships will fade because of different needs and expectations on either side of the friendship. And there doesn’t seem to be a recipe or computer program that will help you determine which friendships will survive and which won’t, no matter how much work you put into them.

So where do we go from here?
If a friendship mattered to you before a child was born (your own child or your friend’s child), then decide if the friendship is worth some extra effort now. The answer won’t always be “Yes,” and that’s okay.

But for the friendships that are worth it to you, the ones that you cannot imagine losing, take some time to make them work. And be honest with each other about what both of you want and need from this new way of being friends. Honest conversation may have to happen in snatches between crying fits and first smiles and diaper changes, but those conversations are the best way to keep a friendship going strong.

Have some great advice for how you and a friend have navigated friendship changes after one of you became a parent? Or a question about how to start that honest conversation? I’d love to hear from you.

Feeling less than a good aunt

I just finished reading Jennifer Pharr DavisBecoming Odyssa, a book she wrote to describe her thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I’ll talk more about the book on Wednesday, but I was searching for more about her online just now and came across her blog on tumblr. The most recent post included a list of who and what she would miss most on her hiking trip through Spain this summer. Number one on the list:

“My 20-month old niece. She is perfect. I am not biased.” (Source)

How many of you aunts – and uncles – have ever felt this way about your own nieces and nephews?

When my older nephew was still the solo kid in the family, I told him constantly that he was my favorite little boy in the whole world. I thought he was perfect, and I was not at all biased, ahem.

And then my second nephew was born, and suddenly I had two favorite boys in the whole world (yes, it’s possible to have two favorites), both of whom were perfect. And I loved them more than I imagined I could ever love two people. And I was not biased.

Both of my nephews love me (even as teenagers they still tell me this, and not just when I send money or presents), but I have never been a perfect aunt. Lots of times, I feel less than perfect. Like that time I yelled at my older nephew for breaking the cup holder in my car. Or the time I yelled at both of them for fighting in the backseat after a trip to Chuck E. Cheese (which, by the way, was the first time I truly understood how miraculous it was that my father never really followed through on his threat to pull the car over).

There’s a lot of distance between where I live and where they live, and so I didn’t get to see them regularly as they grew up, or get to see them in most of their favorite activities. And I quite possibly never ever sent anything on Halloween. (I understand some very good aunts never miss sending goodies on this oh-so-important holiday in the life of a child.)

But I’ve done the best I could to foster relationships with them and make sure they always know that even though I’m not perfect, I still pretty much think they are.

Searching for how to be a good aunt
Recently I was looking through the statistics page on my blog, more specifically, the search terms that bring readers to my blog. I was surprised and saddened to see this search: “I don’t know how to be a good aunt.” That line stopped me cold. Some woman out there was looking for online help, wanting to learn what it meant to be a good aunt.

So she typed, “I don’t know how to be a good aunt” to see what answers might come up. There was something in her search that resonated with me, and I wondered what that woman was going through to make her turn to Google.

That could have been me all those years ago, searching for an answer about how to be a good aunt. Let’s be honest. There are still days I could benefit from a magic Google search that has all those answers.

My older nephew was born when I was a sophomore in college, making me the first of my friends to become an aunt. I had no clue what being a good aunt entailed. I was busy trying to figure out what being a good college student and a good friend and a good adult and a good human being meant. And now this baby was on the way, and I knew with an unshakeable certainty that I wanted to be a good aunt. Even though I had no idea how to go about becoming a good aunt.

Several of the woman I interviewed spoke of a similar feeling of inadequacy, this “less than” feeling that made them doubt I should even group them with other good aunts for the series. In some cases, there are strained family relationships that take nieces and nephews out of reach of aunts who would love to be more involved with them. Sometimes the separation happens because of the demands of an aunt’s career. Sometimes there’s no tangible reason to pinpoint why the aunt/niece/nephew relationship never really takes off. This is true not only with biological relationships but also with the children of a good aunt’s closest friends.

If I’ve learned nothing else from the good aunt series, it’s this: being a good aunt is about intention (actively cultivating the relationship in whatever way works) and attention (spending time letting the children know they’re important to you). Beyond that, there’s no magic recipe. There’s no Google search that can guarantee you’ll be a good aunt.

There are as many different ways to be a good aunt as there are different aunts and different nieces and nephews. And it may take a lot of trial and error to figure out what works best with the children in your life. You may even discover that what works perfectly with one child doesn’t work at all with another. If you’re really struggling, I encourage you to enlist the help of the children’s parents, grandparents and other aunts and uncles to help you figure this out, too.

I think Jennifer Pharr Davis is onto something that may help you, though: start with the belief that your niece/nephew is perfect, and therefore deserving of your love and attention, and together, you’ll figure out a way to forge a strong bond.

Have any advice to share about what makes a good aunt? I’d love to hear it. And apparently, there are others out there who’d love to hear it, too.

Thanking your good aunt

The month of guest posts has ended. The contest is over. And now it’s time for me to say several thank yous.

First and foremost, I’m grateful to the four talented (and busy) writers who said “Yes!” when I asked if they would write a guest post for me in September. Please know that I deeply appreciate all of you for adding one more thing to your busy schedules. The results were beyond what I was expecting, and for sharing your gift with me and your inspiring messages with my blog readers, I thank you.

For those of you who might have missed a guest post along the way, here are links and a brief summary:

  • Jerel Law, author of Spirit Fighter, blogged about his sister-in-law, an amazing good aunt who thinks nothing of flying the less-than-friendly skies to get from Hawaii to her niece and nephews on the East Coast. Her presence is a soothing, necessary balm as the Law children learn to navigate life without their mother.
  • Tracey Finck, author of Love Letters to a Child, blogged about the power of a good aunt’s pen. I hope you took her up on her suggestion to buy some stamps and sit down and write your niece/nephew/significant-other-child-in-your-life to let them know you’re thinking about them. If not, it’s never too late. I hear they even sell stamps at CVS and Wal-mart these days.
  • Allison Cain, author of Revision of a Heart and several other good reads, blogged about a great way to pray about and through pain, whether emotional or physical. And who among us can’t use a good prayer cue for turning our troubles over to God?
  • Shannon Hale, author of How to Pray When You Can’t Sit Still, blogged about her remarkable aunt Grace who had the courage to show her nieces she loved them, even though she couldn’t shower them with perfect gifts or perfect amounts of attention. I hope Hale challenged you to rethink a reluctance to share your love with those who are important to you.

And now about that contest
I want to thank those of you who embraced the guest bloggers and commented on their posts. And a huge thanks to those who entered the contest, too. I loved reading stories of your own aunts and how they’ve influenced you. Thank you for sharing those stories, and thanks for taking time away from what I know is a busy month to pay tribute to a special aunt in your life.

Thanks also to those of you who have told me about your own good aunts in person. And also to those of you who have spoken of a deep lack of good aunts in your life or a loss of a good aunt in your children’s lives when a sister or sister-in-law died too young.

Of those who entered the contest, Wendy ended up winning (congrats!). I was literally pulling her name from the folded pieces of paper when a telemarketer’s number popped up on my caller ID, identifying itself only as “Winner.” Serendipity? Coincidence? Just plain fun (so atypical from the caller ID these days)?

You can read Wendy’s tribute to her aunt Kate in the comments to the contest announcement. Wendy is a talented writer in her own right, and I encourage you to check out her blog, especially today’s post that might give you an idea of the type of friend you can be to the moms of your favorite kids.

Wendy: look for an email from me in your inbox asking which of the four guest bloggers’ books you’d like to receive as your prize. You can’t go wrong with any of the choices, and I’m looking forward to seeing which one you select.

If I could declare each and every one of you readers a winner, I would, but I don’t have enough money in the budget to send all of you books. Maybe as a pat on the back for encouraging me, you’ll treat yourself to one or all four of the books highlighted over the last month? If you do, let me know what you think of them.

I also encourage you, if you haven’t already, to thank a good aunt in your life. These woman can be easy to overlook, but if your good aunt is still alive, I’m betting she would love to hear your words of gratitude.


Less than

I don’t know about where you live, but Christmas is starting to seep around the edges everywhere here. In the last week, I’ve gotten two Christmas catalogs in the mail, letting me know that I need to get a jump on the decorating and gift buying and plans for cooking.

Have Christmas catalogs begun arriving in your mailbox?


Today at Target, while I was hunting for mosquito repellant (still a dire need where I live), I wandered lost among the Halloween costume aisles hoping to find a last remnant of an outdoor section where the repellant sat all summer. And that’s when I stumbled upon an entire section of Christmas cards. In September.

My husband and I haven’t figured out Thanksgiving plans, and already, marketers and merchants are subtly trying to convince me that I’m almost behind the curve on Christmas planning.

All of this got me to thinking about what these retailers are attempting to accomplish, and I think it’s this: If they can make me worry that I may end up with a “less than” Christmas, one that’s less than my neighbors or friends or even the Christmas I imagine in my mind, I’ll buy a bunch of stuff now to make sure I at least look like I’m having a “more than” Christmas.

When the world makes us feel “less than”
I’m not sure when I first learned the less than symbol (<) in math (you know: 3<4), but I’m guessing it was at a pretty young age. You know what else I learned about “less than” at too young an age? What it meant to feel less than.  Continue reading

Guest post: The courage to love imperfectly

If you’re struggling with how to be a good aunt, take heart. You don’t have to be perfect to share a lifetime of love with all those special children in your lives. Today’s guest blogger Shannon Hale shares a lesson she learned from an aunt who had the courage to love her imperfectly.

Shannon Hale, photo provided by the author

Shannon’s new book How to Pray When You Can’t Sit Still is hot off the e-presses. Her family has learned to live with ADHD, and in her book, she offers fresh, fun new ways to make prayer an integral part of your busy life – a great read for anyone dealing with ADD/ADHD or simply a mind too distracted with the busyness of life to sit down and pray. Be sure to check out Shannon’s blog, too.

That’s Charles on the cover (photo provided by Shannon Hale). I got to name him in a contest on Shannon’s blog last week. And speaking of contests …

Thank your good aunt contest deadline
Today marks the last of the guest posts for the Good Aunt series, and you know what that means: The deadline for the “Thank your good aunt” contest is upon us! I originally intended to stop accepting entries today, but knowing that many of you can’t always find time to sit still and submit your contest entry, I’m extending the deadline to this Friday, September 28. If you win, you could choose to receive How to Pray When You Can’t Sit Still as your prize. So get those entries in that describe a wonderful woman in your life who deserves a letter of love from you.

Now, here’s Shannon with some inspiration about being a good aunt:


Christmas in our house was filled with love, but not with the anticipation of wonderful gifts. My single mom worked two and sometimes three jobs to raise the five of us girls, so presents under the tree usually consisted of necessities like socks and underwear, with one special exception. Continue reading