I have seen these lists everywhere: “25 Rules for Fathers of Sons” and “25 Rules for Mothers of Daughters.” I have even seen “Rules for Fathers of Daughters” and “Rules for Mothers of Sons. But there isn’t any list of rules for aunts of nieces, so I decided to make my own. Someone (not me) should write one for uncles of nieces, for grandmothers of granddaughters, and so on and so forth. There are limitless options for lists. Maybe sometime in the future (if I remember) I will write a list of rules for aunts of big nieces. And perhaps, someday, I will be able to write a list for aunts of nephews.
The children of your siblings can be a lot like your own, even if you are not a parent yourself. You get to love a child unconditionally. You get to be one of his or her protectors, a guardian angel of sorts here on earth. My niece, Aliza Fay, will be turning 3 on the 19th. I don’t know how that is possible, since it seems like yesterday, I was finding out, out of the blue, that I was an aunt. She took us by surprise, but it was a delightful surprise, and she’s the gift that keeps on giving. I love you, Liza Bear!
1. When you have an opportunity to spend time with her, take it. If she asks you, all the better. Soon, those “do you wanna color” and “do you want to go to the park” questions will fade, and give way to silence. Soon, you’ll have to be the one asking her to do stuff. Carpe diem.
2. Build a foundation right from the start. You want her to feel safe and happy when she’s with you. From this foundation, your relationship with her will grow, and when she comes running to give you leg hugs, it will be instantly gratifying.
3. Be present in her life. Now with Skype and everything else, this is that much easier to do. Attend everything of hers that you are invited to, birthday parties, dance recitals, class plays, etc. as much as you are able. If you can’t attend in person, ask her about them the next time you talk to her or watch the videos. ‘Cause you know there will be videos.
4. Squeeze her. Even when she is wiggling to get away, squeeze her. Nothing says she’s loved more than a good old fashioned bear hug. Tell her “I love you to the moon and back” often so that when you ask her if she knows how much she is loved, she replies without hesitation, “to the moon and back.” Give kisses. Physical affection is everything to a young child.
5. Watch cartoons with her, even if you don’t like cartoons. It is enough that you are with her and spending time with her. Whatever she wants to do, do it. Don’t say no. If it is not safe or wrong, find ways to make it safer or suggest something else to do.
6. Be present, even if the distance between you doesn’t allow you to be as present as often as you would like. Stay involved in her life. It matters to her, especially in the long run. If you show her that you can overcome anything, then she will have no problem believing that she can too. Be one of her biggest cheerleaders.
7. You are one of the people in her life who can encourage her imagination. Let her into your closet and let her play dress up in your clothes and shoes. Let her play with your jewelry, your makeup, and whatever else she finds. She’s a child for such a short time compared to the rest of her life, which will be spent as an adult.
8. If she asks you to do something and it’s within your abilities, do it. Just do it. And even if she doesn’t ask, play with her. No hesitation. Go down a slide. Bake cookies. Play with Lincoln Logs, even if after you have the beginnings of a log cabin built, she knocks it over. On purpose. Just to hear and see your mock anger. Because it makes her laugh. Let her cover you in stickers if she wants to.
9. Make up pet names for her and allow her to call you whatever she wants. And NEVER EVER say no to snuggle time. Sneak her kisses always, as much as she will let you.
10. Believe in her. As the number of people who make up her world grows, she will need this. Tell her you believe in her too. She will never outgrow her need for reminders of your love.
11. Teach her the magic of laughter. Make her laugh at you and make her laugh at herself. Don’t be afraid of getting messy. After all, it is memories you’re making. If you do it right, she will end up with a great sense of humor.
12. Have good relationships with both of her parents. If she sees you talking and having fun with her parents, then she’ll be that much more ready to trust you and spend one-on-one time with you.
13. Always tell her she’s beautiful. In this world full of picture-perfect and skinny-minny magazine models and peer pressure, she needs this. Maybe not now, but you can still build the foundation for this. The world will get to her sooner than you realize.
14. Re-watch all the Disney movies with her – or at least all the ones you can. Treat her like the princess she is and teach her that there can never be any limits to her imagination. Always tell her anything’s possible as long as she believes it is. That is the magic of Disney, after all.
15. Don’t make her promises you can’t keep. Always follow through, even if you doubt she remembers you saying you’ll do something with her. This, in turn, will teach her to do the same for others.
16. Encourage a love of reading. Read to her or just look at books with her. And when she pretends to be reading one of your books (without pictures), ask her what she thinks it says. Help her discover the pure magic and beauty of words on the page. Make up stories and tell them to her and encourage her to tell you stories too.
17. Don’t be afraid to spoil her. Give from the heart first and foremost. Remember, giving her your love and time has just as many rewards for you as it does her.
18. Encourage her to be vibrant. Help her parents instill a love of music in her. Dance and sing with her, no matter how silly it makes you feel. It will make her laugh and her laughter will make you feel like the funniest person alive. Be noisy with her.
19. Kids love getting mail, no matter how young they are. If you don’t see her as often as you like or even if you do, drop her a card or a letter in the mail from time to time. Send her little silly gifts. You can make someone feel loved even from a distance.
20. Let her know – through the feeling of safety that you’ve installed with your foundation with her – that she can always come to you with anything at all, no matter how big or small.
21. Along with her parents, you can teach her things. Teach her to love without judgment, to try in spite of past failures, and to fight for what she believes in. Teach her by example – practice what you preach.
22. Take care of her when she lets you/wants you to. When she gets older this will happen less and less, so enjoy it while you can. This means comforting her when she’s sad or rejoicing with her when she is happy.
23. Stick to her parents’ rules, no matter how much she begs or whines. And then distract her. Become a Master at Distraction. It pays big time. I am still learning to say no. It is so easy to give in to her, especially when she looks at me with those gorgeous blue eyes of hers.
24. Encourage her faith. Encourage her to believe in not not only herself but also in other people and in God too. Everything can be shaped into a lesson, especially when she is small and not able to brush you off as easily. Encourage gentleness. Encourage, encourage, encourage. The word cannot be stressed enough.
25. She has a beautiful smile. Tell her to use it often. Remain positive in her presence and she’ll learn to be positive as well. Always be kind. Always make her feel smart and important. Make sure she knows that mistakes are okay, and if she’s upset, always make her feel loved. Always.