There are few pleasures on this earth so pure as being an aunt. You get all the baby snuggles, smiles, and coos, and when the kid's stinky or fussy you just hand them back to their parents. As a kid gets older, you're the cool aunt they turn to for fun and advice. In the immortal words of Monica Gellar, you will always have gum. The role of auntie is rewarding, but it can be a real challenge if you live far away from your nieces and nephews. That's why every mom wants her kid's long-distance aunt to know a few very important things.
When I moved home from Honduras for good, I promised myself I'd never leave again. I missed my family too much and, most especially, my best friend, who also happens to be my sister. Then I met the man who would become my husband, and, as fate would have it, he was a soldier. We had a baby nine months after we were married, and six weeks later, we had our first permanent change of station... 1,600 miles from home. Military life means we'll be living somewhere new every three to five years, which makes maintaining relationships with my family difficult. Difficult, but not impossible.
My sister is hands down my person, and there's no way she's going to be anything less than a central figure in my children's lives. That's why I want to reassure her, and all the long-distance aunties missing their favorite kiddos right now, of the following:
Small children are all about the present moment, so one of the ways we keep far-away aunties present is by talking about them. I tell my daughter that her auntie is my sister and let her know all about how we used to play childhood games like hide-and-seek, mud pies, and Toast (wait... everybody didn't play Toast?). We talk about how she works to protect animals, and my kid even knows how howl like a wolf, thanks to her.
I think one of the greatest fears for a long-distance aunt is that their nieces and nephews won't recognize them. We moms aren't going to let that happen. Between photos and videos, our kids have no doubt who that lady who looks like mommy is.
From the time my daughter was a tiny baby, we've had a soft photo album full of pictures of family. She's 2.5 now, and it's still one of her favorite pastimes to look at photos of relatives and name them. She's been able to pick my sister out since she was very little.
Travel is expensive, but even a few short visits a year can make a world of difference. When we spend a week with auntie in Portland, or she comes our way for a long weekend, it just builds my daughter's bank of memories with her. Remember that time you and auntie ran around the backyard yelling "whoopity-woo"? And when she let you have an ice cream flavor called Chocolate AF? (Thanks, Portland.)
When in-person visits aren't a possibility, FaceTime, Skype, or Facebook Video Messenger are a good second option. I feel bad, though, because my daughter is a normally a charming little chatterbox, but she turns mute once the camera is on.
It can't be terribly interesting for my sister, but she does her due diligence making funny faces and asking questions my kid inevitably doesn't answer. Once we hang up, though, my little girl can't stop talking about her auntie, so I know it's working.
It's hard to have a meaningful relationship with a newborn, unless you're the primary caregiver. It's a long while before they can give anything back in a relationship, and let's face it, they're kind of boring. Older babies can have separation anxiety, and toddlers can be standoffish.
When circumstances make frequent visits difficult, it makes perfect sense that it would take some time for a relationship to develop. Don't take it personally. You are building a foundation, and all the work you put in on the front end (like cleaning the pee off your couch from your visiting potty-training niece) will pay off later.
I think long-distance aunts sometimes feel like they have to be extra. They don't. I mean, if you want to take the kids to Disneyland or send lavish gifts, that's your prerogative, but it's really not necessary. Kids know you care about them by the time and attention you spend dedicated to them.
My sister has sung "Part of Your World" to my daughter on speaker phone at bedtime. She wrote a meaningful letter to her about being a big sister in the front of a beautiful book she bought her for Christmas. It's these small gestures on a consistent basis that show my daughter who her auntie is.
When kids have honorary aunties or family members who live close, it's easy for a long-distance aunt to fall victim to the green monster. I think it's something like when a mom gets jealous of her kid's bond with a daycare provider. In both cases, we have to remember that the more caring adults in a child's life, the better. So just be confident that the relationship we have is special. Because, well, it is.
At our current duty station, I have three sisters-in-law who live close. We're also lucky to have our Army family here. Each of my daughter's aunts play an important role in her life, but that doesn't take anything away from my sister. My kid is her daughter-niece, and they will always have a special connection. After all, they're the two weirdest, best people I know.
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