5 Myths about aunthood busted by a first-time aunt

My sister and I dropped into our  airplane seats, excited, and exhausted. After a long nine months, we were so ready to meet our new niece. Both first-time aunts, we had supported our older sister with baby showers and baby clothes in anxious anticipation and now it was all about to pay off. Our energy was palpable: just a few more minutes and we would be holding the sweet baby, congratulating our sister and toasting to new life. Just a few more minutes… or so we thought.

36 hours later: we were finally on our way to the hospital, where our niece had yet to be born.

Patience has never been my virtue, and as I sat in the cramped, dimly lit family waiting room at the hospital, I felt duped. Tricked. Fooled. A lifetime of watching movies like Father of the Bride Part II, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Baby Mama and The Back Up Plan had done me a disservice: in my head, the story went as these movies depicted- mother’s water breaks, she dramatically goes into labor, she sweats and pushes and screams for a few minutes and then the baby is born, squirming and squealing.

MYTH #1: The movies are wrong. Labor can take forever. If you are my sister, it can take 42 hours. Never mind your time frame – the baby doesn’t care if you flew in on a rush flight from Chicago.

After FINALLY being told that we could see our newest addition, I entered the hospital room with excitement and trepidation, flanked by my sister and mom. I saw my big sister, exhausted and radiant, holding the smallest, most fragile package of pink skin that I had ever seen. There perched my niece, Elsie Lillian, in all of her newborn wonder. As she was placed into my arms for the first time, tears welled in my eyes – the feeling of joy was indescribable, and the love in the room electrifying.

MYTH #2: Holding a baby is scary. Wrong. It’s therapeutic, especially when that baby is your new niece or nephew.

The next few days were busy and sleep-deprived for my entire family. Between getting my sister, brother-in-law, and niece out of the hospital to cooking an entire Thanksgiving meal and spending time with extended family, we had not a minute to spare. After the holiday, I threw myself into working Black Friday and, far less bitterly, caring for my new niece. With my sister laid up on the couch with an after-birth medical condition, I was put to work changing diapers, holding Elsie, changing diapers, entertaining Elsie, and, oh, did I mention changing diapers?

MYTH #3: Because they are so small, babies do not use the bathroom very often. Wrong again. They use the bathroom QUITE often, like 3 times in 20 minutes often.

First-time parents today need lots of help with everything. And not just with diapers.

Like any good aunt (and journalist), I did some research on my role to be sure I was aptly prepared for the duties that await me. What I found was shocking- -with the breakdown of the nuclear family and the increase of children being born out of wedlock, the role of aunts and uncles is changing and will continue to do so. Single mothers and fathers are relying more on their sisters and brothers to help them care for their children in absence of a partner.

According to the 2012 Census, “Between 1970 and 2012, the share of households that were married couples with children under 18 halved from 40 percent to 20 percent.” This means that the majority of family systems are not consisting of a married mother and father, which leaves a gap in the care of children.

Although extended family isn’t relied as heavily upon in American culture as it is in other cultures, it is still a resource for parents who are being spread too thin in trying to raise children and support them financially alone.

MYTH #4:The role of an aunt is purely for fun. Its faculties as a caregiver are limited.Wrong. For many families, an aunt serves as more than just a friend, but also as a provider, caregiver, motherly figure, and even disciplinarian. 

While I am thankful that I do not have to take on this kind of role with my niece, I know that many of you reading this will, and I want to encourage you to embrace this responsibility. Though I pray that nothing may happen that would cause me to have to become more than a mentor, friend, and supporter to my niece, I would gladly rise to the occasion if the situation called for it.

One particular afternoon, my sister went to take a quick nap. While the rest of my family was otherwise occupied with projects or conversations, I got the privilege of taking care of my niece for an hour while my sister got some much deserved rest. A long-term nanny, I have held many babies and cared for many children. I love kids, and although I am glad that I don’t have any of my own right now, I generally enjoy being around children. The feeling I get when I hold my niece, however, is beyond that of enjoyment, it is bliss.

Though she doesn’t know it yet, I am going to be the one she can come to when her parents are driving her crazy, when she wants that expensive pair of shoes or when she needs a trip away. I am going to be the one to teach her how to speak French, to paint her nails, to keep her clothed in designer duds, and to support her unconditionally (okay, I won’t be the only one doing this, but it is still important).

She is my blood relation, yes, but unlike a sister or brother, I get to choose how much time I spend with her and how involved I am in her life. That’s what makes it so special– I get to CHOOSE to be her aunt, (her tati, which is French for auntie) and I get to be a part of her life not because I have to, but because I want to and desire to.

MYTH #5: Being an aunt isn’t a big deal. One last time, wrong. It’s a huge deal. My little world just got a little bit bigger, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.