Dear Savvy Auntie,

I'm very close to my niece, Sarah, who is 18 months old. I helped babysit her during her first year of life and we developed a close bond. She will run up to me when I show up to visit, wants me to hold her whenever I sit down, and follows me around in general - basically, she wants to be with me whenever I'm around.

This has created friction with her mother, who I was never close with to begin with. Her mother takes it very personally that Sarah doesn't behave in the same manner when she comes to pick her up and swears this never happens when they're at home and I'm not around. I've even been accused of trying to take over the 'mother' role which I don't feel I'm doing - I've told her on many occasions I'm not the parent nor would I want to be. When my niece's parents are present, I let them handle all of the parenting. I don't call, email, or harass them to allow me to visit her and I don't inundate her with gifts (although I hear no complaints when I do buy her the occasional book or toy). I've asked my sister many times if there is anything wrong and even though she insists everything is okay, there is still a major tension between us because of this issue. I'm at a loss of what to do - please help.


Dear Anonymous,

You’re very astute and sensitive to the situation with your sister! I would add two other ingredients.  First, your niece is still very young and her allegiances will change over time. Second, children are often rejecting of the person they feel the safest with. Try telling your sister these truisms.

I suggest you stop asking your sister what’s wrong. She can’t/won’t tell you right now. It may well have nothing to do with you. Marriage, a young toddler, economics, shifting family relations, etc., are just few of the possibilities. Also, think about complimenting her mothering at least once a day, in some way.

You might try a ditty with your niece that I say to my grandniece, “Who loves you? Mommy… Who loves you? Daddy…” and put yourself in the middle of the list.

I hope things improve.

Natalie Robinson Garfield


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