It Takes a Village – Q&A with Savvy Auntie

Savvy Auntie, Melanie Notkin

It is hard to move ourselves up on our Holiday To Do lists if we try to do everything ourselves.  A recent situation caused me to seek out America’s Savvy Auntie, Melanie Notkin for help…

Q:  The other day one of my children’s favorite aunties offered to help me do some of the Christmas shopping.  This was a huge relief and I realized that as much as I preach the message that “moms must ask for help” I miss opportunities for help in some of the most obvious places!In your opinion, how can a mom approach the Savvy Aunties (and uncles) in her life to ask for help during the holidays?

I understand. Moms are made to feel like they need to be SuperMom every single day. If they can’t pull off everything they are expected to pull off with perfection, they’re made to feel like they’re not good enough. What pressure!

Look, they don’t say “it takes a village” for nothing. It’s only recently that moms (and dads!) are made to feel like they are out on their own. But ironically, parents need help more than ever as often they are both working and trying to keep up with the cost of living.

The best thing to do is to ask for help. And asking a sister, a close friend, a cousin, etc., can help take the weight off hopefully without judgment. But judgment can work both ways. If the aunt says she is unable to help, don’t turn around and wonder aloud what she could be so busy with since she doesn’t have kids of her own or call her selfish for not offering to help in the first place.

Whether the aunt is childless by choice, by biology, by circumstance, she’s got the same 24 hours a day as everyone else, and the choice to do with those hours what she needs or wants to do. Unlike parenthood, there is no legal obligation to ‘aunt.’ So let’s agree never to judge each other but to support each other the best we can.

I also advise to help her best understand what will help you the most. She may think going shopping for the Christmas presents is taking a load off. But a new mom may be dying to get out of the house and go to the mall! If what she really wants is for Auntie to take the baby to the park while she gets some good old retail therapy in, then she needs to be clear.

Q:  Are their activities that are more appropriate for Savvy Aunties than others (i.e. babysitting, taking children to a holiday movie, toy shopping etc)

We’re all in this American Family Village together, so I’m not sure one activity is best-suited for an aunt over an uncle, a grandparent or a parent. Certainly parents have ‘dibbs’ on the firsts, e.g. first major league baseball game, first concert, first bra! No one should assume it’s ok to do these things with a child without checking with mom or dad first.

Otherwise, whatever an aunt does with a child is often what I call “QualAuntie Time,” meaning uninterrupted quality time designed just for play or activity. A Savvy Auntie knows that just giving a bath to a baby niece or nephew helps her or him learn about science (the boat sinks if you fill it with water!); baking with her niece teaches her math (We need two and a half cups of flour!); or reading to a little nephew teaches him language (Look at the big, yellow sun!) Because of this gift of time, I prefer not to use the term “babysitting” as aunts just simply “aunt.” Yes, it’s now a verb.

Q:  What is the best way to thank a Savvy Auntie that has saved a mom’s sanity, especially if that mom has financial constraints?

Naturally I want to say to give her a copy of my book SavvyAuntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids (HarperCollins). The advice in the book will make Auntie feel appreciated and what she learns from it will help Mom out tremendously too!

But honestly, just a call to say: “Thank you. I appreciate what you do for me and for my kids. I realize you don’t have to do any of it since my children are not your responsibility. You, and everything you do for us, is appreciated.” Now that’s a gift no one can refuse.

Q:  What should we NOT do or say to our Savvy Aunties? 

Don’t take advantage of them. Don’t assume they have nothing going in their lives. Don’t say things like “I can’t wait for you to have children so you can know the love I feel.” They feel the love. And they always will.

Thanks, Melanie!  Such great information.  I know how much the Savvy Auntie’s in my children’s lives love them.  I’m going to make sure I tell them!



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