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"They are my true loves." The unspoken truth about being a child-free aunt.

Author Melanie Notkin coined the term 'PANK - Professional Aunt, No Kids' back in 2008 to recognise a growing cohort of women and the role they play in modern families. 

Her website, 'Savvy Aunties', two books, a TED Talk, and the launch of 'Aunties Day' on July 26, followed to celebrate and honour the uniqueness of 'aunthood' in society.

Aunties and uncles play an important role in many families; caring for nieces and nephews and providing support for their parents. But are they as appreciated as they could be? 

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Mamamia heard from six amazing aunties about their relationships with their beloved nieces and nephews, their thoughts on society's view of 'aunthood', and why the joys of being a child free aunt mostly outweigh the challenges.

1. Aunty Belinda*

"When my nephew was born, I would go over and look after him for a few hours each morning before work so my sister-in-law could sleep. I have spent many a weekend with him to give his parents a few days off. Mostly it was going over every other week to cook dinner and fill the freezer," Belinda shares.

Belinda believes that the bond between her and her brother's kids hits differently to her connection to her friend's kids.

"Often I see bits of my mum or dad in my niece and nephew and it's nice to see, especially as my mum passed away 22 years ago," she says.

"I think it's great to be a part of watching a child grow up, and it amazes me how I can love a little person so much when they aren't mine to love."

She believes there is some judgement with being an aunty, as opposed to a mother.  

"Often being child free means that women who are mothers assume I don't have any interest in children, or do not know what being a part of a child's life is like. But being an aunt that is really active in their niece and nephew's life gives you a small window into that. I know it isn't the same, but I love those kids. I really missed their cuddles, I actually ached for them. It’s hard to explain to people sometimes."

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Belinda doesn't believe aunties without kids get enough respect for the role they play in the extended family. 

"I think sometimes being childless means you end up not being taken seriously as an adult, so you can end up being expected to drop things to help or attend things. If people just acknowledge sometimes that yes we love your children, but we still want to have a chat with you as an adult, that would be fantastic!"

2. Aunty Kylie

"The best bits about being an aunty as opposed to a parent are that I get to do the fun stuff... but still give them back," Kylie says.

"As they grow up, its nice to still be involved in their lives and finding as they are teenagers that they happily confide in me with things they can’t or won’t go to their parents about." 

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Kylie feels that aunties and uncles could use a bit more appreciation for the work they do.

"In many cases, aunts are doing a big share of child minding and stepping in to help the parents when they’re unable due to work or illness. Parents and grandparents are all recognised but it can feel as if aunties and uncles, especially those without kids, are not." 

But with several kids as part of her extended family, Kylie ultimately relishes the role.

"I love being an aunty; I have three God children and one nephew and recently moved in with my partner who has a foster child and three nieces and nephews who I love as well. 

"As they grow up, I’d like to continue the loving and close relationship I have with all of them in the same way I have with my own aunties. Also in my older years I’m finding that I can speak to my aunties about issues I have with my ageing mum and they understand and can help with things. It's a win/win situation." 

3. Aunty Suz

"I am a very proud aunty to twin boys. I don't have my own children, although I always desperately wanted them. I could never afford to go it alone and I wouldn't want to risk a first pregnancy now at 40 as I am quite overweight.

"Whilst I am sad for myself, not becoming a mother, I am 'the best aunty' as one of my nephews told me the other day! The positives of not having my own children or a current relationship is that I have lots of time to spend with them and can also spend a little more money on them here and there. 

Aunty Suz and her nephews. Image: Supplied.

"My job [as a private nanny] can be flexible so it allows me to help with occasional school runs or school holidays. 

"There are no negatives for me being an aunty. I love every minute I get to spend with them."

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4. Aunty Lucinda

"I was always ambivalent about having kids, and it just didn't happen for me. (I'm 40 and happily single, I didn't want kids enough to pursue motherhood on my own). My sister always wanted kids and I'm so happy she did, as I feel I get the best of both worlds. 

"I think everyone should embrace being the aunty (biological or not) in the lives of any children they have in their life. It's fun, but it is also so good for those kids to have as many loving, caring adults in their life as possible.

"My nieces are the most important children in my life, which wouldn't be the same if I had my own kids. The first day I held my niece (she was four days old), I felt that rush of love that parents talk about when first holding their kids. I'm sure it wasn't exactly the same, but I remember being surprised at it, at the fact I would throw myself in front of a speeding car to protect this human I met 10 seconds ago.

"Maybe I wouldn't have felt this if I had my own kids, or if I was planning to have my own kids - who knows? But this relationship is special." 

Lucinda believes that society doesn't value people without children enough. 

"Personally, I think it just needs an attitude shift. You don't need to be a parent to give back to society. Plenty of us without children are helping with the children in our lives, or volunteering in the community."

Ultimately, Lucinda hopes to always be another adult her nieces and nephews can talk to or rely on. 

"[I want to be] someone who can show them things that their parents wouldn't (e.g. I hope to introduce my nieces to hiking, which I love but their parents don't). Hopefully, we will be friends when they are adults, like I am with some of my aunts and uncles." 

5. Aunty Sarah

"I’m an aunty with no kids of my own and I love it! I have a different experience between my two sets of nephews but I love all the contact I have with them. I want to do all I can to maintain strong relationships with them so that I’m the person they call when the miss the last train home and so that they have a go-to person to trust," Sarah says.

"One of my sister's and I have discussed her ease with her boys confiding in me and how I will use my best judgement whether I share the information with her."

Sarah worries about overstepping the mark with all of her nephews.

"I worry especially about disciplining the kids when their parents are around. And I worry I am 'always there' and that they miss that special experience as the nuclear family unit," she says.

"I sometimes think society underestimates the role that aunts play, but as long as my family are happy with it, then I am too. Becoming an aunty is without doubt the best thing that has happened to me." 

6. Aunty Millie

"I love being an aunty and that I don’t have to force the kids to do their homework! I can be the fun 'parent' and the one they go to when they feel like they can’t talk to their parents for any of life's problems," Millie says.

Millie believes that being an aunty isn’t a full-time job, but that special bonds take time to build.

"You get to go home, and you don’t have that full load of responsibility. But being an aunty can take on a different type of parental role. If you work on building bonds while children are young, they can love and trust you just like a parent.

"Creating these special bonds of love and friendship isn't a casual job either, you need to be there and available to children all the time. Show an interest in their lives, support and be present throughout every stage of their childhood. You can't expect to create these special bonds by only sending birthday and Christmas presents every year."

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Millie with her nephew and niece. Image: Supplied.

Millie feels aunties can be a go-to person when things get tough for both parents and kids. 

"My sister relies on me for every stage of their growth; from breastfeeding to high school drama I have been there for my niece and nephew since birth and I have watched them grow into the lovely, caring little humans they are today.

"I would like to continue to be their go-to person in life. I would love to maintain these relationships throughout the tough teen years and well into adulthood. 

"They are my true loves, my best friends, my children. My 10-year-old niece still calls me 'mum' and talks about how she has two mums. We have a beautiful bond I’d like to keep forever."

Are you an aunty with a beautiful bond with your nieces and nephews? Or do you wish your role as a loving aunt was better recognised? Tell us in the comments below.

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* Names have been changed for privacy reasons.

Feature Image: Supplied. 

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