Discussion Post: Who Here Grew Up With Honorary Aunties in Your Life? And Their Children, Your Honorary Cousins?

I so enjoyed (and continue to enjoy as more comments come in) our post about friendships and what lasted and what didn’t. I want to do kind of a partner post about another sort of childhood relationship that I have found has lasted into adulthood much more strongly, that “my Mom’s best friend” relationship. Or, in Indian English, your Aunties.

My Mom’s best friend got married while I was in college, and I was all excited and trying to explain this relationship to my desi roommate. She’s my Mom’s best friend, but she also taught me how to drive, and her kids used to come over to our house after school every day, and she would take us sledding in the winter, and it’s not just like she’s “my Mom’s friend”. And my desi roommate said “oh, she’s your Auntie”. And yes! That is exactly what she is! Not my “aunt” in a “sibling of a parent” way, but my “auntie” in a “woman who helped raise me” way. And her children are my “cousins” in a “children of my auntie, and regard my mother as their auntie, and my Mom loves them like an auntie” kind of way.

Sunny Deol and Dimple Kapadia papped in London

(unrelated part of this story that I have to share, I was explaining to my college roommate about this marriage and how great it was, because my Auntie had this horrible divorce and then had been a single mother for years and years, and now she met this great guy and was getting married just as her kids left home. My roommates response “yeah, but at that age (45), it’s really just companionship, right?” Moral of this story: for an 18 year old college freshman, anyone over age 40 is incapable of romantic love)

Now, in adulthood, all my childhood friendships have drifted away but I still feel super close to my collection of “aunties”. It’s a very specific relationship. On the one hand, I have that strong reliable feeling of “well, they’re the grown ups, they will know what to do” about them. Like, if my car broke down I would call one of them because they are Grown Ups and will show up and know how to fix it. I also have that comfortable feeling of love, because they have known me since I was a baby and love me in that particular “I look at you and see a baby” sort of way. And finally, there is the ease of connection through my parents. I get reports on what is happening in their life, they get reports on what is happening in my life, neither of us needs to make any direct effort, it’s just natural. When my sister got married, they had a guest list of only 60 people and about half of them were those “Auntie” types. People she hadn’t seen in years, but who drove for hours to be there and who she really wanted at her wedding. And during the pandemic, my Mom spends hours on the phone with my “aunties” and gets detailed reports on their kids because she is worried about all of them, and passes on detailed reports about us because all my aunties are worried about us.

This can’t be unique to me, can it? In fact, I suspect it is universal only some cultures aren’t as good about acknowledging it. For instance, I have known people in the African American community who casually refer to “aunties” as in “my auntie who lives with me now since she broke her hip”, and they mean this definition of “auntie”, older woman who has known you your whole life. It’s only in WASPy culture that we have this awkward “woman who is my Mom’s best friend but also taught me to drive” kind of definition.

The “auntie” relationship is hard enough to define, but the “my auntie’s children” relationship is way WAY harder!!! I’ve landed on “honorary cousin” because it seems simplest. Again, this can’t be just me! We weren’t kids who would have been friends on our own necessarily, but we spent huge amounts of time together growing up and generally got along. And I sincerely want to know everything that is happening in their lives now in great detail. I also would feel comfortable if I were ever stranded in their city randomly calling one of them up and saying “Hey, it’s Margaret, your mother gave me your phone number and I need a place to stay”. Even though we were never really “friends” exactly and have never had an adult relationship.

Salman Khan to work with Farhan Akhtar? Here is the truth - bollywood -  Hindustan Times
Salman and Farhan Akhtar are like this. Two people with really nothing in common, but a shared childhood that makes them forever linked.

There’s one exception to this. One of my “honorary cousins” is about a year older than my sister (massive age difference when you are 3 and 4, like they were when they met). She also was a very different kind of person from my sister her whole childhood. Extremely nice and pleasant and all of that, but not interested in school, started dating young, and so on. While my sister was all about school and had no interest in boys. And then when they were both about 24, they ended up in the same city again. She was now married and going to college, my sister was in grad school, and they ended up becoming close friends! In an odd sort of “we have known each other as long as we can remember, but now suddenly we are building a new connection” kind of way. And now my sister is an “auntie” for her boys, and she is an “auntie” for my nephew. Isn’t that nice? And kind of logical I guess. Our Mom’s became friends as adults, so it makes sense that their daughters would turn into similar people in adulthood even if they were different as children.

Anyway, I’m curious, do you all have “aunties” in your life like this? And/or “cousins”? How do you explain the relationship to people when it comes up? Do you use “aunties” or do you have another title for it?

Oh, and does anyone have “uncles”? In that same “parent generation man who has known me since I was a child” definition? I have a few, but not nearly as many as I have “aunties”.

19 thoughts on “Discussion Post: Who Here Grew Up With Honorary Aunties in Your Life? And Their Children, Your Honorary Cousins?

  1. I grew up in an Arab/Italian family with Umi, Papa, 5 brothers and various blood relatives. But the actual family, I guess Americans would call it “extended family” was HUGE! Never used first names; everybody was Uncle This, Aunty That, and Cousins This and That. My husband was Jamaican and had the same experience. Our parties were legendary, spilling down both sides of the block.

    Liked by 1 person

    • With your massive families of aunties and uncles, did anyone pay attention to whether an “uncle” was your Dad’s cousin, or your Dad’s best friend from elementary school? Or was it all equal?

      On Wed, Dec 16, 2020 at 3:33 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Mmmm… There was some of, “I went to med school with your Uncle Antonio”, kind of stuff. But that was mostly with the Italians. Arab side was a bit more formal. You HAD to call them Amh and Akh as I recall altho Aunt and Uncle was okay too, and if you didn’t know where they fit, you didn’t ask. As for the Jamaicans, the lady who sold you oranges was Auntie. Your taxi driver was Uncle, in addition to blood relatives. And you know what, now that I remember, there was no “cousin” stuff. Gil’s friends when he was a kid and when he was grown were Bro and Sistah.

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    • Would the “auntie” and “uncles” also act like aunts and uncles? Like, if you couldn’t pay for the orange, would she give it to you because she had known you for years and she was your “auntie”?

      On Wed, Dec 16, 2020 at 4:10 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I didn’t have such Aunties and Uncles in the US but my husband has many such Uncles and Aunties. For example, my father-in-law’s best friend is our Uncle. Uncle and FIL knew each other since they were in their late teens. FIL introduced the Uncle to his wife. Uncle’s family have lived in England since the 80s, but my husband’s family (and sometimes just my husband and my sister-in-law) would often visit their family and vice versa. If my FIL went to England, and his friend was not around, he would still make it a point to hang out with his children and their significant others. We all (including all the kids and significant others) celebrated my MIL’s milestone birthday together just last year. They all came to our wedding. Similarly, my MIL’s best friend, who she has known since she was in college is my husband’s honorary god parent and when we are in Chicago, she spends most holiday dinners with us.

    Another set of Uncles and Aunties are the ones we have because the families at one point lived close to my husband’s house growing up. The kids grew up together and while they are not necessarily friends, they always inquire about each other and my husband and I are close to the parents because my in-laws are still close to the parents. So, we make it a point to stay in touch with the parents when we can. A couple years ago, for example, when we went to CA for a wine tasting, we spent a whole day with one Uncle and Aunt and they immediately asked if we wanted to spend the night at their house and treated us like we were their own children.

    I actually have a huge extended family in India who all live in Mumbai and are all up in each others’ bidness (yes I meant to spell it that way). So even though I didn’t grow up with Uncles and Aunties here, marrying my husband gave me plenty of that, which has been awesome!

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    • One other thing to add. As I was typing this I realized that with all these Uncles and Aunties, while the kids are not necessarily close to each other (and I think that is just partially based on physical distance), the kids are close to the other Uncle and Aunties, which is interesting. For example, my husband and I are more likely to reach out to the other Uncles and Aunties when we are in town than the children and I think the other children might do the same. It’s more like the children just come with the package and we have fun when we hang out, but we are closer to their parents. Hmmm.

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      • Yes! Same for me!!!!

        I care about all my aunties and enjoy spending time with them and vice versa, but the kids or sort of extra. Might just say something about how powerful the bond of adult to child is versus child to child? If someone is an adult in your life when you are really little, then you will always feel safe and happy with them and they will always care about you.

        On Wed, Dec 16, 2020 at 5:21 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • It’s amazing that your FIL and his friend managed to keep that connection going even with an ocean between!!!! I have a hard time keeping friendships up when folks move to a new neighborhood in Chicago.

      It sounds like your husband grew up surrounded by loving adults, which is so nice. And what a wonderful thing to marry into for you!

      On Wed, Dec 16, 2020 at 5:15 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. My best friend would be a cousin with that description, BUT it gets complicated. My parents joined a new parent group at church, and four families in that group became friends and started celebrating holidays together, Christmas Eve, Catholic Seder (around EAster) – and often vacations. We only stopped celebrating Christmas Eve together in 2014, I ruined it with my youngest son, he was just born, it was too risky. I was 38. The oldest children of this group, could almost care less about each other. The middle four (my crew, all the same school year, just as the oldest) are friends. In elementary school we would see each other every now and then. In high school we all went to the same school, and only me and my best friend were close, and in college we dispersed, but we all think of each other as friends, even though one of them I only talk to once a year or so.The youngest three, are not all in the same year, and are friendly, but most likely think of each other as cousins more than friends. Now, within this group, my mom has a very close friend, a good friend, and a woman who she doesn’t actually like but puts up with. And my best friend’s mother, is the woman she puts up with.They (our mothers) both have this idea that people should be a certain way and their ideas don’t match. And in fact my mother gets annoyed that my best friend doesn’t fit her idea, and in fact I think I don’t fit her idea, but she makes exceptions for me. All of these women and men are my Aunties and Uncles, more so than neighbors who also saw me grow up.

    As for being an auntie, well pre-Covid I managed a bookstore that was a third place for the community, and am attached to a great many children who never came into my house. Then I worked in a preschool and then watched children after school. I have three non-biological daughters from two different families, and more nieces and nephews than I have fingers. A couple years ago one of my children ran a stop sign on his bike, I got three calls about it. I love that.

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    • Oh my, that is complicated! Despite the difficulties in the adult relationships, are all the aunties and uncles equally committed to the kids? That is, even if your mother judges your best friend, does she still care about her and is in her corner for life?

      And I love the stop sign story! Yes, that is exactly what I am thinking of, having extra people around watching out for you when you are a kid. And having that safe feeling of them being around you your whole life.

      One thing I notice from your story of being an “auntie”, isn’t it amazing how the heart always finds room? I’m assuming that you had that with your boys, went from being totally in love with your oldest to somehow finding the space to love your next son the same amount and then the third one all over again. And now there are all these other children that you can keep adding on and it never ends. I have that with my nephew now, I think “how can I possibly be as fascinated and committed to another child as I am to this one?” But I am sure if my sister has another child, magically I will be! It’s like the Grinch, your heart grows three sizes and never quite fills up.

      On Wed, Dec 16, 2020 at 5:28 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. Close friends of my parents were always ‘Uncle …’ and ‘Aunty…’ but we never thought of their children as cousins. And I remember when I was very young (2 – 3ish) the next door neighbour was an Aunty too. We moved overseas when I was 5 and the new next door neighbours were Mr & Mrs but the family up the road, whose kids we played with, were Aunty & Uncle. Yet their next door neighbours, whose children we sometimes played with, were Mr & Mrs – I thought Mrs was a bit scary even though she was always nice to me. There were a few other families that lived in other suburbs that were Uncles and Aunties. We lived in navy houses so all the new overseas aunties & uncles were related to Dad’s work in the naval dockyard.

    My hubby thought it was odd that we called friends ‘aunty/uncle’.

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    • The “auntie” and “uncle” people, did you feel different with them? That is, if your Mom wasn’t home when you came home from school (say), would you have felt comfortable running over to an Auntie house and staying there in a different way than with a “Mrs.” house?

      On Wed, Dec 16, 2020 at 7:05 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. There are families in Germany who tell their kids to “say thank you to the nice auntie” towards basically any adult they meet. That was never our style. But we did grow up with my parents’ old gang in the background. With their very best friends, we even celebrated Christmas. After they ran out of blood siblings, my parents made them my youngest sister’s godparents – and vice versa for their daughter. We spent summers with the kids visiting each other, and at those times, we would jokingly call either mother “Mama (first name)”. Their kids are much closer to us in age than our real cousins, so yes, they kind of took on that role. I have definitely referred to them as “honorary cousins” before.

    For the past few years it has become a definite hassle to try and be home for Christmas. And my sisters both now have in-laws to visit, too. So instead, the best chance to get the whole family together has become my parents’ annual boule cup – with all of their old gang. It always feels like a family reunion, and I love seeing all of them. The gender ratio is about equal, but, well, it’s more the “aunties” who remember how I tried to fit a building block into the slot for the TV remote as a toddler.

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    • Exactly! Having “aunties” around who look at you and see a baby and tell you baby stories is so special. One of my “cousins” just sent my parents his holiday card and they studied it closely and agreed that his son looks exactly like he did at that age. How many people in the world can do that? Look at your baby and say “oh, he looks just like you did!” That’s really special.

      On Thu, Dec 17, 2020 at 2:16 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  7. Only in terms of Godmother/father kinds who were part of our lives along with their children to an extent, but not so close as I would personally think of them as cousins. Though I have a lot of cousins and uncles, they are spread all over the world now, all with their own lives. And being the oldest of the younger cousin lot I am a bit stuck in the middle since I don’t kinda fit into either group in a sense.

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    • Do the godmother/father types take an interest in your life? Like, is it a formal duty or does it feel like they really care?

      On Thu, Dec 17, 2020 at 4:53 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Yes, in a sense, but not in a large way in my case. More as a formal duty, but with a mix of caring, but not the kind where I would confide in them easily or just phone or text without a reason like a birthday. They are more my parent’s closest friends, and their children are there, but there have never been any close personal conversations with them even though I’ve known some all my life.

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