Dear Savvy Auntie,

I’m an Aunt to a 7-yr-old and a 4-yr-old born to an accomplished surgeon whose husband doesn't work, (and in my opinion, displays slightly sociopathic tendencies.)

I'm now, and have always been the black sheep. Despite a fairly decent job, I don't bring in half of what my sister makes and I'm still trying to get my life together.

They live three hours away; I get up there when I can, but we're not close (to either my sister or mom). Well past grown, I'm still the subject of major criticism and derision.  Last year, and in previous visits, the kids acted interested in me and loving. This year, their behavior was completely odd, distant, and not happy in my presence. I thought, like many, I could be that Cool Aunt who would eventually be there for them for this or that as they grow.

The BIL is such a miserable excuse for a human being, and I'm now noticing my sister, though she kicks butt professionally, is a little passive personally. In any case, both times that I was around the kids, the older one would think up mean things to tell the younger one to run and tell me and giggle about it. Neither of them would give me a hug (very odd), and my own youthful experience tells me don't ever push this.

I'm not sure what the reason would be, but I have some real suspicions about how the father may be poisoning them toward me, because he also is only superficially cordial to his mother-in-law, who is one of the most loving women toward little ones you can ever imagine.  In any case, I'm not pleased about this turn of events, and with the lack of communication with their mother, I don't have much hope of working on it. I noticed that when it was just the mom and the kids, they were a little more comfortable toward me. It was just odd for me to see kids that young acting unhappy and fussy, and for the first time ever, not talking to me in that way kids do.

It’s worth noting; I don't have kids, and have always been intimidated by the prospect, but, for some odd reason, across all my life, kids have seemed to like me and take to me. That's helped a lot, so I'm not uncomfortable with my sister's kids. It just makes the nieces' behavior even more glaring. Also, this is the BIL's second marriage, my sister's first, and with him not working, she's saddled with picking up his child support on the first set of kids he left and rarely interacts with.

Do I have to suck this up and figure out how not to feel like crap about it? Also for what it’s worth, I'm old enough I've learned to trust my radar, and this just doesn't feel right in a dozen different ways . . . .


Auntie Black Sheep

Dear Auntie Black Sheep,

Ouch! It sounds as if you are hurting from your sister’s children’s attitude and behavior toward you. HOWEVER… you must keep in mind a few things: Firstly, your BIL is your sister’s choice of a husband and you do not know what went into that decision (outsiders don’t know what really goes on between a couple). Therefore, you have no place in talking about him; unless, you are willing to be totally ostracized from their family.

Secondly, it is only supposition that he is turning the children away from you; as kids of these ages often play act meanness with the person they feel most comfortable with…YOU! Thirdly, although you may not see them that often there are many ways you can cultivate a positive long distance relationship. Remaining a positive role model is the very best antidote to any poison they may be fed.

Sooo…send them weekly cards (best if hand made) - upbeat, warm updates on your daily life with questions for the older child to respond. You can even send them a weekly knock/knock joke, a simple maze or questions about their favorite activities. Even if you don’t receive answers immediately…keep up the correspondence. Another tactic is to establish a special ritual every time you do visit; such as a treasure hunt, Simon Says, or a special food.

Feeling like a “black sheep” in your family makes you even more sensitive to rejection from the kids. Try not to take their current phase to heart; like all stages of development it will pass. The more that you are loving and accepting of them as they are, the more they will learn that meanness is not necessary. You will have beaten your BIL at his own game.

Good Luck,
Natalie Robinson Garfield


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