Amy B. is a long-time reader and friend of the blog, where she comments as HH9.
I became an aunt a month before my twelfth birthday. I clearly remember a sister and I staring through the hospital nursery’s window at our new, tiny, Yoda-looking nephew. He was followed in succession by eleven additional, slightly less Yoda-looking, nieces and nephews. So, by the time I was twenty-seven – just as most of my friends were becoming parents – I had spent more than half my life as an aunt. I played with them, watched over them, joked with them, read with them, and talked to them about sports and literature and faith. They visited me when I lived far away for graduate school and I visited them when I circulated among their parents’ households for holidays. I sent birthday cards; they sent drawings, photographs, and postcards. I attended blessings and baptisms; they greeted me when I returned from my mission with posters and hugs. For me, being an aunt was just part of what it meant to have a family.
While being an aunt was always enjoyable, I, like most Mormon young women, assumed I would supplement this role with motherhood. As middle age has crept upon me, however, it has become clear that motherhood is not in the cards. Over time I slowly, gently grieved the loss of that expectation and made peace with it. Somewhere along the way I absorbed the common view of aunthood as a sort of washed out version of motherhood: containing the core elements, but without the intense colors. And somewhere along the way I also accepted definitions of motherhood and mothering that encompassed all women, even childless women, and their ability to love and lead. 
But the longer I’m in my 40s and the clearer it becomes that I won’t be a mother, the less meaning I get from discussions that conflate motherhood and womanhood. In the last few years I’ve no longer found this classification of women’s teaching, loving, nurture, and leadership solely through a motherhood lens as a satisfying formulation. I’m perfectly satisfied with others finding that useful and meaningful, it just doesn’t do anything for me anymore.
I’m equally completely satisfied that motherhood, not just maternity, but actually loving and caring and raising children, is its own thing, valuable on its own terms. As a woman I understand part of that world and appreciate it, but being a woman doesn’t make me a mother. I’m happier being a woman as is than I am in trying to cobble together a version of motherhood that includes me. A lot of women do both or find more satisfaction out of the latter and I think that is just fine. It’s just that as I age that I’ve become less interested in trying to force my experiences into a motherhood box and less interested in relabeling what I do as mothering.
In the past I often described being an aunt as a type of surrogate motherhood. And I’ve heard others describe aunthood in similar terms. Such a description is often done in an apologetic tone, as if declaring anything other than motherhood as fulfilling is not proper – as if I could have washed-out, surrogate motherhood, but I could not be arrogant enough to claim real meaning from being an aunt, just an aunt. But I no longer think that, nor use that description. Being an aunt is one of the most fulfilling and meaningful relationships of my life. My feelings for my nieces and nephews and grandnieces and nephews run deep and fierce. I’ve realized I appreciate aunting more when I enjoy it for what it is – aunthood – instead of seeing it a compensation for what it is not, nor can be – motherhood. Sure, in a Venn diagram aunting and mothering overlap, but they also have areas that are unique.
By only talking about or valuing the parts that overlap, I (and I daresay many others) have overlooked or underappreciated those unique bits of being an aunt (or an uncle for that matter). I, along with my childless siblings, have more freedom than our nieces and nephews’ parents and a different degree of stewardship. But make no mistake, it is a stewardship. We don’t have favorites among the cousins, because none is our child – all are equal in our eyes. Thereby we tie the cousins together and provide bridges their parents cannot build on their own, if at all. We are mentors, adults who care, who are invested for the long haul, but who are not tainted in the child’s eyes with the stain of routines, discipline, or day-to-day, cheek-to-jowl living. We’re the lattice work that ensures no one falls through the gaps and the listening ear that can withstand tricky or difficult conversations because they won’t be seen as a judgment on us as parents. We are not, as my sister recently put it, the Miss Congeniality of motherhood.
Appreciating aunthood means being grateful for my nieces and nephews, for the chance to love them, interact with them, and learn from them as nieces and nephews. They do not take the place of the children I won’t have, but nor could any potential children take their place in my heart and my life. Being their aunt is its own, emotionally, socially, and spiritually satisfying fact – one I appreciate more when I let it be what it is instead of squishing into some lesser version of being a mother. 
There is untapped power in aunting that is lost to me, my family, and the broader culture when I or others describe it solely in terms of motherhood. And I’m not the only to think so. Aunties, and especially single, childless aunties are all the rage these days.  I think it is great that there is some effort to claim aunthood as meaningful in its own right. Such claims also have me thinking about all the other family relationships we miss out on when we don’t honor them on their own terms: uncles, in-laws, siblings, cousins, friends, and the list could go on. 
I will repeat that many people get comfort and insight from using motherhood to talk about women’s labor and relationships more generally and I think that’s fine. But I also think there is potential to make claim to our other family relationships. We can reclaim the rich family relationships not just for recognition, but as a way of broadening our reach – as a way of drawing others to us. And we can do so in the ways we talk about our families – clearly and unapologetically.
One of my proudest moments occurred several years ago when the FamilySearch indexing specialist in my stake, whom I had not met, called to introduce herself after she learned I had signed up to do indexing. In trying to get to know me a bit she asked if I had a family. I knew she was really asking whether I had a husband and children. But since she asked whether I had family, not a spouse or children, I went for the truth. “Yes,” I said, “I have my parents, my eight siblings, four siblings-in-law, twelve nieces and nephews, a niece-in-law, and a great nephew on the way.” Long pause. She didn’t know what to say to such a response not because she considered those relationships unimportant, but because culturally they are seen as ancillary, as auxiliary, especially once one has children. I was proud that I took ownership of that family – that I conveyed all of those people are central to me, not auxiliary, not place-holders for a spouse and children. I imagine they are also central to a whole lot of other people, even people who also have spouses and children. And I think it can only benefit us to reclaim them, speak of them, and celebrate them.
 Sheri Dew, “Are We Not All Mothers?” Ensign, November 2001. See also Valerie Hudson Cassler, “Two Trees: An LDS Revisiting of the Garden of Eden” Square2, vol. 9, no. 1 (Spring 2016), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerTwoTrees.html. Even if I see gaps in Dew’s and Cassler’s descriptions, I deeply appreciate their serious, thoughtful, and ongoing discussion of women and motherhood. I’m not worried that I no longer agree 100% with them – I’m more interested in having more people join the discussion instead of assuming these are the only two perspectives.
 Though this is never done for childless men, childless LDS women often hear that their service in Primary or Young Women’s, or their job as a school teacher, is like mothering, is a compensation for not being a mother. In one of my (childless) sister’s words, this is “crumbs from the table”. Especially if said childless woman, like me, has spent all of a combined ten months in Primary and Young Women’s callings. And frankly, saying that the one hour on Sundays and the one week at girls’ camp that I spend with a girl is the same as her mother’s daily, painstaking efforts to raise her is offensively dismissive of motherhood’s real work. A better formulation might be to equate church callings that focus on children and youth as being a type of aunthood or unclehood more than a type of parenthood.
 Mia Birdsong, “In Praise of the Auntie,” Slate.com, 6 May 2016; Jacqueline Melissen, “Why Child-Free Aunties Are Amazing,” Huffingtonpost.ca, 18 June 2015; See also Savvy Auntie.com which tags itself as “the first community for cool aunts, great aunts, godmothers and all women who love kids.”
 Single, childless LDS women at least get some recognition of their lives, even general conference talks looking to tell their story and find a place for it within LDS rhetoric about gender and families. No such effort is made on behalf of single, childless LDS men. They are rendered pathological instead. A language of unclehood might be useful to helping rectify that stigma.