Are you a PANK (Professional Aunt, No Kids)?

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My Aunt is the Shiznit onesie
My Aunt is the Shiznit onesie
The New York Times recently caught on to the concept of PANKs, which stands for Professional Aunt, No Kids. The article is written from the perspective of advertisers taking note that mothers aren’t the only ones shopping for children, but I appreciated the “It takes a village” perspective about the role that aunties play within many contempary families:

Whether they are literally aunts, godparents or friends of the family, PANKs argue that they serve a vital role in the family, and holiday gifts are just one part of the equation. These women often provide help with educational expenses, baby-sitting and household chores, Ms. Notkin said. But they can also be that “cool aunt” who exposes a child to cultural experiences for which the parents may not have the time or money. Often they are the trusted adult whom children can talk to about sensitive topics they wouldn’t dare discuss with their parents.

Brenda Andolina, the director of public relations and brand marketing at Fisher-Price, the toy company in East Aurora, N.Y., said: “For every child, there are like 10 women who are loving that child: an aunt, a friend, a co-worker.

Again, the NY Times article is definitely written from a buying power/consumer perspective, but I’d love to hear from the Offbeat Aunties in the house: what’s your special role in the life of the children you know? What’s their role in yours?

Oh and PS: did you know we have a whole archive of Offbeat Aunties posts? We’d LOVE to have more posts from and about offbeat aunties and godmothers — how do you support the children in your extended family? (And “family” means both biological and chosen.) We want to hear your stories!

Comments on Are you a PANK (Professional Aunt, No Kids)?

  1. PANK- there is a word for me. i love it! or at least, a word for what i hope to be…

    my partner and i are still deciding to have kids or not one day, but as for now we are on the “we will just be cool aunts and uncles” train. and while my sister doesnt have any kids yet, his brother married last year and gained a 4 year old daughter, and they just had another daughter in august! so i hope to become a real PANK. i guess for now im just a pretend one. on facebook. liking pictures like a maniac.

    haha

    • I love Love LOVE babies/kids… But I have never wanted my own. I am much better suited to Auntie-hood and currently have 5 babies with one more on the way. As an Aunt I put myself on round the clock on call babysitting duty if ever anything happens and anytime I visit I fully take over as the adult role so Mom and Dad can have a break. I pop over when Mom is sick bit Dad is as work so Mom can slip away for a nap, and I run to the store to pick up Milk if they run out and he’s too cranky to risk in public (is this happened once while he was sick.) All my babies are still babies so there isn’t much to being an Aunty yet for me aside from helping Moms and Dads manage with day to day things. My goal is to make their lives easier, while simultaneously getting oodles of baby cuddles and love. I’ve helped to teach them to walk, talk, eat, and play. And I fully plan to help out financially with anything that crops up. I love them as of they were my own, and spoil them as if they were my grandkids. I’m totally the cool Aunt they will be able to talk to, and that is exactly the role I wanted. PANK for life

  2. I have never wanted to have children of my own, but I have always planned to be the awesome aunt. I’m the one who wants to take my nieces and nephews (be they present or future, by blood or by choice) on cultural adventures. I want to be that adult they can talk to when they just don’t know what to say to their parents. My husband is on board with this, and we both believe it will be much more fulfilling for us than actually having children of our own.

  3. Argh!!!! Can’t help but think of one of the urban dictionary definitions when I hear the word pank – it iinvolves having a poop and a (something that ends in _ank) at the same time!!!
    This might just be a British slang word tho as most Americans don’t use the _ank word!

  4. I love being a ‘PANK’, haha. I met my nephew a few years ago, (my fiancee’s nephew), and he didn’t really become ‘mine’ until the past year or so. He was too young to know who I was, and we didn’t see each other very often. But now that he’s older, we share a lot of common interests (video games, building things, playing board games), so we get along so well. He switched between calling me by my name, or aunty for the longest time. Now it’s just aunty (which makes my heart swell, since I don’t have any other nieces/nephews).

    For now, I sort of pretend parent him. I want kids, but not quite yet. So he’s my little baby. I take him to parks/zoos/neat places in the city that his parents otherwise wouldn’t. Shower him with gifts, teach him things, and of course, play. He’s 6, so most of it is play.

    He makes my life brighter, and I hope I make his a little brighter too.

  5. While I don’t think I’ll be calling myself this wonderful new word anytime soon (‘specially not after THAT, Mich), I’m still pleased w this little post.

    I’m states away from my niece and nephews, but I love the little guys so much. I wish I could be more involved, so I do try to make up for my distance by staying aware of things they need and sending them to my brother and sister-in-law. The niece is into girly stuff? I can spring for the expensive Disney dress (Merida, cuz she’s cool). And I’m rewarded with photos and texts about the kids and how my nephew put a blue blanket on his head and called himself “Chris.” (Had blue hair at one time, must needs do it again soon apparently)

  6. i have 2 god kids. a boy and a girl. i buy toys their parents can’t afford. i take them on trips to the zoo or aquarium or other places. i babysit even over nights. i buy things the parents need when they can’t afford it. both their moms are divorced, and one’s ex is unstable.

  7. PANK. I can’t even.
    My aunt was definitely a PANK (along with her partner.) She didn’t have a kid until -I- was old enough to be the PANK (convenient, eh?) I’m now a godmother and a cousin to one fabulous kiddo, and there are plenty of other people’s kids I buy stuff for.

  8. We are the first in our group of friends to have a baby, so there are lots of wonderful PANKs (*grimace*) in our daughter’s life right now. Some of them intend to have kids someday, some are proudly child-free. Laura’s only 6.5 months old, so the opportunities for doing cool things with her are limited. (Rolling on the floor is cool, right?) Our friends have enjoyed babysitting occasionally; they love that they get to give her back!

  9. I’m not a fan of the acronym but I’ll take the acceptance of the role of non-parents in the role of child rearing! I love my nephew, even though hes my mom’s partner’s son’s unofficially adopted son. We make it work and we rock it out! He is coming to visit on Sunday and I have been in full aunty mode buying him all the cool xmas gifts cause lets face it, grandma and grandpa don’t know poo about Lego!!!

  10. I’m this! My sister and her husband have the time and money to afford whatever their kids need and take them cool places, but they have zero artsy or crafty skills. My role is giving them handmade gifts. I made my nephew a superhero cape and mask for Christmas last year, and I made my niece a She-Ra costume (at the request of my sister) for her superhero-themed 3rd birthday party. I’ve made them art for their walls and knit them things. It’s fun making things for kids!

  11. I live several states away from my nieces, nephews, and young cousins, but like Chris, I send gifts and letters. Kids love getting letters or postcards sent specifically to them (as do adults). When I go to my hometown twice a year, I try to see as many of them as I can, preferably one on one. They cling to me and the older ones confide in me, and it’s wonderful to know that they are going to be that much healthier and happier for having one more person who loves them and is watching out for them.

    I am lucky enough to have aunts in uncles in both my parents’ and my grandparents’ generation who didn’t have kids of their own and filled that role in my life. While I love all of my relatives, I’m very close with them and they had a great impact on the directions I’ve chosen in life, my sense of self, and my ethics. In addition to being involved with my younger family members because I love them, I believe that I act as I do because I saw it modeled by my own aunts and uncles.

  12. I am one of those PANKs!(But, ewwww)
    My godson is 8 months old, and lives far away. I see him only a couple times a year, and he’s only a little guy, but the love is strong! I consider this role very unique. It is my wish to be a special support to his parents. While some parenting/lifestyle choices they make can be ‘up for debate’ amongst their own parents and family, I am firmly planted in their corner. I am determined to be a special support to them, and especially him. So far this has consisted of buying items for his mother (nursing covers, pampering items), being a sounding board for her when it comes to parenting philosophies, and getting the kiddo clothes that I think are terrific. I also try to give gifts that are representitive of where mine and his mother’s family is from. I don’t think you need to spend money to be a good Auntie, but I am not really able to give the gift of time, due to the distance. But you can bet over the holidays I will be singing, dancing, and cuddeling my little ‘Moo’ as often as possible.

  13. I have mixed feelings about this. Of course, I’m behind having a supportive chosen family network, especially when kids are involved — the logistics of care combined with the exposure to multiple belief systems and habits make this an enviable situation.

    But the amount of money the article highlights as aunties spoil their chosen kiddos is ridiculous. $300 per kid at Christmas? I have $300 for the whole family. If I had that much extra income, I’d be in a position to have my own kids*, not spending it on my friends’/siblings’. I’d rather give kids my time, my affection, and a safe space to discuss tough topics as well as fun ones.

    *ETA: I realize that many happy aunties are childfree by choice. Not trying to step on toes here. But couldn’t you also come up with some better way to spend that money?

    • As I mentioned in the post, the focus of the NYTimes article is distinctly on consumer habits — which obviously may or may not match up with each reader’s budgetary realities. (Then again, if you’re a single woman in NYC working full time and making six figures, who’s to say you shouldn’t be spending $300 on your nieces and nephews? There’s almost always “some better way” to spend money. To each her own.)

      What’s way more interesting to me is observing there’s starting to be a mainstream recognition of the important role that aunties play in kids’ lives. Sure, when businesses take note, they’re seeing spending habits… but for the rest of us, it can just be an interesting opportunity to talk about the different ways aunties have of providing support and joy to the kids in their lives.

    • My personal opinion is that spending time with your nieces, nephews, and godchildren is *much* more valuable than spending $300 on clothes, books, and toys for them. The memories you make with them by simply playing with them and listening to their stories will live on long after the clothes are outgrown and the toys are given away or put in the attic. I still remember the time I was 3 when one of my own aunts read me the story “The Gingerbread Man” and then we made our own gingerbread men (and women). I can’t remember the toys and clothes she gave me, but I remember that, and it’s a cherished memory that will last forever.

  14. My father-in-law yelled across the table to me that I’m a PANK last week. Right when we’re having fertility problems. He spelled it out and told me “you’re a Professional Aunt, No Kids.” Hit me like a knife in the heart. I hate acronyms like that. Love my nieces and nephews, but I’m good without just another reminder that we’re so far, childless. Some of us don’t want to be PANKs!

  15. I’m the (self-appointed) book aunt!

    My sister in law had some trouble learning to read when she was growing up, and isn’t really a book person. I’m the opposite, a real book worm, with a love of kids books.

    So, for the baby shower, everyone else bought practical gifts, I made sure my nephew was going to own some books- beginning with The Very Hungry Caterpillar. For every gift giving occasion since, and sometimes just to surprise them, I bring books. I take the time to choose something that matches his age, and interests.

    It’s my little way of helping him get a good start in life.

  16. i attened a youth mental health forum recently and one of the topics was the mental health and resilience of girls. the psychologist (who has be researching young womens resilience) said the greatest factor he could find was having ‘aunties’ to talk to. I’m blessed with a sister who has no interest in kids atm who is going to be such an awesome aunt to my little girl 🙂

  17. I am an aunt to an adorable 18 month old nephew and godmother to a friend’s 5 year old. My husband and I have already turned the 5 year old on to comic books. When she was nearly 4 and into all things princess, we managed to find a Disney Princess comic book for her-she still loves it. We also invision taking the baby to Ren Faire when he’s older-preteen or teen years. For now, however, I’m credited with finding great toys and books for the kiddos. I think part of it comes from the fact that I’m a child care provider and have a knack for picking out educational gifts that are still fun. Our goddaughter is still playing with the dollhouse we bought for her birthday six months ago and creating elaborate fantasies about the girls who “live” there-my favorite was the one where they were all exchange students in college-Chinese, German and Mexican. How many Kindergarteners will create an hour long play scenario like that out of such a simple gift?

  18. Thanks for this post! I’m the founder of Savvy Auntie and the one who coined the term PANK in 2008. The New York Times was reporting in a new study on this market segment released by Savvy Auntie and Weber Shandwick with KRC research. We learned that one in five American women is a PANK – or 23 million!

    Collectively PANKs spend $9billon on kids year round (not just Christmas) including 34% of aunts who invest in a child’s education. 7/10 say the children in their lives think of them as a role model.

    PANK is the market segment term, but Savvy Auntie is how most in the Auntourage refer to themselves. Join us at savvyauntie.com and Facebook.com/savvyauntie.

    And thanks Offbeat Families – you’ve always been supportive.

  19. Because I’m just ten/eleven years older than my goddaughter, I feel more like I’m more of a ‘Cool Big Sis’ role model than anything else.

    It’s a little hard to fill that role when L’s parents are divorced, but when she comes over for family gatherings I always make it a point to find out what she is in to at the time, and how her life is going and try to let her know that I’m always and open to anything she wants to talk about. I always try to treat her like an adult and answer any questions she throws at me with age approximate honesty, even if it’s an ‘I don’t know’. (Which turns into a ‘Let’s look it up and find out’!)

    Even now, I know that she takes that treatment to heart, even in small ways. Like, when she browsed through my Japanese fan collection and asked about a small pile of stuffed pandas by my bed, a few weeks later she told Grandma she likes pandas a lot and played constantly with the fan I gave her. Not once when I was telling her why I loved pandas or showing her how to flip a fan in the air did I think it would leave a very lasting impression. Lesson learned, so I’m always on my best behavior when she comes over!

    So, once I am moved out and on my own, I’ll try to mimic the relationship I had with her mother, where I got invited over for sleep overs and day trips and we talked all day and baked cinnamon roles in the morning, but adding other things I think would be fun and cool for the two of us over something her parents might do, because I’m so close to her in age. We can watch My Little Pony, or The Sandlot, or Disney films, and talk about school and I hope I can be there if she ever needs advice or help later on in life. It’s pretty fun to be the big sister without being the big sister.

  20. i think SPANK is hilarious! we need PANK, SPANK, and how about PUNK, Professional Uncles/No Kids? PONK, Professional Other-gendered/No Kids?

    gifts are great for kids, as is spending time with them. gift-giving is a big tradition in many cultures and doesn’t have to be some disgusting, shiny consumer-fest. but remembering my own childhood, i so treasured those extravagant, regular-kid gifts that my parents would never have bought me: grandma taking me shopping for a whole new outfit (red gauchos! red tennis shoes! hee hee) or my godmother sending me a beautiful book. we lived hundreds of miles away from most of our relatives.

    and in this culture, becoming a target market means your subgroup is starting to be welcomed into the mainstream. i remember gay friends being ecstatic to see same-sex couples in ads for tires or sofas or whatever. in that context, marketing to PANKs and PUNKs seems like a step forward for the childfree.

  21. Being an aunt has been one of my most important jobs. When my niece was younger, someone was watching me with her and asked if I took my role very seriously. I didnt’t really understand at the time but I do now! My niece is 8 and my nephew is 3. I’m Mom #3 for them (my mom is #2) and I love it! I live about 4 hours away but I’ve made a big effort to be around as much as I can. When I stay over, she always come down in the morning and snuggles with me while she waits for me to wake up and then we read together. (I’m also the “book aunt.”) I try not to buy them too much stuff. Time and love is the key and I get it back in bucketfuls! As she approaches her teenage years I hope that I can be another woman in her life that she can talk to and get support from. She told me earlier this year, she wants me to get pregnant so that she can have a baby cousin. I’m hoping to grant her wish this year. I know she’ll be an awesome big cousin!

  22. For me and my partner it was a very revolutionary thing to learn we didn’t have to have children (I’m the oldest of 11) so when we made that decision it was a huge relief and had allowed us to pursue dreams we otherwise wouldn’t have but that doesn’t mean that we don’t still love children that are in our lives.
    My adoptive sister that is only a few months younger than me just had her first and I spoil my new neice as much as I can. I have begun a college fund for her and a scrap book and I buy her stocks. She doesn’t have a grandma to spoil her so I play the role of aunt and grandma. I will do everything I can to make sure she goes to college and makes something of herself. And as a future gynecologist I will make sure she has assess to all the best in sex education and birth control.
    My spouse and I are prepared to pay for her college education and for her to live with us during it (college is much cheaper here than where my sister is) if need be. We care very deeply about affording her the opportunities that we have struggled for.

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