Honoring the Childfree Auntie

Susan, a 53 year old camp director, babysat from the time she was 12 years old. She always assumed she’d have kids one day—but during college, she worked in a department store where watching impatient parents with their children inspired her to radically change the path she’d planned for herself.

Vladimir Pustovit / Creative Commons

“They’d yank them by the arm, pull them around, yell at them, and make them sit down. It just wasn’t right.” Susan took the experience to heart and began to think more deeply about how she could make a positive difference in children’s lives. “I had a lot of experience at being with children at various stages. And I enjoyed it, I loved it, but I said to myself, ‘There are way too many kids out there that don’t have someone to look after them and don’t have someone to be an advocate for them.’ I felt that I could be that person.” She became a teacher and then a camp director and hasn’t looked back since.

Making a difference in children’s lives is what Susan felt destined to do. In addition to working with children in her career, Susan says she’s extremely close to her nieces and nephews. They enjoy weekend visits at her home and she has the financial security to help their parents with expenses. Susan loves giving to them. As she put it, “When they visit me, I take excellent care of them, I lavish them, we have fun, and they have everything they want.”

We know from our interviews with hundreds of childfree women, some of whom appear in Maxine’s forthcoming film, TO KID OR NOT TO KID, that Susan isn’t alone. For these women, being a parent isn’t required for making a positive difference in a child’s life. Non-mothers’ roles as advocates, mentors, and friends to children are well documented. A survey of 1,000 non-mothers inspired by Savvy Auntie Melanie Notkin found that children play an active role in the lives of 80 percent of women who don’t have children of their own. Another study found that it’s common for aunts to spend money on the children in their lives and assist kids’ parents financially. In fact, in 2012 aunts spent an estimated $387 on each child in their lives. Three-quarters of them spent more than $500 per child. Despite aunties’ significant investments in children, and the New York Times’ feature last year on this segment of the market, advertisers have been slow to catch on.

Maxine is trying to rectify this. As a commercial director and filmmaker, she’s made the first Aunty commercial, released on April 17. The advert features Aunties who serve as “other mothers” to their nieces and nephews and celebrates the role of aunts in our community.

We hear proclamations all the time that it takes a village to raise a child and we know from childfree people’s own accounts that they are an important part of that village. As feminist writer Jessica Valenti notes, “ we need to start thinking about raising our children as a community exercise.” Non-parent figures are an essential part of that exercise. Research conducted for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America shows that having caring adults who are not their parents involved in their lives improves kids’ confidence, grades and social skills. Non-parents also provide needed support for parents.

Today, 15 percent of women in the U.S. will reach their 40th birthdays without ever having given birth. While these women may not have given birth, they have given to the children in their lives in significant ways, both emotionally and financially. Childfree Aunties’ contributions should no longer go ignored.

Maxine Trump has directed documentaries for TV networks from Discovery to Sundance and is author of the forthcoming book “Diving Into Documentaries” (Focal Press, 2018). Her previous feature film Musicwood was a New York Times Critics’ Pick. Maxine is in full production on TO KID OR NOT TO KID and is seeking a brand to sponsor her new Aunty commercial.

Blackstone headshotAmy Blackstone is a sociology professor at the University of Maine where she studies childlessness and the childfree choice. Her work can be found academic outlets, in media such as MS., Broadly, CNN and TIME, and on the blog she co-writes with her husband Lance, we’re {not} having a baby!.

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  1. Sally-Anne Sadler says:

    15% of women never give birth. I never gave birth. However, I adopted one child. It feels as though adoptive parents and foster parents are being placed on a third category.
    I am a mother. I’m also a woman who cose to adopt.

  2. Rockerbabe says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I am one of the childfree aunties. I am the only and oldest girl in my parent’s family and I have five younger brothers that I spent a lot of time helping to raise. I now have six nieces and four nephews, all adults. I spent quite a bit of time and money on these kids over the years. I am now a great aunt to eleven great nieces and nephews. I also provide some support to help the parents with expenses in raising their kids. I have enjoyed their company over the years and they seem to enjoy mine. It takes a lot of work from extended family members to help get kids in the “right” frame of mind as they work their way towards adulthood. Being childfree doesn’t disqualify us from participation in family life. For kids whose parents are preoccupied with marital and financial or emotional issues, a aunt or uncle can be the saving grace for a child. All members of the family should be respected and honored for the gifts they bring to the family and their community.

  3. Janyce C Katz says:

    I have celebrated “Aunt’s Day” on Mother’s Day with my very special Aunt Annabelle Jaffe for many years. Turning 95, she still enjoys working (trained school counselor) and has touched the lives of thousands of kids, especially her nieces and nephews. She is a feminist from before the word was used, but she is also a woman who dedicated herself to her family as well as to the thousands of children she saw during her more than 50 years working at a Montgomery County school. If you are looking for an outstanding Aunt to write about – look at her. All nieces and nephews would agree that she is the best.

  4. Angela Murphy says:

    Your article about Honoring the Childfree Auntie seems as if was written about my daughter, whose name happens to be Susan! She is approaching the age of 50, has no children of her own, but is the BEST Auntie my two grandchildren (by my other daughter) could ever want. Susan teaches drama in an inner city high school. Her niece and nephew live in the suburbs. Susan has introduced them to the arts in so many ways — they’ve seen Blue Man Group, Stomp, many other Broadway plays. Last week she took them to the Woodstock Museum! I call her their Auntie Mame! I pray that they will always remain close to her and never allow her to be alone as she gets older. Yes, there is a special bond…

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