In 2019, I moved 1200 miles away from my family leaving behind my brothers, sister-in-laws, and their growing families. It was (and still is) important to me to SHOW up in my nieces/nephews lives and with the distance between us now, I had to get creative. After an amazing trip back home (just celebrated THREE birthdays with the Ginn Girl Gang) – I thought I’d share the ways I still uphold my “Best Aunt Ever” title without the physical proximity to my loved ones.
Quality over Quantity
Since I’m not at EVERYTHING, it’s important that I make the most out of the time that I do have. Here are a few things that help me cultivate quality time:
Limit phone usage. Emails, Instagram, and text messages can wait. Besides taking a few photos or videos of our time together, I put the phone away. I like to focus 100% of my attention on the little one I’m sharing space with. As human beings, we all desire to feel SEEN and HEARD – there is no minimum age to this innate need.
Be present. This is one of the best gifts you can give (and it pairs nicely with the limited phone usage). Engage in conversation or an activity that allows you to interact on a meaningful level. Talk about their day while sharing a snack or play a fun game of I Spy. If you go to the park or a playground – ACTUALLY PLAY with them instead of sitting on a park bench and just watching (or ahem…playing on your phone).
Participate in their daily routines (and give mom + dad a break!) Step in and participate in bath time, feedings, school pick-ups or drop-off, playtime, bedtime stories, or any other daily activity. For kids, it makes the mundane feel extra special when they get to share a part of their regular day with you!
Gift Giving (but not what you think)
When each of my nieces and nephew were born, I set them up with their own personal 529 plans (tax-advantage investment account that is designed to help pay for education – learn more here) Instead of adding to their toy pile each holiday and birthday, I make a contribution to their fund instead. What I hope to give them (at their high school graduation) is a well funded account that will carry them into the next phase of their life and set them up for creating a big, bold, boundless life. It’s been really fun watching their accounts grow and it’s rewarding to be a part of their early financial success. To make it fun, I found this “gift certificate” on Etsy. I fill out the pdf and print it out to add to their card (or sometimes a book) so they have something to open!
Make time for IRL
I like to make a plan to be there for all the important moments. With my nieces and nephew still so little, it mostly revolves around birthdays and holidays, but as they get older I know it will also include dance recitals, sporting events, school plays, and other fun extracurriculars. COMMUNICATE with their parents to see what is coming up (I like to plan three-to-six months ahead of time) and see what you can make work. Pick the one thing you don’t want to miss out on and make it a priority. It can seem like a lot of work up front figuring out flight schedules, time off, the funds to do so, etc. But never have I regretted squeezing in a trip to love on my littles.
And When All Else Fails…
Video chat! FaceTime has been a Godsend to us. It allows me to pop in on the special and not-so-special moments to connect and interact. From family gatherings to random trips to Target, it allows me to “be there” even when I can’t. If done right, you can use this amazing technology to stay connected and to continue to foster and grow relationships with the little ones in your life!
Are you an aunt or uncle that lives far way from your littles? I’d love to know what YOU do to stay connected and remain a big presence in their lives. Please let me know in the comments below!
ALSO, because I get asked this question a lot: My nieces and nephew call me Tía Leah. Besides the nice ring to it, (Tía is “aunt” in Spanish) I think it is a lovely homage to my Mexican Step Mother and her culture 🙂