Nieces and nephews, as a category, are one of God’s very best ideas, and definitely one of my personal favorites. Their relationships with aunts and uncles are some of life’s best. They are close enough to us that we feel joy in their achievements, but not so close that we panic when they make mistakes. If a nephew is failing a class halfway through the semester, I am sympathetic but not worried — most likely he’ll pull it together, and even if not, I know his entire educational future is not in jeopardy. But when it’s my child, different story. I quickly start visualizing a life of missed educational opportunities leading to an inability to find work that supports financial independence.
It works the other way, too. My children often find reason to be annoyed with me, but my nieces and nephews have just enough distance to be a lot more tolerant of my interests and quirks. My nieces love it when I notice and comment on their fashion choices, while it makes my daughter self conscious. My constant urging of everyone to wear sunscreen has become an affectionate joke between me and two of my nieces/nephews, but it induces eye rolling in my own children. (And why isn’t there a single word for nieces/nephews, like “spouse” is for “husband/wife” or “children” for “sons/daughters”?)
I once read the best help for a struggling youth is to send him to live with an aunt and/or uncle for the summer. I can understand the reasoning — the young person will still have guidance, but most likely without so much pressure. It certainly helped Temple Grandin (and if you haven’t seen the HBO movie about her – you should).
We all enjoy our own children’s strengths and abilities, and having nieces and nephews adds that many more areas of strength to be enjoyed within the family. I have nieces with musical talents that my own children haven’t chosen to pursue, and nephews who are accountants and enjoy talking finances with my husband, their uncle — not a topic of interest to any of our children, so far. We have a pharmacist niece who we can email with medication questions, though I try not to take advantage of her — it’s enough to irritate my own children, I don’t want to expand the circle of annoyance. My sister, who has four boys, gets her girl fixes from her nieces provided by another sister and me. Most interesting to me at this point in time, some of my nieces and nephews are producing a new generation of cute babies to enjoy, thus filling the gap while I wait for my own children to get around to that.
Nieces and nephews have also added a nice mix of religions and ethnic backgrounds to our family, saving us from the potential boredom of homogeneity. I’m grateful that my siblings and my husband’s have given birth to, adopted, or acquired through marriage, children that I like so well.