A Long-Distance Auntie Sister Pact
Dr. Tara Cousineau is a clinical psychologist, mother, and Aunt. She is founder of BodiMojo.com for teenagers, a health engagement platform for teens leveraging web and mobile technologies to inspire healthy living. The use of BodiMojo.com by teen girls has shown to have a significant effect on improving girls’ attitudes about their own body image. Tara also blogs at BodiMojo.com/blog and TeensInBalance.com.
What’s an auntie to do when she lives 3,000 miles away from her nieces or nephews, when an annual visit on one coast or another might be the most time the motley crew can get together?
I posed this very question to my two nephews and niece this week, in a rare opportunity where I came out to help the family move. They are now in their early teens, where friends rule and family is an afterthought—calling on grownups for basic needs like lunch money, clean clothes, and rides. Parents are now relegated to “awkward.” As an auntie, how do I insert myself into this emerging dynamic? I want to savvy, not awkward!
Besides being the person to emote calm and a helping hand in the midst of the familial chaos while moving, it’s been great fun helping the kids arrange and decorate their rooms and texting photos to their east coast cousins for commentary. I’ve been asking them about the best ways for me as Auntie to communicate—that doesn’t feel like an intrusion in their social space. I think they are a pretty open crew (maybe it’s an LA thing). But here’s what they said:
What are the best ways to stay in touch with nieces and nephews?
While they all agreed that Facebook is more family-oriented, it seems to be on the outs these days—mostly because everyone in your friend group can see everything posted by everyone else and it’s like “so what?” It no longer feels personal, I’m told. Ironically, the boys like Twitter and Instagram even though these are totally public apps and don’t have chat. My 14-year-old nephew assured me he has a “private group” on Instagram—with over 1,000 followers. My younger nephew, who is only 12, piped in that he has 500 followers (and he didn’t know about a private group setting) as if this is a badge of popularity.
“Seriously? Do you know that many people?” I ask. Apparently, yes. These are mostly kids from the grade 7-12 high school they go to, and lil’ bro gets all of big brother’s friends, too. Their sister does, too. (She also gets bodyguards.)
I consulted with my sister. “We need an auntie strategy,” I told her. We’re not keeping up fast enough. First, we both need auntie Instagram accounts—pronto. I have to follower her kids and she, mine. Second, we need to promise each other to call them directly once a month. Not kid-to-kid calls, which is usually the way it happens, but as aunties to nieces and nephews.
The next question I posed to the kids was about what to talk about—topics that don’t seem stupid or like you are trying too hard.
What’s cool to talk about with teen nieces and nephews?
“The weather,” says big brother.
“What? The weather?” I ask.
“Yah, you have all this interesting weather going on all the time, with storms and hurricanes. We don’t get that here.”
“Huh, okay. Makes sense. What else?” I ask.
“Planning a trip together. School (maybe grades), sports, friends, pets, family stuff.”
Life, it seems. “Okay, so what are the no-nos?”
“Well, maybe love life, but I’m fine about sharing that. But maybe the other kids would never,” he noted.
And it’s true. My nephews and niece tell all. Once his current girlfriend said “yes” to going out, I got the relationship status update via Facebook and a picture texted to me by my sister. My 15-year-old daughter… She’s so private. I found out from her friend’s mother that she was dating someone. Once again, a good reason that aunties must stay connected to the darlings. It’s less embarrassing to be asked, “So, do you have a boyfriend?” by an auntie than by a mother.
By the end of the week, my sister and I had Instagram accounts. We promised to insert ourselves as confidAunts with monthly phone calls direct to the kids, and we began to plan a cousin reunion in the summer come hell or high water. After all, imagining the best of circumstances, in four to six years they will be dispersed all over the place at college or traveling or jobs. We want to be role models and privileged witnesses as their young adult lives unfold.
Published: February 5, 2013