I was 19 when I became someone’s Aunty for the first time.
My sister (who was 16) and I were determined to be the best Aunties we could be.
I had never experienced the feelings that came with being connected with this new tiny little person, the pride in my brother who was now a young Dad and the love & admiration for my sister-in-law. My new niece was the cutest little girl, and she was followed closely by beautiful twin girls, and then a gorgeous boy. 4 under 4 for that family!
A few years later my eldest brother started having babies too. He had 2 lovely boys and then a wonderful little girl. Busy times in their household too. Theirs was a house full of music and match box cars – and I loved to be there.
So I was and still am, Aunty to these 7 people. They have introduced so many of life’s special moments. My understanding of ‘family’ has broadened so much because they are in my life. Over the years I have loved visiting and playing, endless playing, so many cute moments and so much laughter. I have loved writing them letters and postcards when I was away, buying, wrapping and handing them wonderful birthday and Christmas presents. I loved going to watch them play sports, do singing and dancing shows, wave them off at airports – and I loved getting on planes to visit them the years they were overseas.
I did and do my best to show them how much they meant to me.
I loved the way they were cousins to my children. Shared special times, especially important because it was just my son and I in the early days.
I loved talking with my nieces and nephews about anything and everything, whatever we found to talk about. Harder conversations when I disagreed with their parents and didn’t know which ‘side’ I should stand on, tears in between the laughs as they suffered setbacks and heartbreaks, all the time learning to broaden my understanding and compassion. Its ok to talk, and its ok not to talk.
My youngest niece is a young teenager, only 6 months older than my son.
The thing is, I haven’t seen or spoken to her or her 2 brothers since she was 12. And they live about 7 minutes up the road.
Aunty became collateral damage in a separation.
It happened fast. At first I thought it would be ok. But no, it is really bad.
As things soured between my brother and his ex I noticed that messages to nephews and niece started to go ignored, calls weren’t returned, invitations unacknowledged. They were teenagers, sure, and busy with their lives… only, they used to reply.
I started to worry that they weren’t ok.
I don’t think they’re ok.
My ex sister-in-law viciously verbally attacked my mother when she visited her grandson on his 17th birthday. I wonder how often she does that to her children. I don’t feel I can go to their house. Its like there’s a crater there left by a bomb, the place is poisoned. Grandma and Grandad don’t feel they can visit either.
And now the years are wandering past. My children haven’t seen their cousins in over 2 years, and only a couple of times in the year before that. My little girls have stopped crying about this loss, have stopped asking to see my niece, an additional layer of tragic.
So how do I be the best Aunty I can be in this sad situation?
I asked a professional. He said stop sending them text messages to say hi, as each one would be forcing them to remember how horrific things are with their mum and dad, and sooner or later they would attach those feelings to me. So I did that. But now I have no way of reminding them that Aunty still cares and that our door is always open.
And the days, weeks, months, years keep wandering by.
We have had a couple of special family occasions, like my parents 50th wedding anniversary. My brother’s children did not attend. Whether they chose not to go or didn’t battle hard enough to be allowed to go – I wonder if they’ll regret that in years to come.
They must be under massive pressure to cut this half of their family off altogether.
So what do I do?
It’s ok to talk – and its ok not to talk. I trust that they still know how loved they are.
But what would a good Aunty do now?