The Problem with Being a Childless Aunt

by Brandi Lytle
Photo of a red heart inside a glass ball on The Problem with Being a Childless Aunt on Aunt/Infertility Blog on Not So Mommy...

As a childless not by choice woman, my nieces and nephews have a special place in my heart.  They are my kids, so I worry about them, pray for them, and love them fiercely.  I want only good things for them and talk with them about important issues like their hopes and dreams for the future.

I say, “If, not when…”

Because I know that plans do not always turn out as you desire, I have changed my dialogue with my nieces and nephews.  I no longer say, “When you get married” or “When you have kids.”  Instead, I have started commenting, “If you get married” and “If you have kids.”

Honestly, I began doing this for two reasons.  One, I want my nieces and nephews to know that they do not have to get married or have kids.  Two, they know that their uncle and I wanted littles, but could not have them.  So, I want them to also remember that just because you want kids, does not automatically mean that God will bless you with them.

She says, “I’ll just adopt…”

So, over Christmas, while talking with our nieces, I said, “If you have kids…”  To this, our middle niece responded, “Well, if I can’t have kids, then I’ll just adopt.”

Oh, those dreaded words—just adopt.  Mind you, she is just shy of 13-years-old and has no concept of what “just adopt” means.  Trying to give her a bit of insight without going into too many details, I told her that when I was her age, I used to say the exact same thing.  Going on, I explained that adoption is quite expensive and can cost upwards of $50,000, stating that was one of the reasons Uncle Dane and I didn’t adopt.  To this, she quipped, “Well, maybe I’ll be rich” and shrugged her shoulders.

Knowing this conversation wasn’t really going anywhere and understanding that it was very close to upsetting me, my sweet hubby stepped in and said, “We hope so.  Since you want to be a vet, maybe you will be rich!”  We all smiled and moved on to a lighter topic of conversation.

The Problem with Being a Childless Aunt

But obviously, I haven’t forgotten about this exchange with my niece.  And honestly, it did upset me a little.  Like I said, my nieces and nephews are so important to me.  As a childless aunt, one off my biggest fears is that we will grow apart, that I won’t always be such an important person in their lives…

From Special Days…

Before we moved to South Carolina, we used to have “special days” with our nieces.  We would take each of them for three to four days during the summer and do special things just for them.  We’d go to the zoo, go out to eat, have ice-cream, visit an animal sanctuary, attend a children’s play, watch a movie…  These days were incredible and created memories that I cherish to this day.  And during one of these special days, my middle niece said, “Tia, I love you as much as my mom.”  When I think about this moment, it still brings tears to my eyes.  What an absolutely incredible compliment.

To growing up…

But four years later and growing up, this same niece now tells me, “I’ll just adopt if I can’t have kids.”  And when I say something about her being my responsibility (because we watched them for several days over Christmas), she retorts, “I’m my mom’s responsibility.”  Or when I say, “That’s what moms do,” she exclaims, “You’re not our mom.”  (For clarification, I was not implying that I was their mom.  My sister-in-law is an amazing mom to her girls.  I was actually talking about their mom…  Well, and me, hoping they’d realize I love them like a mom.)

Are we growing apart?

Anyway, I digress a bit.  As a childless aunt, I’m just worried.  I’m worried that they are becoming teenagers and that they are starting to do the sideways, lean in, and barely put one arm around you hugs, and that we are growing apart…

My husband says I don’t need to worry.  He promises me that we developed a strong relationship with the kids when they were younger and that it will last a lifetime.  He assures me that their love will never fade.

But like my middle niece stated, I’m not their mom.  I’m just their aunt.  And their aunt who lives states away, at that.  So, I worry.  Because I already lost the biological child that I dreamed of.  I can’t lose my nieces and nephews, too.

So, I’ll just keep loving them…

So, I text them and I send them cards and I like their photos on Instagram.  I remind myself that the world was black-and-white when I was a teenager and someday, they’ll understand what it means that I love them with a mom heart and that I feel a responsibility for them even though I’m not their parent.  Someday, they’ll get that the world has a lot of grey…

I hope they never have to understand this infertility or childless journey.  If they want kids, I hope they can have them.  But I’ll be there for them, no matter what.

And despite the fact that they don’t always fully understand what I’m trying to tell them, I’ll keep talking to them about the future.  I’ll keep saying “If you get married” and “If you have kids…”

But as for college, now that’s a when you go! ?

If, not when Quote on "The Problem with Being a Childless Aunt" on Aunt/Infertility Blog on Not So Mommy...

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30 comments

M September 9, 2020 - 4:22 am

Brandi – you have no idea the impact you’ve made on your nieces. I hope you trust that the time and love you’ve given them will be appreciated. I have an uncle and had an aunt who did not have kids. They made so much time for me and my brother. They divorced, then I lost my aunt to Lou Gherig’s disease when I was in college. She was artistic, fun loving, and introduced me to foods and activities and art my parents never did. I’m sure I made comments about the fact they didn’t have kids, unintentionally and not understanding how it could have impacted them, just like your niece. As an adult, I’ve decided kids aren’t for me, but I always think about my aunt and aspire to be like her with my friends’ and family’s kids. Your impact is known. I promise you that despite any unintended ignorant remarks, your influence is felt, and they will be so grateful of your consistent love and support. They don’t understand the challenges of children yet, or how they might make their own decision whether to have them, or perhaps have a decision forced upon them. You have done everything right, and in the event they don’t have their own, you’ve set a standard for how they can be loving aunts themselves.

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Brandi Lytle September 9, 2020 - 1:09 pm

M, your words brought tears to my eyes. THANK YOU so much for sharing your heart and your love for your aunt & uncle. THANK YOU for reminding me that my love has had (and will continue to have) a positive impact on my nieces and nephew. THANK YOU for giving me words of affirmation, validation, & strength! HUGS…

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Cornelis August 28, 2020 - 8:39 am

Life has become so dark and lonely for me, i long so much to have a child of my own and after 13 years of unexplained infertility it doesn’t get any easier to process in my mind that i may never have a child of my own. I have become extremely close with my one niece and to me she became my daughter which i may never have. This relationship between us was mutual and she got so excited when she was coming over when my wife would pick her up for her to spend the afternoon with with us. I never imagined how difficult this would be for me to process when her parents turned her against me for unknown reasons, all this happened in a few months time, now her parents purchase all kinds of things for her and copy everything what we have done with her etc.
My wife and i have spoken to them on a number of occasions trying to find answers why they are doing this to us, but to no avail. My niece no longer even looks at us and despises us, and now her younger brothers are brainwashed to the same extent.
I believe this is all to extreme jealously of the parents seeing how excited and happy there kids are when they are around us.
What i looked forward to so much every other week for a few hours has now been taken away and it leaves a large hole in my life. I just hope someday she will come to see the light and comeback to us like she once did.

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Brandi Lytle August 28, 2020 - 11:11 am

Cornelis, I am so sorry that you are struggling. I can feel the pain in your words and my heart breaks with you. I wish I had wise words of wisdom I could share… But all I can do is listen and send hugs…

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Shawna July 5, 2020 - 12:40 am

I am a 41 year old single, childless aunt. For last nearly 6 years I got a taste of motherhood while one of my nieces struggled with drugs and worked to get her life together I raised her infant. She was 3 months when she came to stay with me and will be 6 years next month. My great niece and I have tackled this world together. Last month I was informed that she will be leaving me and moving 3 hrs away to be reunited with her mother. While I am proud that the mother, also my niece, is doing so much better my heart is also breaking. I feel as though I am morning the loss of a child that was never mine.

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Brandi Lytle July 7, 2020 - 11:05 am

Shawna, my heart breaks with you as you grieve this loss. Though I know you are grateful that your niece is doing better, I can completely understand the pain you are feeling of losing a child that you have loved with your entire being for years. I truly wish I had wise or helpful words to give… All I can say is, please, be gentle with yourself as you navigate complex emotions that will no doubt arise over the coming months. The Not So Mommy… community is always here to listen–offering love, support, and encouragement. And please, never hesitate to email me directly if you need a listening ear. Sending you so many hugs…

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Sandy July 8, 2020 - 7:39 pm

Dear Shawna, I can identify on a very small level of what you are feeling. My husband and I struggled with infertility and eventually went the private adoption route. I spent months speaking to a birth mom about the baby she was having a little boy, and who she was, who I was, and then came the time for her to have him. She was deeply conflicted and called me and told me she wasn’t sure if she could go tryi with it. I told her she had to do what was best for her, and I couldn’t tell her what to do. The baby came home with us for only 2 weeks and she changed her mind. My husbNd and I discussed this scenario and returned the baby to the attorney which we paid for, left a note that says if she changed her mind we would take him back. They did not, and we were left with dealing with this loss, my lesss time, but our we loved him like he was ours. I am sorry you have to go thru this excruciating pain. Much love and hugs. If you wanted to chat off line , I would be happy too.

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Sandra Beaty January 15, 2020 - 8:22 pm

Wow, you have given me a lot of think about. May years ago when my nieces and nephews were a lot younger, my Mom and zi took them many places, camping, amuse,ent parks,movies, sleepovers. I really loved them, that was all before infertility came in. But when I wa at a Christmas this year, 2 of my nephews and o e niece were fighting over who is Aunt Sandy’s favorite. It was really cute . My nephews are 31, and 29 and my niece is 24, I guess they did remember all the times we spent together. It’s not like that all the time, them being young adults in all but they didn’t forget! Hold on to the Brandi, they won’t forget either! ❤️

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Brandi Lytle January 16, 2020 - 2:37 pm

Thank you for sharing this sweet moment with me! I will definitely hold on to the promise that they won’t forget how much we love them and all the special times we spent together! 🙂

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Shelley January 11, 2020 - 3:28 pm

I’m a childless Aunt of three – the first two are out if there teens, one married with a little of her own. My third. My 8 year old niece immigrated with her parents halfway around the world. It’s not even a week yet, but my heart is breaking. She lived next door to me and is my special girl. I feel like someone’s died, I’m crying for future special moments missed in the future, For her not growing up with her Cousins (she is an only child). I know I’m being selfish but I can’t help it. I miss her so much already. If anyone has a word for me I’d appreciate it, bless you all.

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Brandi Lytle January 13, 2020 - 12:32 pm

I’m so sorry you are hurting, Shelley. It must be so difficult having your niece so far away now. I remember how much heartache I felt when we moved away from our nieces and nephews… Technology has really helped me. We FaceTime. Skype and Zoom chats are incredible tools, as well. It’s so nice to see someone’s face as you talk to them. I also write “old-school” notes and letters & send cards via snail mail to my nieces and nephews. I hope that after your initial grief, you will discover new ways to connect with your niece, even though she now lives far away. Sending you so many hugs…

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Leslie Green August 13, 2019 - 2:02 am

Anyone never married, no children on this site? Life just happened and I never thought i’d be so alone now, am 78, wish I would have adopted at least or married one of those who asked me. Looking for my tribe.

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Brandi Lytle August 13, 2019 - 9:47 am

Leslie, I am so sorry that you are struggling with loneliness. Though I am married, I do understand the feelings of isolation that come with childlessness. I know there are some Not So Mommy… community members who are single and childless, like yourself. I would encourage you to check out the resources page – http://notsomommy.com/resources I have 70+ websites, blogs, closed groups, books, products, etc listed there. I think it will help you find your tribe. Sending you hugs…

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Jen M August 27, 2019 - 6:39 am

I love this post. Thank you so much. I too am a childless aunt who adores her nieces and nephews. I have a saying to them that I have whispered in their ears as babes and still tell them as adults. I don’t know if they fully grasp the meaning behind my words. I whisper “I love you more than you’ll ever truly know.” They are my children, my nephew & I are besties and I have an extra sweet-spot in my heart for him. My dream since a child was to have a baseball team of littles, I’m 43 and have come to terms after one failed marriage and now one amazing fiance, that God has other plans and we can not change things if He has something else in mind. We’ve spoken of adoption, financially unless you’re loaded it’s an impossible dream as is IVF or surrogacy. Fostering is a definite option but I’m selfish when it comes to this as I only want infants or 1-2 year olds since I never experienced these blessings. I keep praying that things will happen. But most importantly, I thank God I have my some amazing people to shower with my love. It’s helpful when I come across people such as yourself that have experienced or are experiencing the same heartaches as I am.

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Brandi Lytle August 27, 2019 - 12:16 pm

Thank you for sharing your story, Jen! I tell my nieces, nephews, and exchange daughter the same thing… I love them more than they’ll ever know…

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Jeanette Williams June 7, 2019 - 1:20 am

I love what you have written
I totally relate, I also can not have children.
I have jus recently gone thru a hysterectomy but have known a couple years that I can not have any because of fibroids that had took residence in my uterus so now I sit here and wonder why God refused me children but thank you for sharing

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Brandi Lytle June 7, 2019 - 11:20 am

I’m so sorry you are struggling, Jeanette. Thank you for sharing your truth. I do hope you find comfort and encouragement here…

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Daniela January 15, 2019 - 2:30 pm

And as far as I’ve heard – the parents feel the growing pains, too, when their teenage kids find them embarassing or annoying or… So I guess, it’s a difficult phase for all affected – mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, aunt, uncle and the children themselves… But having a good foundation of happy childhood memories should help all to get through it. Up till now, I still have a very good relationship with my teenage niece and nephew – and the advantage of not having to deal with the daily quarrels like doing homework, cleaning their rooms, too loud music, doing chores, switching off the smart phone now and then… 😉

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Brandi Lytle January 15, 2019 - 3:48 pm

Thank you for reminding me of the bright side of not having to deal with “the daily quarrels” and that we have built a solid foundation that will get us through these rocky times. You are right–the teenage years are difficult on everyone! This too shall pass… 😉

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Lori Korzen December 10, 2018 - 7:12 pm

Your blog hit me hard! Like you, my nieces and nephews became my surrogate children and my husband and I cherished every moment with them and I know they are grateful. However, as I sit here I am preparing for my niece’s wedding this Saturday. I am all too aware of the fact that there is no real “Aunt of the Bride” title, no “Aunt and Nephew” Dance. I love them like they are my own but I will be nothing more than any other guest on their special day. I am gutted.

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Brandi Lytle December 11, 2018 - 10:45 am

I am so sorry you are struggling, Lori. As my nieces and nephews get older, I think about special moments like weddings and often wonder what my role will be. At times, I feel that my place will diminish… When this happens, I try to remind myself that love does not diminish. And while there is no official “Aunt of the Bride” title, that is who I will be and so, I will embrace that role. I pray that you will find joy on your niece’s special day… Sending you loads and loads of hugs!

I also wrote a blog entitled, “The Power in Being a Childless Aunt.” If you’d like to read it, here’s the link – http://notsomommy.com/power-in-being-a-childless-aunt/

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Different Shores January 31, 2018 - 6:10 am

I have this worry too. I have only one niece and she is nearly adult now and I don’t want to be ‘just the aunt’. I know the bond is nothing like daughter-mother, and I also live in a different country. I wish I was nearer. I comfort myself with the idea that the aunt relationship can be like the mother one but with all the psychological baggage taken out….
If we keep in touch (and ignore any lack of contact on their part; they’re young I guess) and treat them like special people, I think they’ll really appreciate it as adults. I have an aunt that I was once close to who more or less disappeared from view when she got her five grandchildren, saying to me things like ‘You have your husband, you’re fine’. It’s been really, really hurtful, but I suppose I know that will never happen with me and my niece

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Brandi Lytle January 31, 2018 - 9:44 am

I’m so sorry that your aunt did not maintain the relationship. 🙁 You are right that we can make sure we never do that to our nieces and nephews.

And I really like the “with all the psychological baggage taken out!” 🙂

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Erin October 14, 2019 - 9:01 am

Late to the party… I have pcos and have struggled with trying to concieve for 7 years now with my husband. I’m at my wits end and am considering throwing in the towel. My little sister (unmarried) just had a beautiful baby boy. Not Gonna lie… I was very hurt. I feel like God had decided to give everything I ever wanted to my little sister even though I am married and felt like I was doing everything right. That was a horrible thought on my part and a learning process for me. I have a niece and nephew on my husbands side of the family and they pretty much dont like me or my husband (they are 8 and 12 I believe) and we just aren’t close. So now I do what I can to be close to my sisters baby. He’s only going on 3 months and his smile makes my whole world brighter. I’m still praying to have my own one day though and praying for forgiveness at being judgemental at my moment of weakness.

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Brandi Lytle October 14, 2019 - 11:07 am

First, I am so sorry for your infertility struggles. Despite the circumstances that brought you here, I am grateful that you are joining this conversation, trusting the Not So Mommy… community enough to share your story.

Please, do not be too hard on yourself about having human emotions when you found out your little sis was going to have a little. My response when I found out my little bro was having a kid before me… Well, I yelled, “No! It’s supposed to be MY turn!” To this day, I still wobble when I hear pregnancy announcements from friends and family. God understands.

I am glad that you are trying to develop a good relationship with your new nephew. My nieces and nephews truly helped as we battled infertility. And now, they are my kiddos as we navigate a childless life.

And if you do decide to “throw in the towel,” please know that life can be beautiful and joyful even when you don’t have a biological or adopted child. There is a vibrant childless community here, ready to love, support, and encourage you on this journey…

Hugs

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mindy January 14, 2018 - 8:31 pm

When you go to college – YES!!

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Judy Odum January 13, 2018 - 10:01 am

I feel this is their age and they will never forget the wonderful memories. As a grandmother I often feel the same. Right now I am not as important to them as I was just because they are growing and maturing, even though they will not mature until about 25. Sometimes I am lucky to get a hug at all, but in the scheme of things I know they will never forget the many years of taking them individually for a fun day for just them. I also know they will never forget the wonderful times with you and Dane they have had for many years and are still having. They will come back, they just have to get through these a little bit selfish teenage years. I am sure I was the same at that age. Remember they will never forget!

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Brandi Lytle January 13, 2018 - 11:51 am

Thank you, Judy! Your words made me both tear up and smile. I guess the teenage years cause growing pains for us all!

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Sherry January 10, 2018 - 4:54 pm

Do you remember me talking about your 2 teachers in high school that were unmarried and childless? I commented on how happy and fulfilled they were in their situation. Even easy back then I wanted you to know there are so many different paths. You’re nieces and nephew will remember what you Jane taught them and they will hold your love close to their hearts — even if they don’t show it right now. It’s always going to be there.

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Brandi Lytle January 10, 2018 - 5:01 pm

Thank you! I know they will. Sometimes, I just let doubt and fear creep in.

And yes, I think often of Profe & Mrs Bayouth. They were wonderful role models! 🙂

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