Embracing your role as Aunt - whether to a biological niece or nephew or to a close friend's child - is one way to get involved in the life of a child before you have children of your own. Of course, if and when you do have your own children, you can still continue your Awesome Auntie role, and your children will likely have close cousins or "Mini-Aunties" (depending on their age) to grow up with.
Let Go of Jealousy
Letting go of jealousy needs to come first, as it may be the number one obstacle the fertility challenged must overcome. Who doesn't feel jealousy when friends and family members conceive easily, especially when it seems everyone around you is either pregnant or caring for a newborn? If you feel a heavy weight on your chest when your sister calls and says she's expecting again, you're not alone. It's normal.
Feeling jealous, or even heartbroken, when you just learn of a new pregnancy is fine. Just don't hold onto it, and don't let it get in the way of your relationship with your sister, friend, or their new child. Take a few deep breaths, maybe a week worth of them, and then let the pain go. If you don't, you won't be able to fully embrace your Auntie role.
Tell Your Sister or Friend You Want to Be Involved
As soon as possible, even during the pregnancy, let your sister or friend know how much you hope to be involved in your new niece or nephew's life. How involved, and how soon, will depend on your comfort level and your sister or friend's, of course. Your sister may love to have someone to hold her hand during uncomfortable pregnancy exams, but if you find the experience emotionally painful, give yourself some more time. (See the jealousy problem above.) It's also possible your sister may feel the pregnancy is very private and not want your involvement, and of course you should respect that wish.
New moms hear from friends and family all the time that they'd love to help, but once the baby comes, no one calls, or the mom feels bad taking the help or awkward asking for it. If you want to be involved, be sure to call and show up. Bring them dinner, offer to come over and care for the baby while Mom takes a nap. Ask for pictures of the baby to show off to your friends.
Be clear that you're taking your role of Aunt seriously, and you don't want your sister or friend to feel they are being burden by asking for help or by accepting your help. Let them know allowing you time with their baby is actually a great blessing. If they know about your fertility challenges, go ahead and tell them this is how you're getting your baby love.
Remember Birthdays and Be There for Special Events
When you're an Awesome Auntie, you get to check out toy stores and buy birthday and holiday presents for your niece or nephew. Unlike Mom and Dad, however, if you don't have kids of your own, going out to buy the gifts will be easier for you. You'll likely have more time to browse different stores and really put some heart into the presents you buy. You may also be more willing to purchase "messy" toys that kids love but parents may be hesitant to offer their kids, like paints and stamp sets. If Mom and Dad object to the messy toys, you can volunteer to keep the toys at your place for when your niece or nephew comes over to play.
But birthdays and holidays aren't the only time important for Awesome Aunties. If your niece or nephew has a sports game or holiday concert at school, they may love for their Awesome Aunt or Uncle to be in the audience for them. If they're involved in scouts, you may be able to volunteer in their troop and help out with camping and activities.
Spend Special Time Together
Birthdays, holidays, and soccer matches are all good times to spend with your niece or nephew, but don't forget about spending time together "just because." You can take then out for ice cream on a Sunday afternoon while their parents get some alone time at home. You can bring them to the zoo, to the movies, or to a paint-your-own-ceramics shop.
If you live far from your niece or nephew, don't let the miles get in the way. You can call on the phone or even Skype together. Time in person is best, but if you can't be there physically, at least try to be there in spirit.
Children feel loved when people a) give them gifts, and b) spend time with them. Your time is a precious gift, maybe even more precious than the latest video game.
Be Someone They Can Confide In
Kids need someone they can share their problems with - like the boy they have a crush on who won't give them the time of day - and sharing that sort of thing with their parents may feel awkward. Some kids may share these sorts of things with their parents, but most kids would rather not. You can be a trusted adult who they feel comfortable talking to.
Hopefully, whatever things they choose to confide in with you will be normal childhood issues, but in the event that they have a serious secret to share - the kind that must be shared with their parents or the authorities - you'll be there to hear it and help them through a difficult time.
More on coping with friends and family when trying to get pregnant:
- 10 Things to Stop Doing if You Want to Support Someone with Infertility (For your friends and family.)
- Coping with Unwanted Advice
- Should you Tell Your Friends and Family About Your Infertility?
- How to Deal With Baby Showers
- "When Are You Going to Have Kids?"
- Coping with Family Dinners
- 10 Ways to Cope When Trying to Conceive Overwhelms You