Becoming an aunt

By Victoria Fryer 

Part of the reason I was never interested in having children of my own was that I’ve always had a difficult time relating to children. I’m not sure how to talk to them. What do they like to do? When do they start walking? I have a hard time negotiating social interactions and building relationships anyway, and I’ve found that, with children, that difficulty is amplified—at least for me. So, in many ways, I’ve avoided children out of what is perhaps an irrational fear.

That all changed when I became an aunt earlier this year.

My sister-in-law and her wife had their first child in January, and as happy as I was for them, I was unsure how I would be able to fit into my husband’s family’s expectations. They are a very close family, which is a lot different from the family in which I grew up.

We went to visit in the hospital when my niece was just two days old, and as soon as I held her, I knew it was the beginning of a lifelong relationship. She’s eight months old now, and I adore when she comes over. Watching her learn new things, try new foods, and interact with the outside world—it has been such an unexpected treat for me.

Last weekend, she came over and I fed her sweet potatoes. A small thing, I know. And I got food all over the poor child’s nose and cheeks. But learning to laugh at myself and poking fun at all the things I don’t understand has been a learning experience for me. I’m becoming more comfortable asking questions—”How does this bottle work?” “How do I know when she’s done?”—and, in turn, becoming more comfortable with her and with myself.

Closing myself off from children has always been a strange defense mechanism. I’ve always appreciated the social conventions of politeness and distance among adults. But my niece has really opened up a new facet of my life, and I am beginning to feel like I can embrace the role of being an aunt. And I’m finally starting to understand what people mean when they say they find some aspect of a parenting role in being an aunt or uncle, in that they can be a consistent presence in a child’s life and perhaps even a guiding figure when needed.

Though the love I feel for my niece doesn’t change my mind about not wanting my own children, I am truly looking forward to being a part of her life as she grows up—attending birthday parties, celebrating holidays, and more. And it might even open up parts of myself that I didn’t really know were there.

Victoria Fryer is a 31-year-old writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.

Childless by choice

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