I cherish my role as Auntie Linda. I love palling around with my niece and five nephews, listening to them perform on their instruments and catching up on their schooling, new babies and jobs.
I wear the same hat with other young people who don’t share my DNA. Most are grown friends of my children. Others are former neighbors or family friends. Some I had in my Cub Scout den. One even asked me to officiate at her wedding this summer.
Kids’ parents are the most influential adults in their lives. But the impact of other, positive men and women is equally profound. It doesn’t matter if they are members of the extended biological family or simply adults who have touched their lives. Their time, interest and caring make a huge difference to the child involved.
Loving adults can be of assistance in a variety of ways. They may spend time when parents are unavailable or need a break. Since harried moms and dads often have other offspring or busy jobs, an extra pair of hands provides welcome assistance. Aunts and uncles may not have children of their own or have sons and daughters who are grown, so they have more energy and resources to spread around.
Caring adults impart their expertise and knowledge. My father’s cousin, whom I called Aunt Mary Ellen, taught me how to swim in her backyard pool when I was five. Later on she shared her passion for genealogy and entrusted me with numerous family treasures. Her keen intelligence and fascinating stories held me spellbound when I visited her home.
They can share experiences. Camping, baking or selling produce at the local farmer’s market all strengthen emotional ties and create memories that last for decades.
They help youngsters weather emotional trauma. Research found that aunts and uncles can give emotional support and stability for the children of divorcing family members.
Loving adults can even play an important role during times of intense parent-child conflict. When moms and dads are locked in winless battles with their teens, a kind-but-neutral family member may offer a sanctuary where youngsters are safe and cared for but temporarily out of the house. Parents can calm down and regain their composure. Kids may listen to advice from someone other than their folks.
In extreme cases, adolescents have moved into the relatives’ homes for a period of time until the drama at home has subsided or until they’re ready to move out on their own.
Of course, it’s impossible to know for sure how you’ve impacted the young people whose paths you’ve crossed. Sometimes you don’t know it’s even happened until you meet up with them years later and they say, “You changed the course of my life.” One thing’s certain: each and every one has had a positive effect on me.
Tips for connecting with younger kin
Want to be a constructive influence on the young people around you? Try these ideas:
Be available. Spend time with your nieces and nephews. Attend their ball games or concerts if they’re close by. Make plans to see them if they live in a different zip code. Equally important are telephone calls, birthday cards anything that says “I’m thinking about you.”
Friend them on Facebook. Social networking is a great way to get connected to younger kin folk. You’ll be up on their latest thoughts and dramas. You’ll also gain points for being hip.
Avoid criticism. You may not like a nephew’s soul patch or earring. But keep your mouth shut. Your goal is to build a strong relationship, not come across as judgmental.
Join in their lives. Do something together. Get a pedicure with your niece. Try your nephew’s stand-up paddle board. You’ll show you care while fitting yourself into their worlds.
Listen to their concerns. Their problems may not be front-page news. Yours weren’t at that age, either. Hear what bothers them to gain more insight into their minds.
Be a good role model. Make wise choices. Be kind and respectful to people you meet. Behave responsibly with both your family and career. Others may be watching and opting to follow your same path.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com