From the day he was born and I first glimpsed my nephew’s face, I was smitten. My heart’s capacity to love stretched and deepened instantly, and I knew that I would do anything for my little guy. “Auntie Lala” became the role I treasure most in life.
He’s almost three years old now – sleeping in a “big boy bed,” excited to don an elephant costume for Halloween, and recently announced his desire to author a book titled “The Wonderful World of Concrete.” Toddlers and their developing personalities, interests, ideas and antics, are hilarious.
I’m convinced that aunt life (or uncle life) is the best life. We have the unique opportunity to invest in our nieces and nephews and simply enjoy our time together…and then send them home to their parents at the end of the day. It’s a win-win.
My desire is to build a strong foundation with my nephew now so that he knows I will always love him and be available to him. Following are the ways I’m intentionally developing this important relationship. Hopefully it will give you a few ideas as a current or future aunt or uncle.
Speak words of affirmation.
Our words matter. They can be life-giving when the encouragement offered is genuine and timely. Take every opportunity to affirm your niece or nephew’s intrinsic value, character growth and success. Ask questions. Listen for cues that point you to their needs. Let them know that they are important to you – in person, written in a card, on social media (when appropriate) or in a text.
- I love you.
- I’m thinking of you today. How can I pray for you?
- You took a risk and ___. I’m so proud of you.
- You make me smile.
- I’m listening. Tell me more.
- I noticed when you ____. That was so kind.
- How can I help you?
- You’re so smart and you studied hard. Way to go!
- I’m so glad you’re my nephew (or niece). You are a gift from God.
These messages will remind them that you care and that you’re paying attention to their lives. To be most effective, learn what type of encouragement specifically ministers to their heart and commit to expressing it. It will make your niece’s or nephew’s day. Give it a try and watch them light up!
Show up in their world.
My nephew loves music, so I’ve attended two of his Kindermusik lessons and listened to him conduct a stuffed animal orchestra from atop a box in the living room. His mini drum set and plastic instruments are among his favorite toys. I’m not the most musically inclined, but he can count on me to be a willing participant whenever he’s up for a concert.
What are your nieces and nephews into right now? How can you show up? Do you make yourself available to them as you are able?
If they live in the same town or nearby, try to arrange your schedule to attend ballgames, school plays or activities. Watch with enthusiasm, and put away your cell phone unless you’re snapping a quick photo of them in action. It will mean so much to them when they scan the audience and spot you in the crowd, cheering them on.
If you live far away from your family, surprise them during the holiday season. If you go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, concoct with your siblings a plan to create a special surprise moment for their kids. Perhaps arrive after their bedtime so they awaken to you making pancakes for breakfast in the kitchen.
When you can’t be present, ask a family member to record special milestones and events so you can watch later, or join via FaceTime or Skype.
Be creative in gift-giving.
It’s important for me to be generous toward my nephew. At the same time, I want to be mindful not to overdo it with an excess of gifts, instilling the idea that having more is better. I’ve opted to focus more on experiences. We’ve gone swimming together at a local pool. I took him to McDonald’s for a birthday Happy Meal last year. He sends me watercolor paintings and craft projects in the mail, and I send him a postcard from every vacation spot I visit.
Another idea is to do a service project together to be a gift in someone else’s life. Your bond will strengthen when you work side by side and make a difference together.
An idea I have in mind, and hope to implement soon, is to open a savings account for my nephew. My plan is to set up an automatic transfer of $10 from every paycheck I receive, at least initially. Perhaps one day I can match his own savings, dollar for dollar, to help him buy his first car or contribute toward his first semester of college.
Pray for them.
Last, but perhaps most importantly, I want to spiritually influence my nephew, who is delightfully made in God’s image and unconditionally loved by Him. Aside from bedtime prayers and Bibles stories, I can set an example of Christian faith by extending grace, trusting God in all circumstances, admitting when I’m wrong and asking for forgiveness, and pointing out God’s handiwork in creation. When I’m quick to praise God for the little things as well as the big blessings, it reminds my nephew that every good and perfect gift comes from our Father in heaven.
Let’s pray earnestly for our nieces and nephews — ultimately that they would draw near to God and pull up a seat at His table as sons and daughters. We can boldly petition for them to walk in a manner worthy of the calling upon their lives. It’s time to sow prayers for this generation to grow into humble, servant-hearted young men and women, mighty champions of justice, friends to all, and people who exude the fruit of the Spirit.
It is an honor and privilege to be given a nephew, and I want to steward this role well. My overall aim — and I hope it is yours, too — is to be a good aunt (or uncle) who is present in both the mundane and the milestones, generously extending attention, love and care, and building a lasting legacy in the lives of these precious little ones.
Are you an aunt or uncle? How do you nurture your relationship with your nieces and nephews? Let’s share our tips and learn from one another.