When a Niece or Nephew Moves Away
Sandy toes; warm summer evenings and excursions with my nieces and nephews to our local farm for ice cream are coming to a close. September heralds in a new school year, and for aunties of school age children, that means homework and after-school activities will now hijack our nieces and nephews time.
While I’m a fan of autumn, this fall in particular ushers in new challenges for me as an aunt. Yes, the advent of back to school season limits time together with my nieces and nephews, but what I’ve discovered in the wake of one of my nephews moving away to college this fall, is that limited time together pales in comparison to distance.
As an Aunt to so many children, (forty-one to be exact) this isn’t the first time a niece or nephew moved away, but what’s different this year is it is a bit of an emerging trend —a trend that makes my heart both swell with pride and break.
The “Empty Nest”
One of the upsides I expected from my infertility was being able to skirt the melancholy of the “empty nest” syndrome. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
When my first niece moved away, I took the high road. I silenced the Italian Auntie guilt I knew I could levy at her and encouraged her to chase her dreams. When she wobbled about moving out to Los Angeles, I puffed out my chest and said, “Honey, don’t live with regret.” As conflicted as I was about the idea of her moving, I knew the best advice I could offer her meant an end to regular pedicures together, lunch and living around the corner from each other.
I packed her a box of sheets, blankets, and peanut butter so she wouldn’t starve, wiped her tears when she said her Mom didn’t understand and behaved like the evolved aunt I wanted to be. And then— she actually left. Gathered her dreams, tossed off her winter coats for good and moved to LA.
I cried for days, half-heartedly thinking, “I should have gone with the guilt!” One upside in the weeks following my niece’s departure though, was that my co-workers were so understanding. They humored my stories about how she was born with a bruise on her head from a botched C-section, how much fun we had the first time she wanted to play with make-up and how she’d grown from a tomboy into a beautiful young woman.
At the time my niece moved away her departure seemed like an anomaly. But with my nephew’s recent move the reality that my nieces and nephews will and do grow up and sometimes even have the audacity to move away— seems more real.
Before my nephew made his choice, my niece (his mom), asked me for advice about how to best help her and him make a sound decision. I told her I wanted him to enroll in “Aunt Steph University.” I’d make him the star of the football team and even offer him a full scholarship. I caved at one point and considered screaming, “How can you leave us?!” But the evolved Auntie in me won out and I offered my best advice, which took him a solid days trip away.
I cried when my nephew left, and his Mom and I together, are mourning the quick passing of eighteen years. Aunties, it seems, are not immune from the empty nest syndrome but the good news is I’ve discovered a new way of connecting with my nieces and nephews who are so far away. If your nieces or nephews are off to an exciting college career here are some tips you might find helpful as you transition from one stage of life to the next:
• Write letters—this is a great way to develop an even deeper connection.
• Send care packages filled with their favorite snacks, treats for different holidays or decorations for their dorm rooms.
• Make plans for when they come home to visit.
Take it from me, Aunties—on those lucky occasions when you get to spend some time with your nieces and nephews this school year, squeeze them extra tightly. They grow up way too fast.
Stephanie Baffone, LPCMH, NCC is a newspaper advice columnist (“Ask Aunt Steph”), speaker, educator and therapist in private practice with a specialty in grief, loss and relationships. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook or StephanieBaffone.com.
Published: September 6, 2011