When you don’t have or want kids of your own, it is hard to imagine that you’d enjoy having children around—or know what to do with them for entertainment. Perhaps you get a vague idea of the responsibility of parenthood by watching your brothers and sisters raise their brood. But what to do when they want to ship one or more of your nieces or nephews to you for a visit?
You may have to overcome some of your fears of messing up as a stand-in parent. Then, you will be free to build one of the most enriching and fulfilling relationships you could ever imagine possible.
CHILDLESS AUNTS & UNCLES
There are two types of childless uncles and aunts, those who choose not to have kids, such as myself, and those who unfortunately can’t have kids and yet would make wonderful parents.
Those of us whose biological clock never seemed to tick might not initially think of spending time with kids as a fun activity! I was one of those people who used to cringe when a child sat near me on a plane, and I was frequently stuck next to the baby who cried during the entire flight. Back then, in my mind I blamed the parents for having bratty kids.
My perception changed, however, when my first niece was born eleven years ago. I felt so much love for her that only then was I aware of how a child can make life more meaningful. Becoming an auntie made me more aware of what it means to be a parent. By traveling with my sister and her baby, I got to understand why kids cry on a plane—their little ears hurt! Their poor parents suffer the pain too, and to add insult to injury—my sisters tell me so—they unjustifiably feel embarrassed about their kids crying in public. Now, when a mother with her baby sits next to me on a plane, I try to make her feel comfortable instead of tuning out.
CHALLENGES FOR CHILDLESS AUNTS & UNCLES
When you don’t have kids by choice, you often ignore anything that has to do with children. You don’t read the latest news on child parenting tips, childrens’ developmental process, and all those very important pieces of information parents must keep up with, because you just don’t have that instinct.
Childless aunts and uncles are more selfish than parents—I know that firsthand—since we only need to focus on our own lives. We tend to be impatient with children and find it hard to work around a kid’s needs. We have difficulty giving up our comfortable routines and lives to cater to other people’s needs. Being responsible for a child, even for a few hours can be daunting and scary. I used to be plagued by fear: What if my niece falls and breaks her leg on my watch? What if she gets food poisoning because of something I fed her? What if she tumbles down the stairs at night when I’m asleep?
Read Related: Not Meant To Be A Mami?
Still, by spending time with my three nieces, I’ve learned a thing or two. Even if you’re not used to being around kids, you can learn to relax, be patient and really enjoy your nieces and nephews.
- Get involved. Be there for your brothers and sisters and listen to what they tell you about their challenges in parenting. This will help you when they leave their kids in your care.
- Relax. Children can sense fear, so relax and enjoy them. Keep a watchful eye on them, but don’t agonize and replay the worst-case scenarios over and over in your head.
- Lighten up. Forget about trying to follow a plan when they’re in your care. You have to be realistic and understand that they might not enjoy the same things as you do. Ask their parents what their children enjoy doing, and read up on kid-friendly activities in your area.
- Spoil them. I believe in spoiling kids, when they’re not yours. It’s your special, brief time with them. Whether you buy them an extra toy, let them stay up too late, or take them to an overpriced amusement park, know they will not be spoiled for life.
- Listen to them and converse. Kids love attention and need to feel important. You’d be surprised at what you can learn, or better yet re-learn from a kid. Children live in the now, and they have amazing reasoning skills and common sense, which are eye-openers to those of us not used to being around kids.
- Be prepared. Make sure you know were the nearest hospital or clinic is, and which one takes their insurance.
- Don’t try to follow their house rules. They are with you; relax and let them chill and enjoy themselves too.
- Never, ever, promise and then not follow through. Kids don’t fare well with broken promises. Better to say no than promise them something and later not deliver. They’ll have plenty of other disappointments to deal with as they grow up. Be their role model and teach them to keep their promises.
My 11-year-old niece recently stayed with me for a whole week during her summer vacation. We had a great time! And yet I still remember back when being left alone with any kid would make me tremble in fear. I’ve since worked through my issues and now I look forward to my nieces’ visits. After all, I get to be their cool aunt who they confide in and admire. Nothing can beat that feeling except, perhaps, having children of your own.