Can being an aunt or uncle help heal the pain of childlessness?

By Nina Steele 

Two women I know, one in her late 40s and the other in her late 60s, have told me of the difference being involved with their nephews and nieces has had on their lives. Both women are childless by circumstance, although their stories could not be any more different. The younger woman has never been married and has been single for quite some time. She has not come to terms with not having children and has had many counselling sessions to help her deal with the situation. The older woman on the other hand, lost her husband aged 28 and has since found love again. Her first child was stillborn when she was 23 and this was followed by a miscarriage aged 26. She has long come to terms with being childless and being actively involved with her sister’s children has helped a great deal.

I myself am an aunt to 11 nephews and nieces (at the last count!) and another 6 on my husband’s side and so children have always been part of my adult life, however, they did not play a part in helping me come to terms with not having children of my own. I suppose it is fair to say that even though nieces and nephews can help heal the pain of childlessness, they can also make things worse if for example relationship between the siblings falls apart and you the childless aunt or uncle end up losing contact with the children. There is also a certain level of dependency that can be counterproductive and the younger woman I mentioned earlier touched on that when she described how unhappy she feels whenever she is unable to see her brother’s children. She is always available to babysit and wants to be asked more so she can have more time with them. However, the children’s mother has become a bit wary of the strong attachment she is developing for the children and because of that she is not being asked to babysit as much anymore.

There is no one size fits all for how people should deal with coming to terms with not having children and if being involved with nephews and nieces helps then so be it. However, it can become a problem if the nephews and nieces are seen as some kind of substitute children. If their parents don’t mind then fair enough, but some do mind and they can even use this as a weapon against the childless person if they are that way inclined. My advice to anyone who is keen to get involved with their nephews and nieces or are already part of their lives, is to tread carefully. By all means get involved but don’t become so obsessed with them that it leads to more pain for you. Always remember that they are someone else’s children. Ultimately, even though they may be a great help in helping you heal, only you can truly heal yourself and so don’t rely too heavily on them for your happiness.


  1. This message was left by Jackie Atkinson from the infertility group on facebook on January 8th “For the couple hours I spend with my nephew I feel healed, but then it all comes crashing back once he’s gone”.

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