Why aunts are the ultimate wingwomen of modern parenting

"My sister, like scores of aunts the world over, is essential to the bringing up of my child."

"My sister, like scores of aunts the world over, is essential to the bringing up of my child." Photo: Stocksy

The toddler is on the floor. She is simultaneously wearing pants, a skirt and a dress. This is great, but what she really needs to wear is a coat. I approach her, coat in one hand, with a gentle firmness of which the author's of the parenting books I haven't read might be proud.

Naturally, the screaming continues.

"No! Aunty Mo do it."

Which is a tricky request to handle, because Aunty Mo isn't here. 'Here' is London and Aunty Mo is in Canberra. So, Aunty Mo is not able to put your coat on. And no, Aunty Mo can't take you to day care either. Yes, I'm sure Aunty Mo would love to see the fruits of your successful potty use, but she's sleeping and no, I'm sorry, we can't wake her up.


But how I wish we could. Aunty Mo, like scores of aunts the world over, is – despite the continents between us – essential to the bringing up of my child. Essential, but invisible.

As we approach Mother's Day, it can be difficult to see through the chintz and chrysanthemums and realise that, actually, we can, do and should share the responsibility for raising our kids with not just our partners but our other significant people. Aunts, for one. The levels of responsibility, of course, differ. Think of it as a wildly uneven job share.

Aunty Mo was on the other side of the world when the kid was born, but she soon moved. Within days of arriving in London she had mastered the origami-esque art of bamboo baby wrap wearing, and my own trapezius muscle rejoiced.

But it wasn't just practicalities, she came right into the farcical trenches of parenthood. It was Aunty Mo who discovered "pantalones!" is the world's most hilarious word and with whom I would bellow it in baritone repeatedly to the cackling infant, oblivious to the norms of public behaviour we used to respect. And for weeks, conventional conversation between us ceased. Instead we communicated solely in the tunes of 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star' or 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight', walking the local streets in (mostly failed) attempts to quiet an insomniac infant. It was tough making the couplets rhyme on the fly, but we improved with time.

Such is the role of the aunt, the ultimate wingwoman of modern parenting. She might not have advice, but at the very least, she's got our backs.

This week we honour mothers. And I'm not sacrificing my unalienable right to the usual procession of chocolate, flowers and macaroni collage cards, but I can't help look over my (here's hoping!) new personalised Mum Mug and wonder, what about dear old Aunty Mo? Where's her Aunt's Day?

Pity the aunt! No cards. No flammable fluffy slippers for her. Aunts may as well be the spinsters of old, boiling children in cauldrons in gingerbread houses for all we do to celebrate them. Australia's own Mother's Day tradition began in 1923 when Janet Heyden was struck by the 'lonely and forgotten' mothers of Sydney's Newington State Hospital, and corralled the local community into donating gifts to cheer them up.

Our aunts unlikely need cheering up. They may well be enjoying the many pleasures of their PANK (Professional Aunt No Kids) lives. Or they could be doing a double-act as a mother to their own progeny. But while not forgotten either, aunts are not exactly remembered – on a national scale, at least. There has been an Auntie's Day in the US since 2009, however one suspects it has the same societal impact as 2016 being the United Nations International Year of Pulses. Still, it's the thought that counts, right?

I'm not an aunt. I don't know what love binds an aunt to their niece or nephew. I do know that, after perfecting her baby wearing technique, Aunty Mo quickly and quietly figured out how, if hit by a car while wearing my baby, she would deflect the infant from the brunt of impact. Which is surely nothing less than true, total love (albeit a love ignorant of the laws of physics).

We are living in a post-nuclear age. As the majority of Australian families with dependent children now have both partners in work, there has never been a greater need for extended family in child rearing. Day care is one thing, but having a variety of adults who commit to love and look after you for their entire lives is quite another.

The kid's Aunty Mo is her blood relative. My own aunts are not, they have nevertheless been there from when my memories begin. And, still, as an adult, I seek them out, confide in them. Because a good aunt can be a quasi-third parent. Frankly, two parents really aren't enough. We all need a spare.

So perhaps the mothers among us might, today, in an act of sisterly solidarity, acknowledge our actual sisters. On this Mother's Day, aunts of Australia, we thank you.