We know the essential role that parents play in shaping the lives of their kids, but what about extended family? How crucial is their influence in a child’s growth and development?
Research says very much, in fact.
“Aunts and uncles are important, because they offer kids the chance to have a close relationship with an adult who doesn’t have the same set of expectations as Mom and Dad,” clinical psychologist Susan Bartell, PsyD tells P&G Everyday.
“When kids can go with members of their extended family and be loved and cherished, and then come home to more people who love them, they are more connected to the love and goodness in humanity and better able to live positive and productive lives,” adds Dr. Veritas of The American College of Pediatricians.
Here are just a few of the many reasons why aunts are so special to have.
They make for the ultimate babysitters
In our post-nuclear age, it may be common for both parents to be stuck at work, doing their due diligence to support the household. If a nanny or caretaker is unable to work the extra hours needed, the aunt makes the ideal backup. Having a second babysitter that you can actually trust will be there for your child relieves not just you, as the parent, but also provides a sense of ease and familiarity for your child.
They serve as positive role models
Today, it’s more important than ever for children to have solid role models to turn to—their friends or public media figures may not always be positive or realistic examples. Aunts can provide their nieces and nephews with alternative ideas, hobbies and advice to offer fresh perspectives for them while still keeping them on the right path. Additionally, children may find it easier to confide in their aunts with things they may feel uncomfortable discussing with their parents (especially as they grow older). In fact, some studies suggest that adolescents seek extended family as a more comfortable alternative to parents.
Their support is firm but not overbearing
“There’s no obligation of the aunt or uncle, unlike parenting; once you parent a child you have a legal obligation,” says Melanie Notkin, author of “Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers, and All Women Who Love Kids.” In other words, aunts can be there for their nieces or nephews without the burden of nagging them about the nitty gritty reminders and chores moms are obligated to (i.e. putting toys away, wiping their faces, homework check-ups, etc.). In turn, they are seen as the “cool adult.”
They’re the children’s second biggest cheerleaders
Count on the aunts to be there for their nephew’s or niece’s major moments, even if they can’t physically be there every day. Whether it’s cheering them on at their games, spoiling them on their birthdays or attending each of their new endeavors, these kids’ activities/goals are a priority for them – and it shows. “Even if they seem busy, most kids (heck, most adults!) find it enormously flattering when someone shows interest in getting to know them better,” says Susan Stiffelman, marriage and family therapist and author of “Parenting With Presence” (and Eckhart Tolle edition) and “Parenting Without Power Struggles” via HuffPost.
They can be an extra provider
“I hear a lot about aunts and uncles who provide ‘extras’ for their nieces and nephews, such as an aunt who made doll clothes or provided spending money for a special trip,” says family and caregiving expert, Amy Goyer via AARP. These gestures can not only make their niece or nephew feel special but can also alleviate burdens from their parents who may already be juggling a hefty weight of finances and parenting responsibilities.
“Aunthood is a gift,” says Notkin. “We don’t appreciate it in ourselves but no child ever suffered from too much love.”