A week or so, Loribeth alerted her readers to an article written by Yael Wolfe, titled I'm Retiring from Aunthood. She is a No Kidding author talks about her love for her nieces and nephews, and all the help she gave her siblings with their children. "Nothing was more important to me than those kids," she writes. She notes, almost as an aside, that the help was often one-sided, and that she didn't get the same degree of support and assistance from her family (except occasionally from her brother) that her siblings with children received.
Then one sibling and family moved away, followed by the second. The loss of the relationships obviously hurt her,. and the reactions from the family seemed to dismiss her loss. She writes, "But I do wonder if anything I did for them meant anything." And later, "And I wonder if being an aunt really matters, at all."
She is writing the article on Mother's Day, feeling left out and unwanted, and sad that no-one cares about aunts. "I think we should care about aunts."
And she finishes by noting, "I wish I could say that many will be sad to see me retire and move on to new adventures. But I really doubt anyone will notice. ... At least I can know that I did more than my best while I was on the job. I always was an over-achiever. I guess I’m just not sure anymore what I was hoping to achieve…"
The article is devastating. I hear
the yearning that she feels for these children she loves, and for the role she played in their lives ("Second Mommy" for one of the children). I feel her loneliness that she now only sees her nieces and nephews a few times a year, when she used to see them a few times a week. I feel that too, when we are so far away from all my nieces and nephews and great-nephews - the closest is a seven-hour drive, and the furthest is on the east coast of the US. The Husband actually said to me the other day, as we were admiring photos of little great-nephews growing up in Western Australia, that we are very isolated from our families. It can be lonely.
I feel too the lack of acknowledgement she gets from not just the kids, but from her siblings, who have benefited from her love for her nieces/nephews, but are it seems completely oblivious. They are the ones who are at fault. Are they so focused on their family that they don't consider their sister, and let her know how much she will be missed?
Also, the focus only on the nuclear family, rather than all who contribute to the lives of the children, damages not only those who are excluded, but it is damaging for the children. They might grow to see people as replaceable or unimportant or learn to take them for granted. The sadness they might feel at losing their aunt (in terms of time and physical presence) might be dismissed by the parents, and not fully acknowledged, teaching a child that their feelings don't matter.
The author quotes her nephew who, when she shared how sad she is that they are leaving, "just shrugs and says, “We just need some new adventures.”" She is tremendously hurt by this. Though, without knowing how old he was, I wonder if he was parroting his parents. Maybe he expressed sadness or hesitancy about moving, about leaving his school and friends and yes, about his aunt, and his parents said, "we need some new adventures" to explain the move. Perhaps he is very sad, but not really allowed to express that? We won't really know, but it is a reminder that when we are feeling very hurt, we focus on that, rather than on the other possibilities. I think it is a reminder too that as aunts, we are the adults, and we can't really put our feelings before the children. For that reason, I wouldn't want to retire from aunthood, however hurt I am, or however distant (in geographical terms) I might be. Stepping back a little is fine, but I know I've always wanted my nieces (in particular, a couple with whom I've had closer relationships) and nephews/great-nephews to know that I'm here for them if they need me.
Of course, I'm not saying that she can't grieve the loss of these families and the children in her day-to-day life. It is a real loss, and one that I suspect will not be acknowledged by anyone except her No Kidding friends. It's one we understand, and for many of us, feel deeply.
I do hope that the children will always feel a closeness with her, established as it was at such a young age, and I hope that the children I've been close to will always feel that too. Writing this reminded me to text my 14-year-old niece, asking if she had received my birthday present. I've been irritated, for about a month off and on, that neither my sister (her mother) or my niece had let me know, despite me telling them when to look out for the mailbox. We were taught when we were young to send thank you notes. Thank you texts are so much easier, you'd think, but it seems not. Still, I had a lovely exchange with her, she confirmed receipt of the gift and was very grateful, we chatted about books, and she's promised to tell me what a particular book was like when she's finished it. She'll probably forget! I am not just secondary in her life, but come well down the list, simply because I see her only a few times a year. But I hope that these little exchanges remind her that she is loved, just as my exchanges with my adult nieces in Australia remind them I'm part of their lives, and that I love them. They start to drift away in their teens, but I think when they're adults they might come back to us - even if they don't communicate as often as we would like! And as older teenagers and adults, we develop independent relationships with them, separate from our relationships with their parents. That can be a real bonus! I think too that as adults they start to appreciate who we are, and our places in their lives, that they didn't, or couldn't, when they were younger.
Aunthood is complicated, and even more so when we don't have our own children. As children I've know have drifted away, or moved physically, I've decided to cherish the experiences I had with them, to value that time, and to understand that it had real value to them and/or their parents too. It taught them so much - that lives are different, that people other than your parents can love you, nurture you, teach you, laugh with you. If it hasn't continued, or if it changes, it doesn't negate the special parts we played in each others' lives. I think that's really important. To recognise that it was good, and to appreciate that.