Sorry for the lack of post last weekend. I was preparing for an out of town, weekend-long business meeting and it completely slipped my mind until I was in the car on Friday afternoon!
Since I know you are intelligent people, you likely gathered several things from the title of this post: (1) I have sisters; (2) they have/will have children; (3) I have asked them not to call me “Auntie” or encourage their children to do so; and (4) I have reasons for this that I believe in strongly enough to take the time to explain publicly.
My mother has made the assumption that I have made this request because I want to be the “cool” aunt. I haven’t told her that she’s wrong, and strictly speaking, she isn’t. I have made no secret to my family that I aim to be the “cool” aunt, particularly because I don’t really intend on having children of my own. There seems then to be the belief that my request for the kids to call me by my first name only is because I don’t want to “grow up” or whatever phrase is used to imply I want to be irresponsible. Since I think a true explanation of my motives might cause a bit of emotional harm among members of my family, I really have no intention of making this explanation to them. But a desire to be irresponsible with the children is actually the furthest reason from the truth.
I’m trying to become for them a safe adult. My sisters and parents would likely consider that statement a judgment on their parenting skills, which it isn’t meant to be. My extended family on either side isn’t really close; my mother has a brother whom I’ve only met once. I’m hoping to become for my nieces and nephew the type of adult that I wish I had in my life when I was growing up.
There are many minors who have come into my life over the past several years. Some I am related to, but most of them I’m not. I’ve hoped to have the ability to be a safe adult that these young people can turn to if they need help. Some have taken me up and have come to me when they’ve been unwelcome by adults in the house they live in.
When I was kicked out of my house as a teenager, I lived for several months with a friend’s family. It was far from an ideal situation, and I didn’t feel quite safe where I was staying. The only adults in my life that I felt even remotely comfortable confiding anything about my life in were the adults whom I called by first name. Which was essentially two or three youth leaders that I met through the church I was involved with. My aunts always seemed a little prim and the few times I addressed them by their first name only, I was (gently) rebuked and told that since we were not equals I was had to use the title “Aunt/Auntie” to show my respect.
That lack of any sort of power when I associated with the adults in my family is not just my family. It is an old fashioned bit of society which I personally feel serves no purpose. As I became older and closer to becoming an adult myself, that line began to blur. When was I allowed to call grown ups by their first name? If, as a society, we are going to do away with defined roles for children and adults, I also believe that we do a disservice to our children when we impose arbitrary authority over them. We collectively seem to be unable to define what makes an adult.
Anticipating the counterpoint that it is a sign of respect, I firmly believe that it is entirely possible to respect someone and still address them by first name. I am still an adult. I still have a more mature view of the world and a child is likely to perceive that I have a certain gravitas by virtue of my age (which I may or may not possess, but that’s slightly irrelevant). When I was in my early twenties, I slowly began switching gears and acknowledging myself to be an adult. As part of this process, I began addressing some of my friends’ parents by their first names. These were not new people to me, I had met them and called them “Mr.” and “Mrs.” for years. Not one of them rebuked me, and a few actually seemed to view the switch favourably. And I certainly don’t respect them any less. They have life experience that I don’t have. But sometimes the reverse can be true, and I have had people older than I seek out my thoughts about some things. I am no less worthy of respect because I would rather go by my first name than anyone.
I love my sisters’ kids and I hope to start now to cultivate a relationship of trust enough that if they are having trouble with their parents (and what kid doesn’t sometimes?) that they have a safe person to call who not only knows and loves them, but knows those parents and the specifics of our family drama. I can’t imagine another safe adult being more qualified to help dodge the minefield of my family’s brand of drama. So that when they need another perspective from another responsible adult, they have someone to call.