Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Not the same

Klara recently wrote about encountering a neighbour at the mall and, during their conversation, realizing they shared the bond of involuntary childlessness. The woman told Klara that the two little girls she had seen her with were not her granddaughters but, in fact, her husband's niece's children, who used to be frequent visitors but seldom come since they entered their teenage years -- unless a shopping trip financed by their great-uncle & aunt is involved. (Klara adds that she prefers to share experiences with her nieces and nephews, instead of material things.)

Infertile Phoenix commented on Klara's post:
[This] is exactly why I get so annoyed and frustrated when people suggest to infertile people to just get involved with other people's children. No, it doesn't work that way. I have had enough loss in my life. I don't need to get emotionally invested in someone else's kid when I am not going to get to remain in their life. It's too painful to love, spoil, and cultivate a relationship with a child when, as the child grows up, the child and her parents forget about you or stop making time for you. I have learned this from experience.
(IP does go on to say she still enjoys a special relationship with her niece & nephew.)

This made me think about my/our relationship with our two nephews (dh's brother's two boys).  I've written before about my experiences & emotions as an aunt, and how much we adore these two. When we moved here two years ago, being closer to the nephews (particularly as we age) was a big reason. And for sure, we've seen a whole lot more of them than we would have if we'd remained in our old community, on the other side of the city.

But I wish we saw more of them than we do right now. (How much would be enough? I'm not sure.)  Right now, we drop by BIL & SIL's house once a week or so, or they come here for coffee, or to pick us up & we go out together -- mostly on weekends but occasionally after dinner on a weeknight. Older Nephew & his wife (& the dog ;) ) live in their basement, and Younger Nephew is still living at home (technically, anyway...!), so we might get to see one or both of them when we go over there.  But the boys have only ever been to our condo a handful of times, always with one or both of their parents.

Maybe things would have been different if we'd lived closer when they were younger, and had the chance to share more experiences with them. I wrote once about how I would have done things differently, had I known they were the closest thing I'd ever experience to having kids of my own.

But they're not little boys anymore, or even teenagers. They're young adults now (25 & 29), with their own friends and lives and fiancees/wives and jobs -- and, perhaps soon, their own families to worry about.  They're absorbed in their own lives right now, as young adults generally are. ;)  I think about my own younger days -- I love my aunts & uncles and am grateful for their support. I stayed with both my aunts in the city near where I grew up, many, many times over the years, with my parents and by myself. When I had medical appointments with specialists at city hospitals, or an early flight to catch from the airport, or a school science fair or debating competition to attend -- their doors were always open.  But how often did I go to visit them when I was attending university in that same city, or even just call them up? Not very often at all, I am sorry to say. (Ah, youth...) Younger Nephew already spends most of his free time at his fiancee's parents' house (where they'll be living in a basement apartment after the wedding) -- even his own parents complain that they never see him anymore, and the wedding hasn't even happened yet. ;)  What chance do we stand of seeing him more often, as a mere aunt & uncle, right?? 

I know the nephews love us, and they're both grateful for the support dh & I have given them through the years. They know we're here for them, always. And I don't doubt that if we really needed their help, now or in the future, they would be here in a flash.

(I would hate for them to read this post, sometime in the future, and feel guilty, that they did something wrong.  If anything, I feel it's my fault for not making more of a conscious effort to build those relationships when they were younger, when I had the opportunity. It's just the way things have worked out, and the way things are, as kids grow up and start to lead their their own lives. Aunts & uncles can be/are beloved -- but not necessarily a priority.)

But Infertile Phoenix is right. It is a special thing to be an aunt, &/or to have other cherished children in your life...  But other people's children, no matter how close you are or how special the relationship, are simply not a substitute for having your own children, as some parents might suggest.

It's. Just. Not. The. Same.


  1. I absolutely agree with your main point- the relationship between adult child and parent is different from the relationships that adult child would have with other relatives. But I think it's also worth acknowledging that many parents see much less of their children as their children grow up and enter adulthood. Some of what you see as a change in your relationship with your nephews is just the natural result of them growing up and their parents will be experiencing it as well (possibly less than they might given the adult children are still living at home). I spent five years living overseas and another decade after that living a longish drive away from either parent. It's only been this year where my mother has moved close enough to allow us to see her without needing to stay for several days. Lots of other people are in a similar position. I feel like maybe your sense of loss is compounded by the fact that you are so close to BIL and SIL and their kids still live at home. With a different family dynamic, where both kids were much further away, it might feel different. It's maybe harder to feel like you don't see them if they're overseas and no one sees them, iykwim

    1. You're right that parents too don't get to see as much of their kids once they become adults & move out/away. I generally see my parents twice a year, albeit for a solid 1-2 weeks at a time. (Dh points out that we actually spend more face to face time with my parents than his dad, who lives a whole lot closer, and he's right. Of course, stepMIL is also a factor in that...!) But when the kids come home to visit, who's going to be their priority to see & spend their limited time with -- mom & dad, siblings & friends, or auntie & uncle, right? (Which reminds me, I really do need to make a point of visiting my aunt the next time I am home... guilt, guilt...). They love us, they think of us fondly, but we're further down the pecking order. Which is as you might expect, and as it should be, I suppose -- but you still wish it could be different.

  2. I think it's a phase in young adults life.

    When I visit my parents, I have to make an effort to actually talk with my younger brother (early twenties, uni and friends are top prios). He could just not come out of his room and greet me. My other brother can find more time to visit his fiancee's family long-ish drive away than his own parents. I do hope to be closer with them some day, maybe if they will have children. I was the same for several years. I was really surprised when my mom said I'm visiting her so rarely, when I felt it's often. It was when I was in over my head in my very new and very exciting relationship with my now husband.

    I hope to be a great auntie one day, just like you and Kara. And I wow to pay attention to actually talk with children and know them as persons instead of just my godchildren/nieces/nephews.

  3. I so agree with this. It isn't the same. Something that I grieve along with not having children of my own is the fact that I also don't get to be an aunt to young children -- Bryce is an only child, and my sister married an older man and she is a loving stepmother to two young men who are 19 and 25. We are sort of a baby desert, which sometimes I wonder was possibly a reason why we weren't chosen through adoption -- not a lot of babies for a baby to hang out with in the family. A dearth of young cousins. My best friend has three kids that we enjoy a relationship with, but they live 4.5 hours away and so that's not the same, and my stepfather's brother has children who are teenagers, but they live in Canada and are also hours away, but we hope to cultivate a relationship with them. But it WON'T be the same as having our own children, and it will be a way to hang out with young people but not have quite the same effect. I guess in some ways it's good because there isn't the expectation of being taken care of later in life, or having a sense of obligation to us, so we can enjoy the relationship as is and not have disappointments, but it is annoying when people are like, "Well, make sure you have relationships with other people's children!" as if that could replace what we lost. Hmmm. Thinking a lot on this post.

  4. I used to go and visit my (unmarried, childless) aunts when I got the chance. They were great fun and always a source of interesting conversation. I didn't see my dad's youngest sister as much - I think she was surprised when I dropped by to visit on one trip home. But then I tried to make it a regular occurrence. I don't do that with my mom's sisters - usually if I see them, it's an entire family gathering. However, they've always lived in the next state, whereas my dad's sisters always lived close by. However, my older sisters were generally surprised the learn that I would go and visit my aunts, or that I invited them to lunch at my condo, or suggested they come and see me at work. But I genuinely enjoyed their company.

    Now that my niece and nephews are adults, we don't do much together. The kids aren't very talkative with me. But they will sometimes tag along when we're going on an outing, surprising me that they'd be at all interested. And I still corner them to discuss world events or their lives or whatever. But, like my mom's sisters...I haven't lived close to them for a long time, or I'd be up in their business every chance I got. :) They're not my kids, but we can certainly be buddies.

    So, no - it's not substitute children, who are unfailingly connected to you. But close relationships with adult nieces and nephews are very possible, if you have the right combination of personalities and interests.

  5. Are we twins? Like you, I didn't know when my first nieces were born that I wouldn't become a parent. (They're all in their 30s now.) It's why I am so lucky to have Charlie, and love her so much. She's my last chance! And I often grieve the fact that none of my nieces or nephews live in the same city, only one in the same island (Charlie - eight hours drive away), and in total only two in the same country (plus a great-nephew).

    I had a really good, close, if long-distance, relationship with another niece. But she's since grown up (about the same age as your nephews), lives of course in another country, and she's a terrible correspondent, so I just don't hear from her or see her often. I miss her. But I don't want to be the nagging aunt either.

  6. I find it interesting that my comment resonated with you. When I wrote it I was thinking about a dear friend. I remember her calling me to tell me she was pregnant. I was so excited. I went to her baby shower. I visited her newborn. I was at her first birthday party. In fact, I was at every birthday party. (Until I wasn't.) I loved playing with her and shopping for her. I always bought her books and a "fun" toy present for every birthday and Christmas. Then one year I wasn't invited to the party. I blogged about it before and I remember that you commented on it, but it really made me sad. I had already purchased and wrapped her presents. And then I saw pictures of her birthday party on social media. Every adult there was a mother. My friend was part of a big moms group now and she forgot to invite me. That was the beginning. The invites and our visits became less and less. Most recently I visited in January after not seeing them for a year, bringing another book as a present. It was a nice visit but I haven't heard from her since. I know it's not malicious. She is just busy with her life. But I won't be able to emotionally invest in anyone else's children ever again.

    Even with my own sisters. My niece and nephew are grown now, but even when they were younger I was never invited on their outings. Because I didn't have kids. Same thing with my husband's nieces. Never invited by the moms to join them. But if that is how it is going to be, I'm glad I learned now.

    My cousin that I grew up with now has kids, but I'm not cultivating a relationship with them. It sounds cold but I am just protecting myself. These young boys have their parents, their grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends... Their dad's cousin who lives five hours away is not going to be someone on their radar screen. For me, it's not healthy to get involved with other people's kids. I just end up hurt.