The Shriver Report – Loving Other People’s Kids: An Aunt’s Epiphany

Special Edition

Loving Other People’s Kids: An Aunt’s Epiphany

Fay_R_Niece Photo

I would rather eat a bowl of salt than play Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders. This reality was a serious factor in my decision not to have children.

For years, my husband and I joked that as childfree adults with eleven nieces and nephews, we have the “best of both worlds.” We figured we could be the fun adults who spend time with kids without any of the responsibilities, worries or hardships of actually being parents.

Turns out we were a bit wrong.

As I learned this past Christmas, we had – and still have –a tremendous responsibility to the children in our life without being their parents or primary caregivers. Kids remember most everything that adults say and do, the good and bad, and it’s hard to fool a child: a fact I wish I had more thoughtfully considered each time I struggled to play with our family’s kids when they were little.

Most of the children we love are now young adults, and I enjoy talking with them about fashion, music, sports, or movies. With those over the age of twenty-one there are interesting conversations about politics, career choices, relationships and even our favorite type of whiskey.

But the years before they turned 10 are a bit of a void for me, a fact that was pointedly yet delicately called to my attention by one of our nieces during this past holiday. She gently teased me, saying, “Aunt Ro, you used to play with us for all of five minutes before suddenly having a headache.”

I was shocked, because – as I’d explained to her – I had been so careful to always play with the kids for at least fifteen minutes, operating under the absolute belief that fifteen minutes feels like an hour to a child. She laughed at my concept and explained that I had the formula completely inversed.

Like a scene in a movie, all the years of worming my way out of games of hide and seek, playing with Barbie or a round of Uno flashed in front of me. I had attempted to trick these children into thinking I was giving them my full attention when all the while I was counting the seconds to my escape – and they knew it.

So what now?  The chance to snuggle up under their secret staircase or chase them around the yard playing tag is gone, but is it possible to make up for that lost time, for the lack of attention I never fully realized I was responsible to give them?

While I have no regrets about my decision to not have children, I do regret my ignorance about what my role – my true role – as an Aunt could have been.  I am fortunate that the parents of my nieces and nephews have all raised kind, forthright and forgiving children.

I am confident that moving forward our relationships will become deeper – because although I chose to be a carefree, childless wife it is not my choice to be a careless aunt, or even more broadly to be the type of adult who forgets that we all have a duty to remember our impact on children, to authentically love them.

And once in a while, that may mean we need to suck it up and play a game of Candy Land for more than fifteen minutes.


Sign up to receive newsletters directly to your inbox!

Rosanna Fay is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Rosanna Fay worked for over 25 years in high tech marketing, co-founding a successful mobile and entertainment marketing firm and serving as COO. After more than a decade of balancing that role with the support of her elderly parents, she shifted gears to become an Aging in Place consultant, helping families create and implement care plans as an alternative to living in communities or nursing homes. She’s the author of Careless Caregivers: True Eldercare Stories, a cautionary tale illustrating the risks of insufficient planning, and has contributed to The Atlantic.
Also from Rosanna Fay: