Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Authentic Auntie. Authentic CEO.

Dear Readers,

I must apologize.

Yes, it's just my 4th, well actually my 5th, blog posting, and I am already apologizing. You see, dear Readers, I had to take down my 4th blog post entitled: A Picture is Worth...," by request of my siblings. I had included an image of a drawing that my niece had made for me, where I am wearing the most beautiful rainbow dress, and spoke about how that drawing means the world to me. But my siblings thought that by posting it, even without mentioning her name, it invaded her privacy. And so I respected their wishes and removed it.

Being an Auntie is the best job in the world. We fall in love with our nieces and nephews from the moment we see them for the first time. We want to give them the earth, moon and stars. We want to celebrate them. From the moment they are born, our life is bigger than ever we imagined it to be.

When I started my company - SavvyAuntie.com - it was an organic idea that came to me when I realized that there were no resources available for the modern, cosmopolitan aunt. I found it frustrating that I didn't know the words or tunes to basic kiddie songs. I learned about Dora the Explorer from my nieces when they were aged two. Bob the Builder? Different from Bob Vila, in case you were wondering. Ming Ming? Turns out she's a beloved Nickelodeon WonderPets character, not a Chinese dynasty.

I had changed diapers, but never at this rate. I had fed bottles, but never to one-day-old infants. I had given hugs and kisses, but never with all my heart. Now my life was filled with books, songs, games, toys, characters, movies, boo boos, tears, laughter, surprises, rashes, baths, disappointments, bigger issues I wont get into here, and love. Real, true, never-before-felt-anything-like-this love.

And so I set out to create a community online for Aunties like me. First it started out as a guide on how to be a Savvy Auntie to nieces and nephews of all ages. After all - what could be more wonderful than a community for Aunties learning about how to care for the kids in their lives, as well as a place to celebrate and love (and let's admit it, show off) their nieces and nephews? It would be a community full of joy and devotion. Along with Gift ideas, Activities and Expertise.

Naturally, within days of dreaming up the idea for SavvyAuntie.com, I began talking to Aunts. Lots of Aunts. First time Aunts. Aunts of adult kids. Aunties by choice (friends with mom/dad). Aunts of one. Aunts of twenty. Aunts next door. Aunts 5000 miles away. Aunts named Auntie, Mimi, Shishi, Gigi, or just her first name. Aunts who don't think they are good Aunts. Aunts who think they are uber Aunts. Guilty Aunts. Spoiling Aunts. Great Aunts. Cool Aunts. Dealing-with-the-parents'-divorce Aunts. Too-ill-to-play Aunts. Godmothers. Mommy Aunties. Married Aunties. Single Aunties. And Aunts more or less like me.

And yet, with all these differences, there was so much we all had in common. Being an Auntie, the truth is, is not just about the good stuff. It's not always giggles and swim goggles and Googling gift ideas. We all have to work within the rules of the family. "She wouldn't let me touch the baby for months!" cried one desperate Auntie. "They expect me to babysit all the time - but I want to go to a party and meet someone," exclaimed a single Auntie. "I never do the right thing. It's like they lost respect for my intelligence once they had kids because I don't have kids yet," said one Auntie. "They never visit me. I always have to travel to see them, which is getting expensive. It's like they hold the kids hostage," complained another Auntie.

Being an Auntie is about being part of a family or, if an Auntie by Choice, someone else's family. And I think we can all relate to the fact that "family" is not always easy. For that reason, SavvyAuntie.com will launch with a "Dear Savvy Auntie" column with actual psychologists, coaches and therapists to answer Aunties' questions and help Aunties cope. There are also Forums and Groups where Aunties can connect, support and empower each other. And each Auntie can start her own Blog - where she is free to write about any aspect of Aunt-hood she likes. (As long as it wont get her in trouble with her siblings, I suspect.)

I have been asked by my brother and SIL not to talk about the little ones in my family in this Blog or on SavvyAuntie.com. At first, I thought it put me in a bit of a predicament, understanding that as Founder and CEO of SavvyAuntie.com, I should be the leader and help all Aunties celebrate their special relationships with their nieces and nephews - sometimes by sharing my relationship with my own, even in generic terms. Now, after taking a day or two to think about it, I realize that the best leader I can be is to be an authentic one.

While I love my nieces and nephew to the nth degree, Aunt-hood has plenty of challenges. Just like motherhood comes with it's own. Just like marriage comes with it's own. Just like singlehood comes with its own. Just like family comes with it's own. It's not always "Hokey Pokey." But it's real. And that, my dear Readers, both as a CEO and as an Auntie, is all I can be.

Auntie Melanie

PS - Aunties needing to cope - SavvyAuntie.com is launching soon. Sign up for the Beta Test so we can get your questions - and answers - in first!


  1. Thanks for sharing this story. There are plenty of relationships that can be related to this one of Auntie. Even I am pulled in directions by nieces -- especially as I try to raise the only boy cousin in the family.

  2. Melanie -

    Wow, this is huge and is something that parents, relatives, and teachers are dealing with everywhere. We want to share so much about the people we love, but so many fear of exposure, privacy, etc. This is a major issue in education today as many teachers are wanting to have student work published online and boundaries are being drawn by all parties as to what's acceptable. I personally would love to blog about my children, but I have mixed feelings about that and my husband is extremely opposed to it. There's a fine line that everyone sets for their own children, which gets blurred even further when children become old enough to start sharing on their own online. I'm sorry about your particular situation because you obviously love your neices and nephews oh so much and just want to share this with the world. I'm realizing this is getting REALLY long, though, so I'll let others take the floor here :-) I think you may have inspired a post on my blog, though!
    I'm so looking forward to the launch of Savvy Auntie! I've signed up for the beta :-)

    (p.s. I'm @kolson29)

  3. I had that problem on my blog for years with family and it eventually resolved as they came to understand what I was trying to accomplish. When they realized I could talk about them but not TALK about them, or talk about them without revealing too much, we all came to a happy understanding. It helped when my blog became more than a blog and an actual showcase of my talent to attempt to launch a career.

    Your brother and SIL might change their minds as they come to understand more of what you are doing.

  4. Hey Savvy Auntie.

    It is hard, sometimes, to be so savvy that we sometimes lead our families through places that are slightly uncomfortable for them. You'll find your balance, and possibly, as others have said, more comfort will grow as your family understands more about how special this endeavor is. I look forward to haring from all the Aunties out there, and especially from you on your journey.

  5. Sorry this happened to you this way. As much as I want to scream "get over it...and realize the positive here" in the end, you have to respect their wishes. Of course, they must have certainly known about your venture and could have been nice enough to mention this rule before you posted something. I can't imagine there is anything preventing you from talking about your niece/nephew in the abstract and without names or pics. I wonder how they find the words to be positive while refusing to partake in the experience?

  6. Posting a drawing invades their privacy. I... am... speechless...

    No, not really. I have plenty to say, but will keep most of it to myself; you did the right thing to respect their wishes, even if, to me, it seems there isn't any logic involved.

    I hope your siblings come to appreciate that a fabulous community like the one you're building can be used to share experiences and stories without placing their family at risk.

  7. I am a bit confused on the logic of how posting a picture of a drawing invades privacy, as well, but like others have said, it was right and considerate for you to just respect their wishes.

    You are a huge ray of sunshine, Melanie, and anything you write about here will be most interesting and fun to read!

    So looking forward to the official launch of SavvyAuntie.com!

    Jane, Pinks & Blues

  8. Ouch. Perhaps more reflective of the "Savvy," though, than the "Auntie."

    Many of us have had experiences where sharing something about someone else less comfortable with it than we've become creates problems. My wife, for example, has put the kabosh on twitpics of the kids. I don't share her concerns, but I do respect them.

    The challenge is in reconciling that with the need to be authentic and open online, to be worthy of your readers' time and attention.

    I've found it helpful to distinguish between a.) the people and things around me, and b.) the way I react to those things. You can put a Chinese wall around the former and still communicate frankly and honestly to the latter, as long as you keep the important difference between the two in mind.

  9. I can't even tell you how much I understand this. I made a conscious decision not to blog about "things I can't blog about" anymore because it's even irritating me.. but we've hit a level in my family that is just ridiculous - too many people read, and expect me to almost be a PR firm for happy and inauthentic, but not the truth... and I won't do that. My sister's new husband has made the decision that we are no longer allowed to see her children - and as an aunt I am devastated. I blog as a mother, but my life as a whole encompasses so much more than that. I can't imagine that a photo with no personal information could lead to any harm whatsoever.


    No wonder you have a migraine. I have one for you - and now for myself.


  10. It's too bad your brother and SIL view you posting the picture your niece drew for you as an invasion of her privacy. I have a hard time understanding that argument considering the drawing (which I did get to see) was a picture of you. No representation of your niece in there whatsoever.

    However, it is the right thing to respect their wishes. And perhaps their fear is that subsequent posts may become more personal and specific to who their children are.

    That said, I agree with Michael J. Pratt - they obviously must have known what you were up to with SavvyAuntie.com. A pre-chat between the three of you, whether initiated by you or your brother and SIL, regarding these privacy boundaries would have been a good idea.

  11. You seem like a wonderful, loving auntie. Can we adopt you? ;-)

  12. Oh. .i get it now.. children's art work now comes with a creative commons license. silly me.

    Honestly I don't understand, at all, but I will keep most of my opinions to myself. I think it was the correct choice on your part to respect their wishes, and it is good of you to do so.

    The strength of Savvyauntie is not the kids. Its the aunts, and by extension you, and your understanding of the role of aunt. You are on your way with an amazing endeavor which will be incredible with or without the ability to talk about the kids.

    p.s. I have siblings too. and thats all i am going to say about that ;)

  13. A few points.

    A) As a mother and an auntie, I am sorry you are unable to share what I consider to be extra-special moments as opposed to an invasion of privacy. If your niece's teacher posted her picture in the hallway of her school (which is very common), would her parents have it removed? After all, that is still a public forum to some extent.

    B) I too have bumped heads with bro & SIL too many times in the past and I think if the kids were your sister's (I know, no sisters) as opposed to your SIL's, the reaction may have been different. I don't know what your relationship is, but I can see it from the aunt's perspective. Even as a mom I am having trouble seeing it. But out of respect, I digress.

    C) I talk about my children to an extent on my blog because after all, my blog is a written account of the goings-on within my life, etc. While I don't feel the need to extend our phone# and address to readers, I see NO harm in talking about them in context.


  14. Wow, M. I'm so sad for you right now! I know your conflict here, and even though I am saddened by their decision, I do think you've done the right thing.

    I look forward to how you will move forward with SV with not being able to talk about the kids, but I know you'll do an awesome job. It's in your blood to do this, and everything happens for a reason. Hopefully one day looking back, this will be just a little blip on the radar and you'll come out wiser because of it.



  15. Maybe they're not sure if you'll know where to draw the line. Just a guess,they figure being black and white is better than leaving you room for gray.
    Hang in there, I am a mom of one and aunt of 7...soon to be 9. So looking forward to your site, and hoping one day you will launch one called SavvyMommy.com

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  17. That's a tough situation and I can understand at parts. My husband sometimes gets a little irked as there is a line that is oh so fuzzy when it comes to blogging about your personal life.
    My BIL is a lot more sensative about my blogging about my nieces and nephew than my sister. Thankfully my sister won on this one and doesn't mind. For awhile there I wouldn't put pics up of them, but it became too hard because they are just too dang cute! However, the online world is so full of sickos, it's really scary when you think about all the possibilities that could happen... anyways, this is getting too long!

    Point is, You never know, they may change their minds. But one of the hardest parts of being an Aunt is learning to respect the parent's wishes. I deal with this a lot too as I tend to think my sister's kids are MY kids! :)
    I think it's great that you are going to keep going with this!

  18. (((((hugs)))))
    Melanie, I can understand all sides of this one.

    On the one hand, we have the parents who love their children more than anything else in the universe and will do ANYTHING to protect them and who may well lie awake nights worrying about the myriad devastating nightmares that could come true, not the least of which is that a predator targets their child.

    On the other hand, we have the Auntie who adores her niece and would never wish any harm to her, and who is so proud of her accomplishments and wants to share them with the world.

    My sister asked me not to post any more photos of 1-week old Baby (extremely clever pseudonym ;P ). In fact, she asked me to unpost the ones I already had posted, but we came to a compromise - not going to bore you with the details.

    In the end, the parents have the right to limit their child's exposure, and as much as I agree that posting a photo of a drawing is relatively harmless, they may have opted for a firm "no" on all posting related to their children in order to avoid a slippery slope.

    With the photo embargo in place, I am having a hard time coming up with blogging topics for my own "aunting" blog. I hope that my sister doesn't mind if I blog about my experiences with Baby, as long as I do not provide details that would put her at risk.

    And it sucks we live in a world where there are predators who could target our nieces and nephews. Really, if we want to be angry with someone for the fact that we have to limit what we share, we should be directing it straight to the source of the parents' fears.


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