It is a view about to be revived by bestselling author and psychologist Steve Biddulph, who is calling for an “aunties army” to help bring up our young girls, whose lives he says are in a “catastrophic” state of crisis.
After a professional lifetime concerned with how to rear boys – his book on the subject, Raising Boys, sold more than 3m copies worldwide – British-born Biddulph has now turned his attention to girls. His new book, Raising Girls, is due to be published here later this month and in it he will widen the net of parental responsibility to include aunts, saying they are the secret to adolescence.
Pointing out that no girl and her mum always get along and no mum can meet all her daughter’s needs, he will say that aunts used to be the ones who talked to girls about things too embarrassing to tell their mothers. Aunts, whether trendy, maiden or embarrassing, can be fun and feisty, because mums have to provide security and you can’t always be both. Biddulph believes there is a “catastrophe” unfolding for girls.
In an interview with an Australian radio station near his home in Tasmania, he said: “I’m much more aware now of girls having enormous problems with things like bullying and eating disorders and generally not liking who they are. We’re noticing that even at primary school stage … There’s no mystery in what is causing that. I think we all agree about the pressures and what has happened here, that the corporations around the world started realising they could sell to young women and pre-teens. They gave them the message that your looks are the most important thing about them.”
He is calling for a new feminism to include aunts mentoring younger girls and keeping them safe from the “toxic” influences of advertising and celebrity. Aunts – they don’t have to be actually related – can help by having nieces to stay sometimes, so there is a sense of another secure haven. Or having regular coffee or lunch get-togethers. Sometimes, Biddulph suggests, they may actually intervene – paying for lessons or a trip away that parents wouldn’t be able to manage. Often a girl will ask questions she wouldn’t dare ask her mother.
Raising Girls hasn’t been released yet – and I have some reservations about Biddulph’s work – but I just thought I’d pop this in as an update to our discussion on the role of single friends in family life.
As I’ve said before, I’m utterly convinced that kids need a whole bunch of adults to love them and take an interest in their growth. For our family, that means investing time and energy in building a web of extended family, godparents and honorary aunties and uncles (many of whom are currently single) who have special roles in SBJ’s life.
It’s not just the kids who benefit from aunts and uncles. Today was a hard day in our house, for various reasons. We survived it because one of SBJ’s honorary aunties was staying for a couple of days.
This afternoon, she and I took him out so his dad could get some introvert time. Over lunch she noticed that I was leaning on the cafe table, getting closer and closer to horizontal, so she sent me home and spent the afternoon out with the baby. I slept for three hours in the middle of the day. What luxury!
SBJ had a great time, charming strangers and zooming down the playground slide, while his parents had a chance to catch their respective breaths.
That was only possible, on a day when both of us were out of juice, because of an auntie. She has invested lots of time and love in hanging out with SBJ, playing, reading, teaching him to high five and even clipping pegs on the right side of his clothes to encourage him to be left-handed like her (!). So she was in the right place, with the right depth of relationship with SBJ, to help us and help him have better parents, by hanging out with him today. We’re very lucky to have this auntie, and a few other honorary aunties and uncles, in our lives, as well as the official, wonderful sister aunties.
If you’re interested in following Steve Biddulph’s thinking, here’s a little promo he did for a seminar to introduce you:
And do feel free to add your (honorary or official) aunt and uncle appreciation stories in the comments.
This is part of an occasional series on being single and being friends with single people. You might like to check out the other posts:
Single #1: Open thread (check out all the excellent comments on this post)
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