My baby girls have more aunties than they know what to do with. I roll with several tribes of Black women and WOC, friends I have made before and during the past 10 life-changing years of my adulthood. My girl squads cover me perfectly like Venn diagrams of space and timeliness and love. Black women’s sisterhood has been having a big and small screen moment via Girls Trip and Insecure, which is exciting. But those loving depictions haven’t quite touched on how that bond transforms when children are born. Sisters in blood or of spirit become an Auntie Team (hat tip to Kanye). In my opinion, we don’t give these aunties nearly enough credit.
Six years ago, I sat at a brunch with some girlfriends I’d known for a few years and made a confession. Since I had moved away from all my childhood friends, I had no idea who would throw me a baby shower if I ever got pregnant. Most of all, I feared going through pregnancy without sister-love. They were almost offended. “We got you,” they promised. And they did have me.
Those women never let me feel without (non-medical) female support throughout my pregnancies. They’ve offered to babysit (and come through) and offered their homes as shelter. When Bean excitedly interrupts my phone conversation, she knows there is likely one of her aunties on the other line. She’s still learning how exactly each auntie is related to her (through water thicker than blood). For now, she only knows that “auntie” is another word for love.
I believe that our first inclination should not be to love the women in our lives solely for what they can do for us. And so I want to be careful not to heap praise on the women in our villages just for laboring in love with us. They are more than our sounding boards and relief brigades. Our sister friends and aunties have their own dreams to nurture, hearts and bodies to tend to. More than just gratitude, we owe these women apologies for not reciprocating what they have given us. Aunties, here are some of the ways we take your kindness for granted.
We don’t value your time.
My friends who are aunties to various children in their lives sometimes tell me their personhood is not respected. You have no children, family and friends tell you. How could you possibly be busy? The unspoken end of the sentence is “like me.” How could you, child-free woman, possibly be busy like me, a mother? Moms do not have a lock on the definition of “busy,” no matter how many times marketers use the now-meaningless phrase, “busy mom.” You work. You’re in school. You volunteer. You have dick appointments and hobbies. Oh, and you have a life. As an auntie, you extend yourself out of kindness and a desire to support the families you love. And most times, you don’t mind. But it’s not cool when people get mad at your unavailability and disregard your schedule. People assume your time is free simply because you are child-free.
We ignore your boundaries and desires.
The way we socialize women from childhood to prepare for motherhood often makes us insufferable toward women who do not have children. Whether a woman expresses a desire to never have children or doesn’t want them right now, we can’t stop talking about the children aunties don’t have. We are insensitive to women who want children but do not or cannot have them, no matter the reasons.
People conflate the desire to be child-free with a revulsion toward children. So when people see you, a childless auntie, interacting happily with kids, they try to convince you that you want one of your own. Oh, you’d be a great mother! It’s the subtle way people try to tell you that you don’t know your own mind. You tell them you are happiest when you can give a child back, not keep one. You’ll regret it later, when you stop being selfish. Their selfishness in not respecting your boundaries never strikes them as ironic. They question your happiness, your worth as a woman, your life’s purpose — and yet sound so miserable about their own lives.
We don’t see how you are caring but not cared for.
When babies come, Aunties show up bearing gifts and helping hands. You are the ones who come to the rescue when mamas are going through postpartum depression or divorces. But who calls to check on you when you can’t quite reach out for help? Everyone is “busy,” with their children, with the ancillary activities of parenthood, with their new baes or spouses. I have heard from many single, child-free women that getting sick is one of the hardest parts of being alone. The people in your extended, adopted families do not always extend themselves for you. That needs to change.
We don’t acknowledge that you often give from a limited well.
Sometimes it really does seem like aunties have an incredible depth of love for the people in their lives. As many new babies show up, you gather them into your arms and dote on them. However, just because you don’t have children doesn’t mean your pockets stretch longer than everyone else’s. But you still remember all the birthdays and have presents for the holidays. You revel in auntie movie and lunch dates. You offer to buy school supplies at the beginning of the year. The emotional labor you expend is not to be discounted, either.
But because we erroneously see you as “unburdened,” you become the family anchor, mediator, confidante, peacemaker (hat tip to my friend Maris). You are the Black women they talk about who save others with their own heads barely above water. People use you as an emergency fund and leave you on E without topping you off. Aunties are trying to get their financial and emotional lives together, too. We should all Cash App an auntie just because so she’s knows it’s real.
Finally, we don’t offer enough support to aunties who make the ultimate sacrifice.
I know at least two aunties who have taken their biological niece or nephew into their homes permanently. Both of these women have been lauded for their magnanimity and sacrifice….but it stops there. They still bear the largest burden. One is open and honest about the challenges; the other feels less room to voice how she struggles with it. I am not sure how to support women who take on another family member’s child. I do know, though, that our communities must be there for them as they are there for these children.
Although I wrote this mainly for aunties without kids, some of the best aunties I know are fellow mamas. You deserve recognition and gratitude, too. And to my daughters’ Auntie Team, I love each of you dearly, from those of you I’ve known 10+ years, to those I’ve known 2 years. You have shown up at recitals and birthday parties to celebrate and love on my little family. You have given me a break so I can get these raggedy toes done. And sometimes you’ve saved me from myself. Forgive me for not giving of myself as you have given to me.
Auntie Kym, Auntie Keke, Auntie Buky, Auntie Isis, Auntie DeeDee, Auntie Shon, Auntie Mal, Auntie Maura, Auntie Kyla, Auntie Tamara, Auntie Aries, Auntie Leah, Auntie Tanya, Auntie Eva, and Auntie Winnie– you all make one fearsome Voltron of aunties. As Bean would say, you turn my heart to goo. From all of us, thank you.