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How to be an amazing aunt

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Aunts are often overlooked in kids' lives, but they can be vital examples of love and virtue.

My kids are blessed to have a fantastic aunt. And I might be biased, but I actually think she’s the best aunt (and best sister!) who’s ever lived. There are a ton of things she does that make her amazing, but writing them all would take at least 100,000 words. And as much as I would love to wax eloquent on the virtues of my sister, Aunt Awesome, that’s probably not what you’re here to read.

Instead, I’m going to choose a few things she does that have been a daily blessing in my life and my children’s lives — things that every aunt could (and should!) do to strengthen relationships with their nieces and nephews and be a life-long example they can follow.

Sweat the small stuff

My sister lives with us, so she gets to live the nitty-gritty of life with many children, up close and personal. Despite how overwhelming it often is, she’s taken the initiative to assume an extraordinary role: lunch-maker.

Parents, y’all know exactly what a big deal this is, but non-parents might not. For the uninitiated, lunch-making is an arduous nightly chore that inevitably ends in tears and frustration, on good nights. On bad nights, it ends with Mom just tossing Doritos and granola bars in the lunch boxes out of despair. But unlike me, my sister is has the gift of organization. She’s turned the lunch-making ordeal into an orderly, efficient, tear-free process (complete with a compliment/complain box). And she continues to keep that process running smoothly, night after night. The kids no longer complain or wail about lunches, because she’s taught them a better way. In taking on a task that seems small, she’s actually taught my kids some big lessons about courtesy, gratitude, and respect. I can’t tell you what an unexpected and incredible blessing that’s been for me and for the kids.

I know most aunts don’t live with their siblings, so this is probably not an option for many of you. But finding small, seemingly overlooked tasks like matching socks on Saturday visits or designating yourself thank-you-note-writer-in-chief after birthday parties are other ways you can sweat the small stuff for your nieces and nephews — and I promise, it will leave a lasting impact in their lives.

See the unseen

This morning, my 10-year-old Charlotte stayed home from school with a stomachache. She didn’t eat her breakfast, was pale, and visibly feeling unwell. We were all sad because today was Grandparents’ Day, and she’d been working hard on gifts and a performance for my parents. It seemed like terrible timing. But as I sat on the couch with Charlotte after I dropped the other kids off, my sister was watching us. When I walked away for a minute, my sister said quietly, “Do you think she’s nervous about the performance?”

That thought hadn’t even occurred to me, but as soon as my sister said it, I realized it made perfect sense. Charlotte always gets nervous before performances, and one memorable time she even threw up right before she was supposed to go onstage. Of course, her stomach was reacting to the nerves. Once I asked her, it all came tumbling out. How nervous she was, and how she was afraid of disappointing her teacher and Mimi and Papa. We talked through it, and afterward she went to school a little late but in high spirits and did wonderfully in the performance.

Parents are often so overwhelmed with the day-to-day tasks for raising kids and working that we miss things. We mistake sadness for surliness, or overlook it entirely. But another set of eyes, one disconnected from the daily to-do list but deeply connected to the little people we’re doing it all for, can often pick up on those things. An aunt who cares can turn a child’s whole day around, and sometimes even their whole life.

Make magic

My sister is big on celebrations. Gift giving is her love language, and she expresses it best when she’s planning ways to make something special. One thing she’s decided to do for my kids is give each of them a “Teenager Trip” when they turn 13 — they can choose anywhere they want to go in the US and she’ll take them.

This is something I could never afford to do, and even if I could, I have to admit that the amount of planning involved would likely make it just as impossible as a lack of funds. And it’s not that my sister is swimming in cash — she’s already saving for these trips, carefully planning to make sure she can give each of my 5 children the gift of a memory they’ll have for the rest of their lives. The trip is an incredible gift, but the example of generosity and selflessness she’s setting for them is a gift beyond compare — one that I hope they carry in their hearts forever, letting it form their own future selves.

It doesn’t take huge acts of gift-giving to make magic happen, so don’t feel defeated if trips are beyond your means. You can make magic for your nieces and nephews out of a sunny afternoon at the park, or a rainy day puddle-stomping session. Kids are delighted with the world, and spending time in the world with their aunt is pretty magical no matter what they’re doing.

It doesn’t matter how you do these things, but it does matter that you do them. These 3 simple ways of caring for your nieces and nephews will keep you connected, and give them another example of virtue and compassion to follow as they grow up and become parents, aunts, and uncles themselves.

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