When my sister is in town, it’s pretty much like Christmas for my boys. They eagerly await her visit, bouncing around the house for hours asking me, “Is she here yet?” And then, as soon as she walks in the door, they literally throw themselves on her, demanding that she play all their favorite games with them.
And that’s just what they do. They have this game called “Chocolatey Land,” where they imaginatively transform their bedroom into this magical land of chocolate and candy. They keep adding and changing the story as the years go on. After that, they want to show her all their latest toys and video games. They want to do playdough with her, read books, and paint.
Everything they do is spirited, filled with excitement, and loud. The loud part is mostly my boys’ squeals of delight because their most prized playmate has come to see them. But it’s also because my sister herself plays with them with an enthusiasm I haven’t been able to muster up for my kids in years.
The disparity between how she and I play with them is glaring. After a recent visit, I asked my younger son what he loves about his aunt. “She’s like you, only more fun,” he said, because 4-year-olds always tell the truth.
And you know what? I’m fine with the truth, harsh as it sounds. In fact, I love it.
You see, their beloved aunt is my beloved little sister. She was born when I was almost 6, and she has always been one of my most prized possessions. In fact, I decided early on that she was my baby, not my mother’s. Of course, being her big sister (i.e., mother) is not my only role in her life. We’ve always been extremely close — confidants, best friends.
But most of all, I am her biggest fan. I know that she’s always had a sparkle in her eye, a contagious love of life and of play, and it makes me so happy to see her hold this special role for my kids.
Aunts and uncles bring something unique to the table. Grandparents are awesome in their way, but aunts and uncles have a youthful energy that grandparents don’t always possess (and who can blame them after being parents for most of their lives!). They have the familiarity and unconditional love only a family member can have, but they usually don’t critique your parenting style or life choices the way other family members might, especially if they don’t have kids themselves.
If they don’t have their own kids yet (or have no plans to do so in the future), they still possess some of the energy that has been sucked out of you by being a parent. Let’s be honest: We parents all have moments of boundless energy — of the ability to play effortlessly with our kids and experience moments of true connection and joy — but we are also bogged down by the stresses and routines of day-to-day life with kids. So we usually just don’t have the kind of energy that aunts and uncles can so often tap into.
I know not everyone has the kind of relationship with their sibling like I do. I know all kinds of brokenness and hurt feelings can exist within families, and within sibling relationships, making the aunt/uncle thing that much more complicated (or nonexistent). But if you and your kids have been blessed with fantastic aunts and uncles, it is something to celebrate for sure.
So let’s hear it for those amazing aunts and uncles — the ones who love our kids like they are their own; the ones who play and play until everyone is so tired they all pass out together on the couch. Let’s hear it for the aunts and uncles who will take our kids out of our hair so we can freaking relax for a couple of hours. And let’s hear it for the aunts and uncles who will help us out at the drop of a hat — and who we trust without reservation to care for our kids.
Aunts and uncles don’t get as many accolades as parents and even grandparents do, but they should. They can have as powerful an impact on our children’s lives as any beloved family member, and the memories they create with our kids will last a lifetime.