couples

In praise of aunties.

I am a 42-year-old mother of three girls.

My sister, three years younger than me, is ‘childless’ (what an awful word that it …).

If you knew us as children, this situation would not surprise you. I always wanted to have kids. For my sister that was never an aspiration.

There is no common story among women without children.

Some have grown up ambivalent about the idea of motherhood and then hurriedly tried to get pregnant as their fertility has declined only to miss out.

Other women have never found the right person to raise a family with and have shied away from the idea of being a single parent.

Other women have been lucky to find a partner but been unlucky in the baby making process.

Then there are the women, like my sister, who have never wanted to have kids at all. Every childless 40-year-old woman has a story to tell.

"There can be a lazy assumption made that women don’t like kids and aren’t capable of caring for them. They are deliberately barren, selfish career women who turn their noses up at the messy chaos of children, sneer at them in cafes and so on." Image via iStock.

There can be a lazy assumption made that women, like my sister, don’t like kids and aren’t capable of caring for them. They are deliberately barren, selfish career women who turn their noses up at the messy chaos of children, sneer at them in cafes and so on.

I guess some of those women exist but I’ve never met any of them. My experience of the many, many women without kids is that they will meet their friends with kids in parks, cuddle babies while mums drink their lattes, host nieces and nephews for lolly-filled sleep overs and bake elaborate cupcakes for birthday parties.

Whether we are the ones to give birth or not, so many women care for kids in ways that are unacknowledged and unapplauded.

Let me tell you about my ‘childless’ sister.

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Rebecca Huntley's daughter, with her Auntie. Image via Shirin Town Photography.

From the moment my daughter was born she was there for her. I estimate that in any given week she spends three to five hours of her time looking after my seven-year-old, extraordinary given she is a busy academic with books to write and a partner and many interests.

She picks her up from school, hosts her for regular sleepovers (which includes washing and brushing an unruly tangle of curly hair). She cooks and entertains, helps her with reading and writing. She has taken her to and from swimming lessons, taken her for fun filled days during term breaks and even taken her on holidays for days at a time.

The bond between my daughter and my sister was formed early. I recall one time driving over with my daughter to my sister’s house. Sofia, all of three years old, asked me, “Mummy when we get there can you not stay, can you go?” She didn’t want me getting in the way of Emily time. I remember laughing and then feeling a huge sense of gratitude and relief. My lovely girl had another terrific woman in her life that she loved and was comfortable with. If anything happened to me, I knew my sister would be there to catch my child, to teach her how to make the family recipes, tell her the family stories and show her how to apply the right amount of mascara.

A few years ago on Mother’s Day I started the practice of Sofia buying her aunt a gift.

We make Mother’s Day, Auntie’s Day as well, in recognition of everything my sister does for her niece. My sister might not have kids but ‘childless’ is a term that doesn’t apply to her. She is, instead, the best auntie a child could have. 

The photo of Rebecca's daughter and sister above was taking by Shirin Town, a Sydney based photographer. You can see more of her work here.

What wonderful thing does your children's aunt do for them (and you)?