Beware the ‘Cool’ Aunt

Is nothing sacred? Over the past few years, the idea of being the ‘fun aunt’ or the ‘cool aunt’ has become popular. Yet, I am seeing a change in the definition of the role, especially on trendier sites.

From one perspective (the healthy one), being an aunt allows you to be an important presence in a child’s life, one that is good for your niece or nephew and good for you. Without responsibility for the major decisions, without the financial burden, and without the need to be present every single day, aunts are able to plan special outings, distribute random treats, and serve as a safe, cuddly haven. In this vision, being an aunt doesn’t preclude having your own children; it is a bonus of extended family.

By contrast, the unhealthy version, the one that I now see ever more frequently, includes statements like, “You have the chance to gossip about your sibling—the child’s parent—with your niece or nephew,” and “helping your niece or nephew break the house rules.” These ‘fun aunts’ don’t plan on having children; they want the benefits of having children (who can be very enjoyable as well as ego-boosting) without the responsibility. In a warped version of family connection, this means undermining the child’s parents and enabling the child to do wrong. No longer is the child the central character in the relationship. It is the aunt who matters and if the child is damaged, so be it. What’s really important is that the aunt’s social media page gets a lot of attention.

A number of years ago, I wrote a piece for my Practical Parenting column about a cherished friend who, while not technically our children’s aunt, played that role in a positive and appreciated way. More recently, my husband and I answered an Ask the Rabbi question in a similar vein. I don’t envy parents today. They need to have close oversight when it comes to schools, teachers, doctors, and therapists. As the child-free culture of irresponsibility and immaturity spreads, do we sadly need to add siblings to that list?


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