Lessons I’m relearning from my nephews and niece

It’s so nice to be an aunt — to be able to love and spoil my nephews and nieces. It’s also just extremely refreshing to be around “new” little humans and see them collecting life experiences and growing. I find that these kiddos prompt me to be more thoughtful about everything as I figure out how to best answer their questions, to respond to their requests, and to comfort them when they’re crying. Here are just 3 lessons that I’m relearning through my nephews and niece:

  1. Of course that’s not a dumb question

My 4-year-old nephew never prefaces his questions with “This might be a dumb question but…”. He simply asks about something he wants to understand and any of us around him are happy to help. (Except for that time when he asked me what a chemical was. That time I told him to go ask Mommy or Daddy)

I don’t know what it is that happens as some of us get older that makes us self-conscious about what we’re supposed to know. I know that in unfamiliar settings, I sometimes find myself judging my question and what it means about me or my intelligence before it’s even fully out my mouth. My little nephew reminds me that asking a question about something I don’t understand actually illustrates curiosity and a willingness to learn, not ignorance.

2. Speak up about what you want

My 1 and a half year old nephew is still learning to speak and in the meantime, his parents have asked him to use pointing to communicate what he wants. He points a lot (sometimes not even to anything in particular) and I’m always so ready to try to understand what he wants so I can get it to him if I can.

You can’t always get what you want — and my little nephew has learned that well even in his relatively short life. I think that after hearing “no” more and more in your life, it can make you a bit hesitant to keep asking for what you want. Maybe I’ve over-learned that because sometimes I have trouble asking. Part of it is probably pride- I don’t like to think that I can’t get what want or need on my own — and part of it is wanting to avoid “no”. My nephew is helping me realize that if you can clearly communicate what you want or need, people that can help generally want to get it to you — even if you’re not a cute baby.

3. It’s okay to be sad

My now 4 month old niece howled the first time I tried to feed her from a bottle. It’s hard to hear her crying especially when I’ve seen her heart-melting smile and have been able to tease her into sweet laugh attacks. I wanted her to be happy again, but cheering her up would have been a completely inappropriate response because it’s not what she needed. She was ridiculously hungry and sad that I couldn’t fix that for her because she hated drinking out of that bottle, she wanted her mom.

It is easier to be around people who are happy — or at least not visibly upset — but we can’t expect people to mask or change how they are feeling for our own comfort. Both my niece (and Pixar’s “Inside Out”) have helped me to better understand sadness, and realize that sometimes sadness doesn’t need to be handled, but simply acknowledged and respected. Sometimes the best thing you can do with someone who is feeling sad (other than just going ahead and getting mom to feed them) is to show that you are there for them. Get over your discomfort, hold them, try to understand them and show that they aren’t wrong or bad for feeling anything other than joy. When we try to talk someone out of being sad by reminding them of all the other reasons why they should be happy, we’re almost telling them that what they’re feeling isn’t real, that their source of sadness isn’t valid, and that is even more damaging.

I love these little people in my life and am so excited to continue watching them grow up. I know that as they get older and life experiences start to pile up, they’ll start asking different questions, wanting different things, and feeling wider ranges of emotions. What I hope they don’t forget over time (and I’ll try to help here!) are the things that they’ve taught me: the value of being thoughtfully inquisitive, speaking up for what you want and being accepting of your emotions.