In Praise Of ‘Aunting’ And Extended Families

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Rev. Dianne Reistroffer has a compelling essay about how Christian churches emphasize the nuclear family in ways that Scripture does not. She begins by talking about some of her favorite memories from family reunions. I just reunited with dozens of my cousins and second cousins and I share the feeling. A large extended family is an incredible blessing:

Reunions remind me of the beauty of extended kinship networks and their impact on families and communities. Sadly, we in the church speak little of the roles and practices of aunts, uncles, cousins, and other kin folk. The sway of the nuclear family (husband, wife, children) in our preaching, teaching, and programming seems peculiar in light of the biblical witness to extended families. Indeed, my favorite family reunion story is the account of the missing twelve-year-old Jesus, assumed to be with other members of the extended family as they all journeyed from their hometowns to Jerusalem for the annual celebration of Passover (Luke 2:39-52). In the traveling company of relatives and friends, Mary and Joseph believed that Jesus would be safe and protected (v. 44). As someone who relishes her role as an aunt, I find myself in this Gospel story, in this single verse.

Well there’s a lesson for helicopter parents, eh? But it’s so true that our understanding of family has gotten much more narrow in America. I wonder why that is. In any case, Reistroffer points to a book written by two professors of communication titled “Aunting: Cultural Practices that Sustain Family and Community Life.” It’s a study of just that — aunts and their role in contemporary families. I have to say that prior to having my own children, my vocation of aunt was one of my favorite. Well, it’s still one of my favorites. My siblings have created some of the most amazing children you will ever meet and I absolutely adore them. The oldest is now 12 and the youngest turns 7 next week and they are all utterly delightful and crazy. One of the best days of my life was the day my sister delivered her oldest, and not just because they both survived near-death experiences that day.

The role that aunts play in our lives must be commended, validated and celebrated.

Aunts and uncles care for nieces and nephews, provide them mentoring and modeling, offer them distance and perspective as trusted confidantes, and are prepared to step in to help them and their parents during times of stress and crisis. Interestingly, the authors’ seven-year research about aunts uncovered the phenomenon of “constructed kin” among immigrant and other communities when biological kin are not available.

I’m glad for my aunts and the aunts to my children. Perhaps today’s a good day to mention how much you appreciate the aunts in your life!

(h/t to Peter Smith)