I’m A Live-In Aunt Helping Raise My Sister’s Kids & I Love It

“And I have a tia, a mommy, and a daddy. I’m so lucky.”

by Sophie Katzman
The Aunties Issue

Last fall, my sister’s oldest daughter pointed out two men walking a dog on our block. “That dog has two dads!” she proclaimed, her tiny face looking up at me. “And I have a tia, a mommy, and a daddy. I’m so lucky.”

As the youngest of four, I became an aunt at 12. Twenty-something years of spoiling, and nine nieces and nephews later, I am now a parental figure involved in child rearing and parenting my sister’s three children. The girls see me and their parents relatively the same: three grownups each helping raise three kids in the city.

As a live-in aunt, balancing work with school dropoffs, cooking dinner, behavior management, and bedtime are all part of my routine. Because of that, I feel the same parental exhaustion, but I also feel the parenting wins and joys deeply. Sometimes I lose my temper (maybe even more than sometimes), but my eyes well when I’m complimented (as a good “cooker,” say) and I beam when I notice a moment of peaceful play between my nieces. My mood always gets better when I see all three after a day, or even an hour, apart. I get to be an extra support system, which benefits not just my sister and her husband, but the children and me, too.

From a young age, I’d always been infatuated with motherhood. It started with my doll collection as a little girl, then to babysitting and eventually to aunthood. Growing up, my grandparents didn’t live close by and I rarely saw my aunts and uncles outside of holidays or yearly visits. I always envied friends and neighbors who had extended family over frequently; I craved the kind of family unit we’ve worked to create. But while the impact is strong within the home, it doesn’t always translate.

Expanding our household beyond the nuclear family benefits both the little ones and the adults.

To my friends and coworkers who have children, I'm not really a parent, and to my childless peers, I seem like a mom. Strangers often assume I’m the mother or nanny. When I reveal I’m the aunt, people are often surprised, as the extended family of past generations is less prevalent now. I fall in an unfamiliar space between parent and non-parent. Many are jealous, wishing they had a similar setup to raise young children. Some assume I take up space without helping. During a meeting last year, a colleague shared that their child was sick with the stomach flu; the conversation inevitably shifted to the horrors of little ones being ill in general, and another childless coworker looked at me and jokingly asked the last time I’d thrown up. Hand foot and mouth and norovirus were all on my resume, but without the label, I still didn’t feel I was part of the parent chatter.

With my close friends, it’s different. Many now have babies of their own and even come to me for advice, knowing I have lived under the same roof as two newborns. They ask about products, sleep regressions, and school choices, and see me as a confidant with a wealth of knowledge around children. Sometimes, I relate more to them than my friends without kids.

Expanding our household beyond the nuclear family benefits both the little ones and the adults. My nieces and nephew are exposed to different parenting and upbringing styles. They get to look up to two sisters as they form their own sibling bonds (and hopefully lose the physical fighting along the way). Plus, we adults can rely on each other. My sister and brother-in-law have a break every once in a while, and I have the opportunity to live with close family, rather than alone or with roommates. The isolation each of us might have had — whether as parents or as a single adult — dissipates under our roof.

Most importantly, we have a special bond. There’s never a moment the little ones are not on my mind. I can’t help but feel guilty when they cry when I leave the house. I know baked mac & cheese is my niece’s top choice dinner, and Lay’s are the middle’s favorite snack, and I sense when any of them needs a warm embrace. Last mother’s day when a passerby called out, “Happy Mother’s Day,” I didn’t stop to correct him.

I may not be a mom in every sense of the word, but I am in the ways that matter.

Sophie Katzman is an educator and freelance writer. By day, she supports high school students with learning disabilities. When not at school, she is crafting her next story. She lives in New York City. Her writing has been featured in New York Magazine, Business Insider, and Conde Nast Traveler. Read more from her at