How does the role of honorary aunt/uncle evolve during a child's life?
January 9, 2017 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Parents of MetaFilter: What are some things you commonly find yourself wanting/needing from your friends when it comes to interacting with your children, especially as the kids get older? What are some of the most valuable things the long-term honorary aunts and uncles in your lives have done for the kids that has help them feel loved and supported growing up?

I am fortunate enough to have friends whose 3-year-old girl and 5-year-old boy have lived their lives to date with me hanging around a whole lot. These kids are painfully dear to me, and both of them love me a whole lot. Ideally, I would like them to grow up knowing they can always come to me with any kind of concern, and that there will always be people besides their parents (with whom they will one day certainly be omg so mad) who will love and care for them no matter what.

Aside from the obvious stuff like "babysitting" and "giving them candy when mom/dad is not looking," what are some ways I can forge long-term supportive connections with the parents and children in my life, especially as the little ones get older? If you have a friend who has been a kind, loving, and consistent presence over the course of one or more of your kids' lives, especially if the friend is not a parent themselves, what have they done to maintain that role over the years?

This question brought to you by a visit I just had with my beloved nephew, whose kindergarten-age guilelessness is poignant and resplendent. Long may his wide-open heart reign.
posted by amnesia and magnets to Human Relations (17 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Be there for them if/when their parents become ill or die. I had an honorary aunt while growing up that I really turned to after my Mom's family treated me like crap after she died. Honorary aunt also fell apart and quit returning my calls. All the adults I turned to ignored me. It sucked.

If you stay in touch after they become adults, don't shun them when their parents die, even though you really loved their parents.
posted by irisclara at 10:06 AM on January 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

I know my sister really appreciates me gently correcting my niece when she says or does something inappropriate. These days a lot of friends/relatives think it's inappropriate to ever correct a child. But with my neighbor kid and with my niece, if they say or do something rude, hurtful, whatever, I will point it out to them and tell them why. I think having that kind of non- judgmental feedback from grown ups when they screw up as little kids will let them learn as they get older that if they ever have any bigger questions that they can come to me (or another adult) even if they've messed up and I won't judge them for it.
posted by ilovewinter at 10:09 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Do things with them one-on one. My teenage son is strongly interested in the arts, and he's really treasuring his relationship with my husband's cousin who is a photographer and connected to the art scene in our city. She takes him seriously and invites him to openings, gallery crawls, and even to go out making photography he's interested in.
posted by gateau at 10:14 AM on January 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm coming at this as someone in your position, but with an older 'Godson' (in quotes because we're all totally ungodly - he's my OhMyGodson and I'm either his Fairy Godmother or his OhMyGodmother).

But fwiw, he's nine, with three younger siblings, and just *loves* the chance to have one-on-one time with an adult without having to share the attention with his siblings. For us, that's going on bike adventures, where we go ride in the hills, explore swamps (ohmygod I really thought I'd lost him to the mud once), eat ridiculous amounts of sweets, etc.

I also show up to things he does (stage shows, running in races) and insist on getting selfies with the pair of us while telling him how proud I am of him etc. Just making him feel like he's got a special personal cheer-leader he doesn't share with anyone else. And I love it too :)
posted by penguin pie at 10:15 AM on January 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

Our kids have 2 honorary uncles who live about 3500 km away, who while not present physically, have always "been there" for them. Among the factors affecting their relationship is that they are fairly well off--they're both professionals and don't have kids--and are therefore able to provide "treats" that we parents couldn't. In addition, legally, they were the kids' guardians in the event that both my husband and I died.

Other uncle-ing: they set up "not-education funds" for the kids and donated an amount monthly. As it happens, both kids used it for their education, but the money was there in case they wanted to travel, upgrade the tools of their trades, etc. They hosted one kid a couple of times over summer holidays for a couple of weeks (the other kid was busy with other stuff but will likely go visit them next summer with his wife). They kept up contact, mostly FB and texting, especially for kids' milestones: birthdays, moving to new grades in school, a successful performance at something, etc. When we visited them as a family, the kids had a special outing with the uncles by themselves (where they were well and truly spoiled). The uncles traveled at considerable expense for one kid's wedding and will do the same for the other kid's wedding in a few months.

Because you're in the same vicinity, you can share more of yourself with them than our kids' uncles could. They're about ready for a sleepover, afternoon video/movie time, trip to that special park/museum/playground, Saturday morning spent doing something loud and messy with you (baking cookies, making cards/gifts for mum and dad's birthdays, etc.). Most especially, try to be interested and engaged in what they're saying and doing--hard when they're little like this and you have to endure endless children's chatter and seemingly infinite requests to "watch me!"--but it will provide lasting relationship glue.
posted by angiep at 10:17 AM on January 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

With all things kid-related, showing up is 99% of it. Just be there, reliably, so they know that you are reliable.

Birthdays and holidays are great of course. But also you could set up regular outings/days with you, make that Your Thing. Once a month, they have a Day with you that they can look forward to. And count on. Consistency makes kids feel safe/loved/supported. What you actually do on each Day doesn't matter much; picnics, libraries, museums, or just videogaming/sleepover. Doesn't have to be fancy.

As they get older and have access to phones, give them your number (or get their mom to let them call) so they have one more person to tell about their A in science, or the part in the play.

When they're teens, if you're brave enough, offer to help teach them drive. Or set up a bank account. Or apply for a job. Apply to college. All the hard adult stuff they're going to be scared to learn/struggle with.

You have to reach out to them, though, and show up--it's very one-way till they get grown. It's on you.
posted by emjaybee at 10:34 AM on January 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

If you live close enough, go to their stuff when they have it. My kids' honorary aunts and uncles try to make at least one play/performance per school year and it means the WORLD to my kids, especially as they get older and their stuff gets cooler and more important to them.

When they get cell phones, text them stupid stuff and important stuff and just generally stay in contact with them.

If they go off to college, send them birthday cards and care packages!

Just generally be present in their lives.
posted by cooker girl at 10:50 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Don't forget about them once they're old enough to enter high school/university. I had several honorary aunts who just seemed to forget I existed after I was a pre-teen. Life happens and it's hard to stay in contact, but try to make the effort.
posted by modesty.blaise at 10:53 AM on January 9, 2017

I think the most important thing you can do as an "honorary" aunt is treat them like an actual aunt after a friend breakup. If two siblings were feuding, the aunt would still send birthday cards, etc. But friend breakups often mean that people no longer want those relationships with kids, and it confuses and upsets them.
posted by corb at 11:11 AM on January 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

You're great!

My kid has been raised by a team of aunts and uncles (with me and now a step parent too playing our part). Pretty much any thing you do is going to be great, but I will say, what has been the most awesome has been her special aunt who has had a running date with her just about every single week of her life for the last 14 years. If they aren't able to see each other in person, they talk on the phone. Now they text back and forth too. Last year this aunt took my kid to visit her own family on the other coast, and they also have some traditions of their own around holidays and birthdays. Having said that, most of the time on their weekly dates they just hang out and chill together, watch youtube, draw, stuff like that.

The consistency of the relationship is what cements it as true family.
posted by latkes at 11:17 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

When I was young, my honorary aunt would just take me and my brother for a weekend. I think it was because my parents wanted to go to an event, but I didn't know that. We just stayed with her, watched TV, slept on the couch. And she worked at various summer camps, so she got me a family discount and I went there with her.

It did me lot of good to have those stretches of time away from my family.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 11:17 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Show up for their basketball games/dance recitals/birthdays. Make things together, like food or valentines, that give them a chance to tell you show you what their favorite things/foods/colors are. Send them postcards when you go on vacation. And of course, you're already doing the major thing: babysitting (whether at home or doing an outing), because those trusting bonds are formed when they know they can just chill with you. The point of all this is to just be there, and be a good listener.
posted by Pearl928 at 1:47 PM on January 9, 2017

Meet up when they grow up, into their 20's, 30's and beyond.
posted by radiocontrolled at 2:08 PM on January 9, 2017

Teach them things -- if you have the most simple musical knowledge, get them ukeleles and pass that along. Drawing skills. Cooking Indian food. Anything at all.

Agreed that a huge % of it is simply being there -- so much of it is just showing up. (Or, if you're away, sending postcards/little parcels of interesting whatnot.)

My SO has been an honourary uncle since birth to some now university-age kids. One of the more valuable things I think he's offered over the years has been alternative advice -- the parents are swell and do not need any help raising the kids, but having another adult to non-judgmentally talk to about getting-older stuff and get a different perspective from is neat. Moreso if you can count on them to not go finking on you to your parents after you've asked about stuff like dope and sex.

As far as my own kid goes, he does stuff like take the day off work to volunteer to hand out Freezies at the end of her track-and-field meet, show up for the judo Xmas party, and, took care of her a fair whack while I've been sick. They go skating every weekend; this spells me off for a couple of hours, gives them time together to talk trash about me (heh), and means her skating skills are coming along nicely.

Twice now we have dealt with "I want to be in your kid's life, I love her, she's super-important to me," and in one case the person's health was not great and he could not fit that in -- and instead of explaining just kinda disappeared, and, in the other case, I got friend-dumped out of nowhere after eight years with no explanation and our honourary aunt there is just permanently gone, leaving me with no explanation at all on that one. Kids are pretty sturdy and she's got enough other friends, especially adult friends who have always been there and continue to always be there, that it wasn't a huge hit, but I was pretty disgusted. Be absolutely sure this is a commitment you can keep -- if you "break up" with the parents, what then? (I totally recommend discussing this openly, too.)

The ones who have remained present: show up with small, but extremely cool and very thoughtful and personalized gifts when they visit (they're not able to make it here often enough for this to be over-the-top spoil-y, though I don't mind "spoiling" from friends and relatives), and one pointed out that a fatherless daughter lacks a "fixer" in their early adulthood -- a dad to call and say "He turned out to be a total bastard. Can you rent a U-Haul and get some boxes and meet me at my apartment tomorrow? I need OUT," and have them just show up with the truck and boxes, no questions asked. He hoped he could be that fixer if there was ever a need for it and he was in a position to do so, which I thought was a pretty cool offer. Early adulthood is a prime time for needing help, and being able to offer it -- a week on the sofa to get away from your parent(s), showing up with your car to help with a move, a grocery store gift card at just the right time, a shoulder to cry on -- you can't really have that sort of thing from too many caring adults.
posted by kmennie at 3:56 PM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's important for kids to have a responsible adult who is there for them who is also not their parent. There are some shenanigans and personal problems that are (at best) embarrassing, or (at worst) impossible to come to your parents with. Parents often think they have the best interests of their children at heart, but people change as they grow and parents often have difficulty relating to teenagers as young adults and not enormous helpless babies. Presumably the Responsible Adult remembers the parents making poor youthful decisions, and won't hold it against you if you do, too.

The Responsible Adult Who Loves You will listen to your problems without immediately panicking and freaking out, and is full of helpful advice if you want it. You can ask the Responsible Adult embarrassing questions that you don't want to ask your parents. You can ask them about your parents when they were young. The Responsible Adult will, if necessary, try to talk to your parents and mediate a solution if there is something you need that your parents won't budge on. The Responsible Adult is cool enough to take you to Rocky Horror if you're into that, or some other subversive-but-controlled fun thing that's on the edge of safe enough for teenagers. The Responsible Adult Who Loves You softens your landings when you make developmentally-appropriate poor choices.
posted by blnkfrnk at 4:53 PM on January 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

My mother doesn't talk to either of her siblings; my father is functionally an only child. As such, my only aunts have been "honorary" aunts.

My Aunt Ruth, who was close with my grandparents (who I also never knew), was sort of an aunt-grandmother hybrid. When we were younger, she would babysit us. She taught me how to knit and embroider. We had sleepovers at her house, and I remember then very fondly for getting to sleeping in the special pink guest bedroom, and eat cereal with sugar in it! As I got older, she a confidante. She was the one who secretly bought me Seventeen and Sweet Valley High books (which were hidden in her basement, as they were expressly against my mom's wishes!). She taught me how to wear makeup. Even though these things were against the rules, it really helped me feel more "normal" at a time when I really felt othered.
She made more of my band performances and ceremonies than my dad did. As she became more housebound, I would take her out for lunch when I was home from school for the weekend, run errands for her, tried to make little surprises for her. I really valued all of the time that I was able to spend for her in the last years of her life.

My Aunt Marlene was a close friend of my parents around the time that I was born, and was my godmother in a sense. She lived far away, and we saw her a few times a year. As I grew up, she has always been the person that I could call whenever I needed to talk about something. She and I are actually closer now than she is with my mother.

Be involved in their lives, and just try to be what they need. I don't want to expressly condone going against their parents' wishes, but I also don't think there is anything wrong with being the cool aunt that lets their niece/nephew try new non-harmful things in a safe space. Make big deals out of birthdays - take them out for special dates just the two of you.
posted by honeybee413 at 6:54 PM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

My best friend has a 15 and a 16 year old - both boys. She's a single mom. I think the most valuable part of my auntie services is being her defense. Without a cheerleader spouse, she can sometimes feel like the Bad Cop all the time. So I am joyful fun auntie who can turn on a dime and give a very serious talk about respect and love and how they need to treat their mom.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 8:26 AM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

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