Memoirs of an Aunt

By Fern Horst

If I’d known how much fun grandchildren are, I would have had them first!” I recently heard a Christian broadcaster say. Yes, that would be nice, but it doesn’t work that way, I thought. But then I realized that it is indeed possible to have that kind of a relationship with a child without being a parent first, and I’ve been privileged to experience it with not just one child, but with eleven very special children!

The broadcaster was, of course, referring to the relationship a grandparent can have with a child that they couldn’t with their own children – one in which they can relate closely and enjoy all the delightful antics of a child, but without the responsibility of raising the child. A good grandparent/grandchild relationship is a fun one. While leaving the upbringing in the hands of the child’s capable parents, a grandparent can sit back and enjoy all the wonders of a child’s development and discovery and interact closely without having to discipline and train from day to day. I can certainly see why grandparents relish this stage of their lives.

I am neither a mother nor a grandmother, and yet I enjoy a similar relationship to my eleven nieces and nephews. As I’ve enjoyed the addition of each one, I’ve become aware of other single aunts and uncles (as well as childless couples), who enjoy a similar close relationship with their siblings’ children. One doesn’t need to have nieces and nephews to enjoy relating to children, but it does offer a natural opportunity to foster such a relationship.

Not long ago my thirteen-year-old nephew was sitting next to me at the table during a family get-together. He told me, “Fern, I’m glad you haven’t gotten married and had children, because if you had, we wouldn’t get to go out with you for our birthdays and things like that.”

He was referring to what has now become a much-anticipated annual event for each of my nieces and nephews. When my oldest niece turned three, I toted a set of toy dishes all wrapped up in pretty paper to her birthday party. One by one, she opened one set of dishes after another. It just so happened (or was it providential?) that my gift was the last one to open. Realizing that she already had more dishes than a three-year-old needed, I mentioned to her mother what I’d gotten her and we agreed that we’d just quietly remove my gift while she was distracted and I’d buy her something else.

A few days later I took her with me to shop for her present. On the way home from the store, we stopped at McDonald’s for an ice cream cone. Little did I know that a tradition was being born. When we returned to her house her older brother began talking about when I would take him out for his birthday. Now I take each one out to the restaurant of their choice, and then shopping for their present. Planning where to go is part of the fun, and having a set amount to spend puts a limit on the gift while giving them freedom to choose within that amount. As they get older, I also see them learning to choose wisely, based not just on what they want, but on whether the item is worth the amount on the price tag.

Although my oldest nephew is able to see the freedom I have as a childless aunt to do these sorts of things with them, my four-year-old niece was not quite so insightful. She informed me as we ate out together for her birthday that when she grows up she wants to be both a mother and an aunt, so she can take out her nieces and nephews for their birthdays. But, she wondered, who would take care of her children while she took out the birthday child? I grinned to myself. She hadn’t yet grasped the full picture her older cousin had – that having your own children leaves little time and energy to spend with other children.

When they were younger, sleepovers with bedtime tea parties around my coffee table created special memories. I happened upon a nice set of china cups and small plates at an estate auction for just a few dollars. The children helped me set a pretty tea table without me worrying about expensive dishes being broken. Surprisingly, though, not one was broken over the years. As we prepared for the tea party, they helped to choose which of my tea pots to use and set the table with the cups, plates, snack, pitcher of milk (to cool down the tea), and lemon drops (to make it sweet). After one tea party, my then four-year-old nephew told me, “That’s the most delicious tea party I ever had!”

I could tell you of other fun times together – taking three little girls on the busy Washington DC metro train; trips to the Smithsonian with my older nephews; posing together with all of them for pictures for my Christmas cards as Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds, and angels; going camping together; the list of fun times together could go on and on.

My auntie memoirs sound like a lot of fun, and they are! But I trust they’re more than that. While the weight of the responsibility to raise them goes to their parents, I feel my own sense of responsibility as one who is close to them to influence their impressionistic minds and hearts with all that I can while I have the opportunity. I am so thankful that my siblings and their spouses are raising them to serve the Lord, and my desire is to supplement that training and serve as a role model.

I was both flattered and sobered when my niece, after her mother had answered a rather difficult question she’d had, told her mother she was going to ask me about that, too. It made me realize the role I often play in their lives, sometimes without realizing it. Her mother wisely understood that children will often go elsewhere for affirmation about what their parents teach them. I just need to be on my toes when they ask me questions, and stay close to their parents so that I can be an asset to their training, not a hindrance.

Even though my influence and role in their lives is an important one, the bottom line is that their parents are responsible for them, not me. I get to have fun with them and send them home for the difficult task of day-to-day training and discipline. I get to rock them during the day and go home and sleep through the night, while their parents deal with midnight feedings.

I have no doubt I would have enjoyed the blessings of being a parent had that been the Lord’s plan for my life. But I’ve been tremendously blessed by what He has given me, and the special role I can play in my nieces’ and nephews’ lives. Whether a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, each has it’s advantages and disadvantages. I wouldn’t want to declare that one is better than the other. But I do plan to take full advantage of the special role God has given to me – that of being an aunt to eleven very special children!

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The Requirements & Rewards of Foster Parenting

By Evelia Santiago-Gome

A very rewarding option for single men and women is to adopt or become a foster parent. Take it from a single mom who raised two boys on her own. They are now both grown and are both born again Christians. Raising my two boys has been, so far, the most rewarding experience in my life, other than meeting and serving my Lord Jesus Christ.

There are thousands of children around the world waiting to be adopted. Thousands more are waiting for a decent foster home. As an Adoption Social Worker in the state of New York, I know there is an incredible shortage of decent foster/adoptive homes for these children.

If you should decide to be a foster parent instead of adopt, think of the opportunity to introduce these children to the unconditional love of our Savior Jesus Christ. If you have done your job properly, even if these children return to a less than perfect home, they will know someone loves them unconditionally and they may even lead their parents to Christ. For single women, there is a program in some states where they can foster a pregnant teenager and then help her raise her baby. For single men, how about being a foster father for a teenage boy who may never have met a decent Christian man?

Requirements to become a foster parent vary from state to state. It’s always best to check with your local foster care agency, but these are some basic general requirements:

  • Be at least 21 years old.
  • Have a bed and personal area in which a foster child can keep his or her belongings.
  • Your home meets local fire, safety, and sanitation standards.
  • Be physically and emotionally capable to care for children.
  • No alcohol or drug abuse problems.
  • You must pass a criminal background check.
  • No record of child abuse or neglect.
  • An income providing for yourself, independent from the foster care reimbursement income.

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Roommates: A Blessing, Sometimes in Disguise

By Hohna Cass

“Ha any se my low andals?” My muffled voice called from the back of the closet.

Emerging from the tangle of dresses and blouses, I shoved my hair away from my face and bellowed, “Has anybody seen my yellow sandals? The new ones?”

Two distant voices called back, “No!” — “I haven’t!”

I glanced at the clock and my frustration mounted. I was my usual five minutes late, and heading toward ten. Hastily, I shoved black sandals on my feet.

Three minutes later I pushed open the front door and headed across the lawn. A familiar blue car pulled into the drive, and one of my roommates slid out from behind the wheel.

“Hey!”

“Hey yourself! Where are you going?”

“Dinner! With Tracy and some friends!”

“Have fun!”

As I pulled away from the house, I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw my roommate opening the front door. Her feet looked happy and bright in my new yellow sandals.

Living with three other women is…an experience, and not one I expected to extend much beyond my college days. Nevertheless, one hot August, nearly five years ago, we moved into our first home together—a townhouse. It was a relief to live in a place where we could share an occasional meal and split the expenses. And maybe we knew, or maybe we didn’t, that lying ahead of us was the gigantic task of melding four individuals into one household. Either way, it was out there, a challenge just waiting to be met.

Adjusting to each other was frustrating and sometimes painful. At times, our differences in personality became glaring points of conflict, and we argued as our household boundaries took shape. We argued about the kitchen, we grumbled about the bathroom, and we strongly disagreed over the living room. Inevitably, we hurt each others feelings as we learned how to communicate by trial and error.

And yet, proximity and shared experiences drew us to each other, and we formed a bond in spite of our struggles. At night we debriefed about the day’s work. On a slow Saturday morning, we ate waffles, drank coffee, and talked about the future. And on Sunday night, we bemoaned a weekend so quickly passed.

Friends suggest we will be much more prepared for marriage after all we’ve been through. Not being an expert on that subject, I feel safer saying we are simply well practiced in the art of compromise. Imagine decorating one smallish home with four female opinions. Though the end result probably defies any true categorization, I like to call it…eclectic.

With a few years under our belts, we have fallen into a routine with only occasional flair-ups. Singles who live without roommates marvel at our ability to live together in relative peace. They ask how we get chores done and when we ever get a moment to ourselves. Their questions are valid. After all, when you find yourself mowing the lawn for what feels like the tenth time in a row, or lying awake at one a.m. listening to the loud laughter of roommates and their friends, you start wondering the same things.

I admit I daydream from time to time about a clean kitchen sink, organized cupboards, unlimited access to the remote control, and inviting friends over on the spur of the moment. If I lived alone, I could have all these things and more. The problem is that when I add up those personal conveniences, they do not equal the value of good roommates. A well-organized apartment doesn’t lend much of a listening ear, and a clean kitchen sink offers little in the way of companionship.

Months and years of being together have revealed the blessings of a shared household. Thinking back, I remember uncontrollable fits of laughter, intense discussions, tears of joy and of pain, and comfortable silences over good books and warm drinks. I see that we are not the same people we were when we moved in together, and that who we are today is greatly influenced by the friendship grown during our time as roommates.

Most importantly, I recognize that when you live with people who share your faith in Christ, and take their own faith seriously, you have access to support and accountability that can be difficult for single adults to find. Roommates who are seeking God will unconsciously bless you through their daily lifestyle choices.

For example, one of my roommates decided to clear time out of her schedule, just so she could be available to her friends in need. I consider myself somewhat stingy with my daily 24 hour allotment, and her decision made me stop and question how much time I allow for others in my schedule. Another roommate has made a regular habit of showing me forgiveness in the small things, inspiring me to extend grace to those in my debt.

Of course, my roommates are real people who make mistakes, offend, and stumble in their walk with Christ. But they are sincere and regular in turning back to God. Living with them makes me the beneficiary of God’s love at work in their lives.

I know that it is possible to find Christian friendship and accountability outside the four walls of a home. And I can understand that hodgepodge—I mean, eclectic—decoration, an overall lack of personal space, and compromise, compromise, compromise do not sound like the best way to spend the “freedom years” of your singleness. Even so, if you are up to the challenge, the right roommates can touch your life forever. From the inside looking out, I’d say the hard work is worth the blessing.

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A Single Mom Reflects on Her Heavenly Father’s Love

By Pat Bernshausen

O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters. Or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever. — Psalm 131

“I’m a single parent.” I remember shuddering the first time those words tumbled clumsily out of my mouth. As difficult as it was to say the words, it has been even more difficult to fill the role.

Yet, I am thankful that the circumstances in which I have struggled for the last several years have forced me to seek the Lord in a new way; perhaps the same way a drowning man grasps for a lifeline! I am indeed grateful for the lessons in faith that we have learned as a family. Single parent households often operate below the poverty threshold and mine is no exception.

I remember in the early days of 1998 when groceries were in short supply, a Christian friend stopped by one day with a car full of blessings. Her gift included some pork chops, and considering the fact that we had not eaten much meat in the last couple of weeks, it goes without saying that my children were quite excited and they celebrated with what is now affectionately known in our home as the “pork chop dance.” I praise God that He gave me the grace to respond correctly when asked where the meat had come from. I told my children that the pork chops had come from God. They had seen my friend come and go and asked if, in fact, the pork chops hadn’t come from her; so I continued, “God knew we needed them and He whispered in Miss Kathleen’s ear. Because she loves Him too, she was listening and brought us what we needed.”

Yes, being a single parent is a daunting responsibility and it definitely breeds humility. Pride is a thing of the past as I have had to ask for physical, financial, and spiritual support more times than I can count in the last four and a half years. I know I lack the strength and the wisdom to do what is required of me daily, so I have no alternative but to turn to my Father for help. In focusing daily on the Lord and reflecting on my relationship with my four diverse, yet wonderful children, I am learning so much about my relationship with my Heavenly Father.

Children are certainly a blessing, but let’s face it, there are times when their behavior is less than exemplary. Even when I am disgusted by their actions, my love for them is never in question. On these occasions I am reminded of the father’s response to his wayward son in Luke 15. When the father saw the son at a distance, he “felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” One can only imagine that as the father drew closer and closer he had to have known by the son’s haggard appearance that his worst fears had been realized. Could his steps have quickened as he recognized how much his mercy and forgiveness would be needed? It is a great comfort to know that no matter how much our thoughts, our words, our actions disappoint our Heavenly Father, He is always prepared to wrap His arms around us and welcome us home when we come into His presence with a repentant heart.

When my children were younger I developed a habit of spontaneously yelling out, “Mommy needs cuddles!” or “Cuddle time!” and within seconds I would be buried beneath a pile of little bodies all fighting for the privilege of being closest to my neck. Things do change. Now that my youngest son is six and a half years old, I find myself chasing them down in search of cuddles. I’ve found that the ones with the shortest legs are the easiest to catch since they can’t run as fast! As I hold my little prisoners close, with arms and legs flailing around me, I can’t help but wonder why things have changed so much.

Our Lord Jesus offers the same lament in Matthew 23:37. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” Obviously, it grieves the heart of God when we push Him away or disregard His call. He is so ready to lavish His love on us if we are only willing to be loved.

My mind goes back to the time when my “babies” were younger and loved to be in my lap. A young child that has been weaned doesn’t need to be there against his mother’s breast, but he is there because he wants to be there. As the child is lulled to rest by his mother’s heartbeat and breathing he is reassured by this closeness to the one whom he knows provides and protects him and fills his world with peace and security. This young child is a child of few words. He is not there to pour out all that he is feeling, to ask for all the things that he thinks he needs, or to pout about what he hasn’t been given. He is there to share something that goes beyond words. In this simple act of resting in the arms of the one who loves him so much he is expressing a deep love and trust that words could never adequately express.

As holidays approach which celebrate motherhood and fatherhood, instead of being reminded of the loss of our parents or the lack of children of our own, our attention should turn, instead, to our Heavenly Father who wants so desperately to draw us up into His arms and hold us gently as we rest and are comforted by the sweet sound of His heartbeat.

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