Call in the Auntie Brigade! Lessons from Downton Abbey


Call in the Auntie Brigade! Lessons from Downton Abbey
What would you do without your favorite aunt?

As if these two crises are not enough, Ganny Violet has taken incredibly ill with bronchitis.  Her son is overseas, and her daughter-in-law and her granddaughter do stop by, but they seem eager to attend to their social plans; Lady Cora and Lady Mary's attention and caregiving is fleeting at best.  On the contrary, Lady Isobel foregoes sleep and withstands tremendous insults while nursing Violet around the clock.  Clearly, Isobel is not Violet's aunt, but she is similar to a niece, since her deceased son was married to Violet's granddaughter.  Considering the traditionally adversarial relationship of these two relatives, their intimacy during this illness and afterwards as they play cards by Violet's bedside is intimate, heartwarming and somewhat hilarious.

In her book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, Elizabeth Gilbert writes movingly of her role as an aunt:


"Being exempted from motherhood has...allowed me to become exactly the person I believe I was meant to be: not merely a writer, not merely a traveler, but also - in quite marvelous fashion - an aunt.  A childless aunt to be exact - which puts me in extremely good company, because here's an astonishing fact that I discovered in the margins of my research on marriage: If you look across human populations of all varieties, in every culture and on every continent (even among the most enthusiastic breeders in history, like the nineteenth-century Irish, or the contemporary Amish), you will find that there is a consistent 10 percent of women within any population who never have children at all.  The percentage never gets any lower than that...In the 1920s in America, for instance, a whopping 23 percent of adult women never had any children. (Doesn't that seem shockingly high, for such a conservative era, before the advent of legalized birth control? Yet it was so...The number of women throughout history who never become mothers is so high (so consistently high) that I now suspect that a certain degree of female childlessness is an evolutionary adaptation of the human race...Such childless women - let's call them the "Auntie Brigade" - have never been well honored by history, I'm afraid...But they are vital as they live, and they can even be heroic."

My work as a therapist echoes this truth that aunts often act as strong, steady and sometimes silent heroines:  A client's aunt is the first one confided in during the coming out process, and she welcomes the news with open arms and then proceeds to ease the revelation of this news among the other family members.  When a client is diagnosed with cancer, her sister relocates and moves in to help care for her nephews.  Sometimes the most important role an aunt plays, much like Aunt Rosamund, is as a supportive sounding board.  In a crisis, people often do not need advice; they need no-strings-attached support and unconditional love.  An aunt has the psychological distance to forgo judgement and the ability to love and nurture, not as a friend, not as a parent, but as someone special in between.

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This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission.
Article contributed by
Advanced Member

Elisabeth LaMotte


Social worker, psychotherapist, blogger and author of "Overcoming Your Parents' Divorce"

Location: Washington, DC
Credentials: LICSW, MFT, MSW
Specialties: Communication Problems, Dating/Being Single Support, Divorce/Divorce Prevention
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