Dear Savvy Auntie,

My sister has a son and a daughter. I loved being with them and spending time with them.

When I came to visit from overseas, I used to play with the oldest (the boy), and he would cry when I had to leave (it was extremely touching). When I moved back to the U.S. and spent 3 years in the area near where they lived, I found —to my great dismay—that my sister would always put up some excuse when I wanted to spend time with her kids (unless it was in their house with her present). Any offers of taking them to the movies or museum, or giving them gifts like horseback riding lessons, were always declined.

I think perhaps she thinks I may be a bad influence; at least that is the way it feels. Note, there is nothing "wrong" with me—I am fairly average, but pursued an academic path, whereas my sister is a full-time mom (the classic "super" mom). I feel that she actively compromised my relationship with both of her kids, and now they feel like strangers to me—now that they have turned 17 and 16. I have lost all hope of ever being anything meaningful in their lives, and I bear my sister a grudge that I think she will never fully comprehend. I once asked her straight out why she never let me take them anywhere, and she answered something like she felt safer driving them herself. I think the real reason is that she was/is afraid that I might say something to them she doesn't approve of (like if I say to her daughter that she should eat more, and more healthy food, as she is getting too thin).
So my question: Is this something others have experienced, and what do you recommend?

Compromised Relationship Auntie

Dear Compromised Relationship Auntie,

YES! We receive so many letters from dismayed Aunties restricted by their sisters and brothers around and about their nieces and nephews. I sense from your situation a controlling mom; whose kids will eventually push back. Perhaps, this is small comfort to you right now. Do recognize that your early involvement is deep inside them and when they are more independent it will come to the surface.

I have two suggestions: invite your sister to a lovely lunch and ask her for her no-no list concerning you and her “yes-yes” preferences. It doesn’t mean you have to abide by them; take them into consideration. Now for the most difficult aspect: try your hardest to do what she wants! Although you feel very connected to them, they are her children!! This strategy is in the interest of the greater good…seeing your niece and nephew more often, more freely.

Since they are now teenagers rethink your advice; adolescents are famous for not wanting / taking an adult’s advice. Your niece knows only too well she should eat more healthfully, no need to tell her. Try to join them in their interests and activities rather than coach them. They are more interested in their peers, so bone up on teen culture so you can be more relevant in their lives. In other words, be the fun “with-it” auntie, not their surrogate mother and disciplinarian.

Lastly, be compassionate, sympathetic, understanding, and available to your sister and she may soften. Be careful not to be intrusive, bossy, righteous, and threatening to her. I know this is a tall order and requires you to do some soul searching and make behavioral changes. I do believe you will reap the rewards of your efforts. We would love to hear what happens in a few months…keep us posted and hopefully be a poster auntie to others.

Best of Luck,

Natalie Robinson Garfield

Published: July 19, 2011

Content Rating