The importance of Uncles and Aunts

Photo: Hanging with Uncle Q, Washington, DC, 2018

My uncle taught me how to salsa and dance the Latin hustle, took me to my first rock concert, taught me how to drive stick though I turned his hair gray and ground his gears, provided a shoulder for heartbreak tears when my parents divorced, listened to to my romantic travails, watched my favorite television shows with me, did not rat me out when he caught me in childish lies (but certainly let me know that it wasn’t OK), was warm and affectionate even when I pounced on him in the morning because he’s not a morning person, taught me how to take real photographs on a Nikon and use a dark room to develop them, pushed me on the highest swing on the playground at my insistence till I tumbled out and bloodied my nose, patiently taught me how to ski even though I repeatedly fell down, played tennis with me without criticizing my game, shelled summer peas with me on a Karachi rooftop, taught me how to go deep sea fishing and use bait properly (I had terrible sea sickness and threw up on him the first time), kayaked with me peacefully on beautiful rivers, let me read out loud to him as a child from a myriad of comic books and sci-fi novels which probably bored him out of his mind, and much more.

The clinical psychology research on aunts/uncles indicates that they can provide a buffer against mental health problems and promote attachment during times of trouble or absence of other caregivers/adults.

In addition:
1. Aunts and Uncles can serve as that “cool” adult.
As a kid, you sometimes saw your parents as the opposition. You would try to get around doing things without them knowing about it. They set plenty of rules and limitations for you. And that’s where you always felt like you could just turn to your aunt and uncle. They served as that adult figure you can actually just be cool and let loose with but feel protected.

2. They offer an alternative viewpoint.
Your parents’ sibling can, at times, be more accepting and nonjudgmental. Since they’re not usually the ones who discipline you, you might feel more comfortable talking to them than your parents. Especially if it’s about something you did that you’re embarrassed or ashamed of. Whether it’s grades, relationships, trouble at school, substance use, or a mental health issue, your aunt or uncle will probably listen without the judgmental attitude, raised eyebrows, or reflexive reactions your mom or dad might demonstrate when you bring up sensitive subjects. This allows you to open up to them in ways you may not have always considered with parents.

3. They can act as a surrogate parent figure.
Anything from a summertime visit or school break, to aunts and uncles who live in the same town, they can provide a safe place to go for a change of pace.

4. They offer valuable wisdom and knowledge.
Aunts and uncles are always going to be able to offer some really valuable wisdom and knowledge. They can expose you to things that your parents may not know about. Aunts and uncles can show you a different knowledge base or adventures.

5. They lower the pressure in tense situations.
If there is something that you want to express to an adult figure but you are uncomfortable with talking to your parents about it, you can often go to aunts and uncles instead.

6. They are patient.
An aunt and uncle are going to spend time with you in ways that your parents wouldn’t. Because they don’t see you every single day, they are able to tolerate your interests and conversation in a different way.

7. They observe you with fresh eyes.
Your parents are around you a lot and that means they can become somewhat desensitized to your habits, interests, and moods. However, your aunts and uncles may notice you in a different way.

8. They genuinely enjoy spending time with nieces and nephews.
Aunts and uncles may not consider spending time with kids as a “duty”. This lack of pressure can make the relationship lighter and fun even when providing a learning experience.

Also see Why Grandmothers Rock.

 

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