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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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54 Responses

  1. Dan_Brodribb
    Dan_Brodribb November 21, 2012 at 11:43 am |

    That was awesome.

    I hope to play a similar role when my nephew is older.

  2. Andie
    Andie November 21, 2012 at 11:48 am |

    I love this idea. Actually, the current SO kind of fits this description.

  3. Rachele
    Rachele November 21, 2012 at 11:53 am |

    I think you should definitely go for it. Besides the trend I have seen that kids who engage with adults seem more mature and socially adept, it’s really fun to be the mildly corrupting influence, letting them talk about whatever they want, to run wild and get dirty and see and do things they would never see or do with their parents.

    As a human, I strive to be open to new experiences, and as a parent I try to pass that on to my kids, but I have limits. They benefit from the adults in their lives that don’t talk down, the friends of mine they share interests with, and the worlds that open up when they hear stories from people who lead lives dramatically different from our own. I’d say they need all the weird aunts and uncles they can get.

  4. pheenobarbidoll
    pheenobarbidoll November 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm |

    Yeah, it’s all fun and games when you’re not the one stuck with the voice of reason and the clean up.

    1. Dan_Brodribb
      Dan_Brodribb November 21, 2012 at 3:15 pm |

      Oh, I fully intend to teach my nephew to clean up after himself. I’m going to reframe it as ‘hiding the evidence.’

      Weird thing is, he might not need it. For a sixteen month old, he is remarkably particular about keeping things organized(Purple legos go in the laundry basket, jars of pickles on the kitchen floor turned on their side, balls go under the couch, giraffe goes in the cake tin) and while none of us can make heads nor tails what his system is exactly, woe betide any who messes with it.

  5. Jadey
    Jadey November 21, 2012 at 12:21 pm |

    So I come from two very big families (both my parents have 5+ siblings) with lots of aunts and uncles and cousins and such. Both families are predominantly white, but we’re all over the spectrum class-wise and urban vs. rural living, so there’s some diversity of experience as well.

    I have some awesome aunts and uncles. I also very much want to be the “cool aunt” for my sister’s kids (except that she wants to be the “cool aunt” for my non-existent kids too, which is putting us in something of a bind), and in the meantime I like to hang out with my friends’ kids too, because I think kids are awesome at pretty much any age (especially the ones being raised by my awesome friends). So I get where this article is coming from.

    But.

    The number one issue plaguing my families (and some of my friends’ families) is not a dearth of cool fun times, by any means. It’s pretty much the opposite – family members making really bad decisions, often on the basis of “this would be fun!”, which result in serious consequences for the rest of their family. I have a “cool” uncle who is right now dying prematurely for basically that reason, leaving in his wake a lot of damaged relationships and hurt family members, including his own children. There’s a long history of suicide in my family as well from the “cool” family members. It’s the “voice of reason” family members who usually end up taking on the burden of keeping everyone together, mending fences, and looking after people who are in trouble, and it’s exhausting. And it doesn’t involve a lot of nagging and finger-wagging, because that goes nowhere, but being the boring, dependable person that other family members know they can always go and talk to and get good advice from when the “cool” family members are not being so much fun anymore.

    I love my aunts and uncles. I still want to be a “cool” auntie once I can finally convince my sister that she wants to be the one to have kids, not me. But for me being the “cool” aunt will also be about being *another* voice of reason, a source of love and support, who can be there for her nieces and nephews AND their parents.

    Obviously the original article-writer is coming from a different place than I am, and that’s okay. But I wonder if maybe some of the shine of his drive-by parenting will wear off in time.

    1. Andie
      Andie November 21, 2012 at 2:21 pm |

      I was the cool aunt until my nephew got to be a teenager.. I’m kind of doing the ‘still cool but also a voice of reason coming from a somewhat more liberal viewpoint than your parents are.’

      Meaning, basically, I will still get you cool stuff at Christmas and encourage you to experiment with life, but I’m also going to call you out on your adolescent bullshit (even if it gets me blocked from your twitter account)

    2. Lolagirl
      Lolagirl November 21, 2012 at 2:32 pm |

      I love my aunts and uncles. I still want to be a “cool” auntie once I can finally convince my sister that she wants to be the one to have kids, not me. But for me being the “cool” aunt will also be about being *another* voice of reason, a source of love and support, who can be there for her nieces and nephews AND their parents.

      I think this is great perspective to have, Jadey. Sometimes family concerns put you in a position you don’t want but take on by necessity anyhow. Besides, the cool aunt role is actually a very influential one, so whenever you are the voice of reason it may be more likely to stick than when it comes from the parent(s).

      I personally have one cool gay uncle who was always the fun one who took us out to shows or the movies and bought us extravagent gifts and then stuffed us full of ice cream before returning us to our parents. Those are some of my best childhood memories, hands down. As I’ve gotten older, he’s also become the person in my life who I can always count on to offer a perspective that I might never have considered otherwise.

      I also think that the cool aunt or uncle role doesn’t necessarily have to result from a true biological relationship. We have a very old and dear family friend who since my childhood was an honorary cool (gay, does this fact matter?) uncle who it most definitely part of our family. Even if your sister doesn’t cooperate with making you an aunt I bet you will find that your friends’ kids would love to have Aunt Jadey come over and hang out with them.

    3. Goldenblack
      Goldenblack November 21, 2012 at 6:25 pm |

      But for me being the “cool” aunt will also be about being *another* voice of reason, a source of love and support, who can be there for her nieces and nephews AND their parents.

      This resonates very strongly with me because my mother is one of the ‘sensible boring’ ones, and my aunts and uncles were all the cool ones, and boy was that fun as a kid, only, only…

      As a kid I never saw the personal cost to her. How she was the only one who remembered that children need food, and regular sleep, how they were constantly ‘joking’ with us about how boring she was compared to them. So reliable! Just a mum! I know this is just an anecdote, but the older I am, the more crushed I’ve become at how she’s born all the awkward, undignified, sometimes painfully messy business of family illness and resolution. Because she’s the ‘unfun’ one. The others have cool things to be doing.

      Man, I still clearly remember first realising what was going on when my Aunty said to me ‘You need a female role model…’

    4. tmc
      tmc November 21, 2012 at 7:50 pm |

      This resonates very strongly with me, and for similar reasons that you’ve expressed. Thanks for sharing.

    5. samanthab.
      samanthab. November 22, 2012 at 1:50 pm |

      Most of this comment is really great, but the idea that those with suicidal tendencies are in opposition to those who hold the family together… That’s as me in tears and is seriously unkind. I hold my family together all the fucking time, and I have depressive tendencies that aren’t my choice. How about we not judge each other- and believe: hour upon hour of suicidal depression: not that ‘cool.’ I would hope the point of the piece was that we have different ways to give, but comments like yours bring me back to reality as norms will have it: depressives are a burden for the rest of you that can play by society’s rules. Norms, however, are toxic. I know that much. You have no idea how much I do to try to keep my family together, and I don’t deserve to hear that I’m a drain because I’m depressive. I work my ass off, and I suffer quite enough, thanks.

      1. Jadey
        Jadey November 25, 2012 at 8:10 pm |

        Samanthab, I was not making a commentary about all people – I was literally describing my own family. And I did not actually say that all the suicidal people were the ones tearing the family apart and the non-suicidal ones who were holding it together, except in the fact that when family members have killed themselves they have not been *around* to help anyone out anymore. (And, for the record, not all suicidal people are depressed.)

        In fact, I did not mention depression at all – the truth is there is a lot of bipolar in my family, which means that often the “coolness” comes from being in a manic state, not being suicidally depressed. So, yes, there is a link between mental illness and the “cool” family members to some extent (in *MY* family), although my heavy use of scare quotes should indicate that I’m not completely endorsing this definition of “coolness”.

        But none of this is to say that those family members aren’t also beloved and valuable to the family and I sure as shit know that neither mania nor depression is anyone’s choice and would never, ever blame anyone for going through that or suggest that they were incapable of contributing to a family, but, yes, mania coupled with other things (like male entitlement, in my uncle’s case) usually means that these family members are not the ones who end up sitting quietly into the night while someone else weeps on their shoulder, which is the position my mother has constantly been in, including when she was depressed herself.

        So I am genuinely sorry that you were upset by my comment, but I wouldn’t change how I wrote it because I was only being honest about my own life, and I don’t think there was any way I could have been clearer about that.

  6. Chataya
    Chataya November 21, 2012 at 2:01 pm |

    I attempted this with my cousin’s youngest, asked her if she wanted to play ponies with me. In the loudest, shrillest voice a 3-year-old can muster, she told me that Princess Celestia hated me and the other ponies weren’t my friends.

    I guess I lack a certain something with kids.

    1. Lolagirl
      Lolagirl November 21, 2012 at 2:10 pm |

      Meh, Princess Celestia is kind of a snot anyway…

      In other words, it’s probably her and her pretty pony group think, not you.

    2. pheenobarbidoll
      pheenobarbidoll November 21, 2012 at 2:24 pm |

      Translation- Don’t even think about touching my ponies, lady.

    3. Jadey
      Jadey November 21, 2012 at 3:00 pm |

      Sad story:

      I collected toy horses growing up, and a few years ago I gave a lot of them to one of my younger cousins (I think she was about 9 or 10 at the time). She was over the moon with them at first, but a little later in the evening she tried to give me back some of the ones that were clearly her favourites (the prettiest manes, colourings, etc., which she had gone for first out of the box). I finally realized that she thought she needed to bargain: by giving me the ones she saw as the most valuable, she thought she was negotiating to keep the rest of them (although I made it as clear as I could at the outset that I was giving her *all* of them as a gift). I am not exactly sure which of her guardians (by this point she had had several – I have my suspicions it may have been her maternal grandmother though) or other adult supervisors or peers had taught her to think of gifts this way and to cut herself down so much at such a young age, but it was heart-breaking.

      I made sure she kept all the horses though, that was for damn sure.

      1. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune November 21, 2012 at 7:04 pm |

        …that made me wibble in the not-good way. D: That poor kid.

  7. Darcy
    Darcy November 21, 2012 at 3:11 pm |

    I am phenomenally boring. A stay-at-home mom with three kids. I keep chickens, garden, sew, can my own pickles. On the weekends I go serve in the National Guard, which is at least a little interesting to my kids. I live in South Dakota. (I’m also a crazy liberal, feminist, hippie woman in a region that is not very friendly to it.)

    But my sister? My child-free sister lives right by the beach in San Diego. She has a mohawk haircut, amazing tattoos (mine are pretty cool too, but my military career dictates that they be in hidden areas), and wears thrift store clothes in a way that looks cooler than I could buy with all the money in the world. She paints and does multimedia art displays. She goes out to eat for every meal and knows everyone in the local music scene. 10am is an hour she is rarely awake for. My kids adore her, and she adores them.

    The best part is that she is one of my best friends, and we have more in common than we do in opposition. When things get tough with my kids (ages 16, 10, and 14 months) I can call her for advice. When the going gets *really* tough, *they* call her for advice, and she gives them guidance that they would not accept from me.

  8. Dane
    Dane November 21, 2012 at 5:00 pm |

    I really want to be the cool auntie someday. The way my brother is going, his kids will need one!

  9. Alexandra
    Alexandra November 21, 2012 at 6:09 pm |

    This is going to sound ridiculous, but I love the idea of family being like a flock of acorn woodpeckers —

    To wit: “Their social lives are endlessly fascinating: they store thousands of acorns each year by jamming them into specially made holes in trees. A group member is always on alert to guard the hoard from thieves, while others race through the trees giving parrotlike waka-waka calls. Their breeding behavior is equally complicated, with multiple males and females combining efforts to raise young in a single nest. ” (Source)

    I guess I bring this up because so often people will talk about the two-parent nuclear family as if it is some immutable, natural, God-ordained way of raising kids, raising a family, and I like to think of instances in nature where cooperative child-rearing and communal living are the norm. I don’t know, personally, whether I’ll end up as aunt or mother or both, but I certainly hope I won’t be neither; I can’t imagine not having small humans in my life.

    1. Andie
      Andie November 21, 2012 at 7:51 pm |

      I have a personal theory that it’s actually the nuclear family, with its isolation and lack of a close support system that has fucked up a lot of people. Why, after WWII, did it suddenly seem like a good idea to take a bunch of kids out of high school/college/the military and stick them in the suburbs, without the benefit of grandparents and aunts and uncles around?

      1. samanthab
        samanthab November 22, 2012 at 5:42 pm |

        I am in full agreement! My sister and I stayed with my great aunt for 6 weeks once- she was kind of evil in a lot of ways, and good in a few. I appreciated my parents more after, and it taught me that the world was bigger than what they had to offer- not necessarily better or worse, but bigger.

      2. Storyphile
        Storyphile November 22, 2012 at 11:19 pm |

        X3

        I really learned where the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” comes from when I had my little girl. Even though I took11 months parental leave, my husband took 2 months off, and I had two sets of grandparents eager and happy to help out with their first grandchild, as well as sister and brother both living in town and helping out… Talk about privilege… It still seems like a struggle. That’s partly because of postpartum depression, but even so. It makes me even more amazed at all those single parents who somehow make it work. And it makes me even more pro-choice than i was before I had my child.

  10. librarygoose
    librarygoose November 21, 2012 at 7:47 pm |

    I try to be the cool aunt, but it’s hard when you also have to spend a lot of time taking care of them. I be as cool as I can be while also demanding they clean up before dinner. Although this had lead to my niece casually telling her daycare that she never has a babysitter when mommy is gone. Eventually they asked the right questions and got, “I hang out with my aunt. She’s my best friend.” So I try hard to strike a balance between weird pseudo-parent and super fun aunt.

  11. macavitykitsune
    macavitykitsune November 21, 2012 at 8:11 pm |

    Somehow, I just don’t see the appeal of being Manic Pixie Dream Aunt.

    But maybe I’m just a bitter parent having 30% the fun.

    1. Valoniel
      Valoniel November 21, 2012 at 8:21 pm |

      That’s 15%. You only get half of the fun-quota for the household, if you co-parent.

      1. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune November 21, 2012 at 9:47 pm |

        Wait. Wait. If I’m having shared parenting responsibilities, don’t I get to have 60% of the fun? Because of co-parents taking some of the burden off me?

        MATH. Y U DISAPPOINT.

        1. shfree
          shfree November 21, 2012 at 11:05 pm |

          And what about us single parents with fifty-fifty custody arrangements? Is it only 30% fun on days with my daughter at home and 100% fun when she is with her dad, or was I just doomed to 30% fun, all the time, the minute I pushed her out of my uterus and decided that she was coming home with me? Parental fun math is HARD.

          And I didn’t necessarily want to be a “fun” aunt to any of my nieces or nephews, I don’t feel close enough to them to have that sort of a relationship. But what IS important, more than a kid having another adult to experience life with outside of parents, is to have a safe adult to talk to about crap you don’t want to talk to your parents about. For example, I spent a lot of time at my grandma’s when I was younger including overnights, so my parents could go out and those times were great, when I was under ten. Not so much as I got older, when I started to be at sea in my early teen years. Having a grown up to talk to about things I felt I couldn’t talk to my parents about would have been awesome, and I have told my daughter time and again who she can call if she wants to talk to someone about shit that she doesn’t want to talk to me or her dad about.

        2. Valoniel
          Valoniel November 21, 2012 at 11:33 pm |

          And what about us single parents with fifty-fifty custody arrangements? Is it only 30% fun on days with my daughter at home and 100% fun when she is with her dad, or was I just doomed to 30% fun, all the time, the minute I pushed her out of my uterus and decided that she was coming home with me? Parental fun math is HARD.

          No, you’re only allowed to have up to 87% fun while your child is away. The other 13% must be made of wistful sighs, longing glances at toys and fuzzy blankies, and emo tears, shed singly, to enhance their value.

          Not so much as I got older, when I started to be at sea in my early teen years. Having a grown up to talk to about things I felt I couldn’t talk to my parents about would have been awesome, and I have told my daughter time and again who she can call if she wants to talk to someone about shit that she doesn’t want to talk to me or her dad about.

          SO MUCH THIS. At least once every couple of weeks, we’re telling our child who she can talk to, if she feels that she can’t/doesn’t want to/is afraid to talk to one of us. It’s incredibly important that kids know that they have a support network, too, and that their parents are perfectly fine with having them use it.

        3. Valoniel
          Valoniel November 21, 2012 at 11:35 pm |

          Also, wow, quote goofiness…

        4. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune November 21, 2012 at 11:39 pm |

          the minute I pushed her out of my uterus and decided that she was coming home with me

          Wait, wait, wait. There’s a “return after previewing” option? HOW DID WE NOT KNOW THIS.

          emo tears, shed singly, to enhance their value.

          I’ve never figured out the single emo tear, though. Does that not come with the stepmother package? Or have I just not got the updated Parental Hormone Generation version?

        5. Valoniel
          Valoniel November 21, 2012 at 11:46 pm |

          I’ve never figured out the single emo tear, though. Does that not come with the stepmother package? Or have I just not got the updated Parental Hormone Generation version?

          Nope, stepmother package only comes with an increase in ear duct productivity and sensitivity. The Single Emo Tear, I’m afraid, is a byproduct of umbilical severance. The only people allowed to access it without that are bad fanfiction authors.

        6. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune November 21, 2012 at 11:53 pm |

          Nope, stepmother package only comes with an increase in ear duct productivity and sensitivity.

          I demand a refund. All this is good for is hating on bhangra.

        7. Valoniel
          Valoniel November 21, 2012 at 11:55 pm |

          But the package was free!

          Also, you’d have to give back the kid, and I know you don’t want that.

        8. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune November 22, 2012 at 12:02 am |

          Curse your sudden yet inevitable trump card!

        9. Valoniel
          Valoniel November 22, 2012 at 12:03 am |

          Hey, it’s not my fault the kid’s so awesome.

        10. EG
          EG November 22, 2012 at 11:59 am |

          I love this whole conversation and everyone in it. That is all.

        11. shfree
          shfree November 23, 2012 at 12:29 am |

          Wait, wait, wait. There’s a “return after previewing” option? HOW DID WE NOT KNOW THIS.

          Oh, sure. It’s the option to vanish into the night, weeping like any proper woman would after birthing a bastard child. But somehow I managed to find her sufficiently charming after a full 24 hours of labor, (including 4 hours of pushing!) and a very scary first few minutes after her birth, that her dad and I thought she was a-ok.

          No, you’re only allowed to have up to 87% fun while your child is away. The other 13% must be made of wistful sighs, longing glances at toys and fuzzy blankies, and emo tears, shed singly, to enhance their value.

          …Damn, do I have to go out and BUY toys now? Because she’s outgrown all of hers, and I don’t think staring longingly at game cartridges or anime plushies really has the effect it should. Given the fact that if I keep eying those cartridges, odds are I’m just going to forget all about her and play, which means I will be increasing my fun. So that would increase my percentage of fun, which is PROBLEMATIC. Should I play some emo music too, then?

    2. Natalia
      Natalia November 22, 2012 at 12:47 am |

      I feel you. In our family, it’s dad who’s the fun one. I’m the one going, “You have to wear your hamster socks to bed! Why aren’t you wearing your hamster socks to bed?!?!?!”

      I mean, I still try to be fun – I let the kid listen to hip-hop, and we play “Skyrim” together (the not-especially-bloody bits, that is – we do things like sell glass maces found in ancient crypts, and forge elven armor and shit), but dad is still the fun one and will always be the fun one.

      I’m just trying to get used to it.

  12. Natalia
    Natalia November 22, 2012 at 12:42 am |

    Though I immediately flew across the country to begin teaching my niece about Hellenistic sculpture, I found her, at less than a month old, curiously glassy-eyed and incommunicative.

    HAHAHAHAHAHA.

    That was great.

  13. April
    April November 22, 2012 at 4:09 am |

    As someone who’s not sure she really wants kids just yet, if at all, I definitely relate to wanting to be the “cool hippie aunt” to my 4-year-old niece.

    Not really much else to say except I really love and totally relate to this post.

  14. William
    William November 22, 2012 at 10:12 am |

    I’m not sure why the cool uncle can’t also be the voice of reason. I find myself playing that dual role at work a lot, as I’m the “cool” therapist/staff member to a brood of troubled adolescents. I’ve found that people, especially kids, learn most effectively when you give them the space to make mistakes, respect their decisions, and ask before you offer advice. I won’t tell you that I think dropping out of high school is a bad idea, but while we’re talking and you ask my opinion I might wonder aloud how you’re going to pay for that Harley you’ve always wanted when you’re working at a gas station. The point of chaos is to introduce change, to generate creativity, to get people thinking. No one ever said you can’t attempt to mitigate the fallout behind the scenes.

    Besides, my future nieces and nephews will be the coolest kids in school when they’ve shot a gun before they’ve hit puberty and their Uncle Billy has let them sneak a sip of (sharp enough to scare you away) bourbon. And if something ever really goes wrong, they’ll know who will be willing to ride in like the cavalry and keep their mouth shut like the mob.

  15. Lyanna
    Lyanna November 22, 2012 at 2:31 pm |

    I don’t read this article as saying that the only role for the single aunt/uncle is to be the “cool one,” or that parents have to be the “boring one,” or that the “cool one” and the voice of reason are in opposition to each other.

    I just read it as saying that kids need a lot of different adult influences. And that there are some “boring” things that parents have to do, no matter how free-spirited they might be. So it can sometimes be easier for the aunt/uncle to be an adult figure who does not need to tell you to eat your vegetables (because there’s a parent already doing that).

    1. samanthab
      samanthab November 22, 2012 at 5:37 pm |

      I agree. I work to maintain structure for my nephews, but I also see that they’re surrounded by people trying to teach them something. And that’s important and valuable! I think it’s also valuable for them, however, to get a dose of pure acceptance, and I see that as my role. I’m not all that fucking fun- I cherish my reading and alone time, which will do nothing for them. What might do something for them is the sense of acceptance and freedom that I can offer. It takes a village.

  16. Links Post for Sat 24th Nov « The Lady Garden

    [...] at Feministe talks about the importance of cool aunts and uncles. (They don’t have to be biologically [...]

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