Franciscan Spirit Blog

The Blessings of Being an Uncle

Uncle and niece embracing

My sister, Lauren, was home from the hospital a week when I visited her and her new baby. I sat down and she placed Rory in my arms for the first time. I was puzzled. I kept waiting for something to happen.

“What do I do?” I asked my sister.
“Just enjoy it. Don’t drop her.”
“Got it.”

I looked down at this cherubic little person—oval face, big eyes, and unblemished skin. She cooed and gurgled as she looked up at me. I know I was smiling. And I understood in that moment what my sister meant. Just enjoy this moment. Boy, did I.

And yet I knew I would never want to replicate this in my own life. By the time I hit my mid-20s, in fact, I knew I wasn’t built to raise children. Even though I enjoyed my friends’ kids in my young adult life, something in me knew that fatherhood was not in the cards. Certainly, I can appreciate those who birth and raise children. Godspeed, but that life isn’t for me.

Lauren had a second daughter, Cameron, a couple of years later. By then I was more comfortable with babies and toddlers—and even more convinced that parenthood is a vocation that I should avoid.

A Different Path

In a society that puts the family on a somewhat unreachable pedestal, do I feel badly about that? Not a bit. Case in point: As I write these words, my house is quiet, save the sounds of Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” playing in the background. I do not hear the laughter, cries, or laments of children. Later today, I may turn on Netflix, not some mind-numbing children’s sing-along. And this evening, I will meet a friend for dinner and drinks. I love that I can control my environment and what I do. That’s important to me.

I’m not completely selfish. I still play an important part in the lives of my nieces, though the contributions of aunts and uncles within the family unit largely go unsung in our Church and in our culture. As my nieces were growing up, I relished the moments I spent with them: playing sports outside, playing games inside, our shopping days at Target (I bought them something every time), birthdays, and holidays. I love those memories. I also loved that I could get in my car and drive back to my quiet home.

They are women now—19 and 17—and our relationship has evolved, as all relationships do over time.

Our conversations, which used to be silly and fun, have turned more serious as we discuss real-life issues facing teens: social media dangers, peer pressure, sex, drugs, and alcohol. Although they have loving and supportive parents and grandparents, we aunts and uncles help in our own way to fill in the gaps. And all families have gaps.

But my relationship with my nieces is not one-sided. I am a better person for knowing them and I feel they’ve taught me more than I’ve taught them. From Rory I’ve seen firsthand what kindness and compassion can do in a very cold world. From Cam, I marvel at her inner fortitude and fiery resolve. And although I did not have my own kids, I know that I played a small role in who they have become as young women.

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9 thoughts on “The Blessings of Being an Uncle”

  1. Having a loving, fun and compassionate uncle is important. I was blessed to have three wonderful uncles. They are different in many ways but their love and caring will always be remembered. Thank you for sharing. Kelly

  2. I’m an Aunt without children of my own. I love them as my own. Most of them love me. I didn’t get to know their children but they are just as wonderful . I know my one nieces children. Now there’s great great nieces. Yes I learned a lot from them.

  3. You sound like a wonderful uncle and you should be proud. I know growing up, I was very close to a couple of my single aunts. So thankful they were in my life. My own sons have wonderful aunts and uncles that do not have children of their own. We each have a unique role to fulfill.

    1. I believe that they all play important roles….and one should not be discounted over another.

  4. Lord Jesus Christ, through the gift of your Holy Spirit, you fill us with an indomitable spirit of praise and joy which no earthly trial can subdue. Fill us with your resurrection joy and help us to live a life of praise and thanksgiving for your glory. May we witness to those around us the joy of the Gospel and the reality of your great victory over sin and death. Amen.

  5. Arlene B. Muller

    I definitely relate to the sentiments of the author of this blog.
    I never had a strong desire to be a mother, but I always wanted to be an aunt. I had a special close relationship with my Aunt Marion, my Mom’s sister, & her two children–my cousins Patti & Dennis.

    An aunt does not have the 24/7 responsibility or the disciplinary authority of a mother, but an aunt can interpret & reinforce the guidance of the parents in conversation and can take her nieces shopping & buy little gifts, give her niece a manicure, etc.

    As an only child I could not technically become a biological aunt, but the children of my two cousins–now grown–were taught to call me “Aunt Arlene”. I am godmother to my cousin Patti & her husband Art’s daughter, Alicia, who is now married with 2 teenage daughters of their own. She is busy now & I don’t hear from her as often as I’d like, but our relationship in the LORD is something special.

    I chose to live the celibate single vocation. Marriage & parenthood with its 24/7 responsibility, work, sacrifice, etc. have never been for me. For about 20 years with some interruptions I have been working with preschool children with special needs as a speech/language therapist. I love my freedom to pursue my work and especially my various Church ministries (lector, EM, singer in the choir, professed Secular Franciscan–currently serving as Formation Director). I invest in the lives of children in a different way–the way that is suited to the calling the LORD has given me & the way that gives me joy.

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