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A Web Site for the Professional Aunt

By Sharon McLoone
washingtonpost.com staff writer

Mothers spend about $1.7 trillion annually on consumer products, but mothers are only about 50 percent of women in the United States. What about the other 50 percent?

Chances are moms and dads leave their kids in the care of this group more than they may think - they're the Professional Aunts No Kids, or PANKs, and although they may not have children of their own, kids are still front and center in their lives.

Melanie Notkin is a PANK and the founder of a new Web site SavvyAuntie.com. She started the business -- after a lucrative career in marketing communications at firms such as The New York Times and L'Oreal -- because she's an aunt.

"My nephew was born seven years ago, and from the day he was born, I didn't want him to think that I was a grown-up playmate. I wanted him to know I'm family," she said. Plus, everywhere she turned, all the fashionable Manhattanite could find was references to aunts as "blue-haired old ladies."

"Here I am, a New York cosmopolitan woman, and when I'd go to brunch with my friends on a Sunday morning instead of being like 'Sex and the City,' it was like Aunts and the City - all we'd talk about is our nieces and nephews," said Notkin, who now has six nieces.

But there are scads of listservs, Web sites, magazines and more geared toward parents. "It's a mommy club, and not being a mom makes you feel excluded," she said. "It's like walking into a maternity store when you're not pregnant. You feel like a stranger, and so I wanted to create a parenting site for non-parents."

Notkin saw a huge opportunity to fill a void -- offer resources to aunts, whether an aunt by relation or an aunt by choice like mom's best friends. "It's a community for the cool aunts, great aunts, godmothers and others to connect and learn," she said. It also offers a column written by an uncle.

She wanted aunts out there to have all the tools they need to cope with being a secondary parent because sometimes parents may not think a person without a kid could handle having a child over for a sleepover.

Notkin points out the differences between her site and parenting sites. A parenting site wouldn't necessarily offer long-distance activities to do with a child, but Notkin mentions that PANKs "buy gifts differently than parents do." The site also has a section dedicated to aunts who must cope with the special needs of their nieces and nephews. Although Notkin is the site's primary editor, it includes expert advice on topics ranging from coping with loss to care packages for a niece away at camp.

While my sisters, with children of their own, don't fit into the PANK category, my kids still have a "PUNK." He's an actor who jets back and forth between New York and Los Angeles. He's now in Beijing working for a Web site covering the Olympics. Next month, he'll be shooting a national-release movie, and he's got a recurring role on a national soap opera.

He lavishes our kids, 4 and 2, with expensive gifts. He calls them every day, and they talk to him for hours via video using Skype. His friends call the kids on their birthdays because he talks about them so much. He is awesome, but could he be left alone with the dynamic duo? What about the hair-pulling and the constant runny nose? My brother-in-law constantly wipes down our counters when he comes to visit and is germ-phobic. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you're in charge of wee ones. Although he of the nose that's accustomed to fancy cologne can't quite bring himself to change a diaper, in a few years, I can't wait till he can take them to Broadway shows and do other fun PUNK activities.

Notkin offers that initially she really hadn't thought about the site from a mom's perspective. But, the auntrepreneur said: "I met a mom who said she's telling every other parent about the site to pass along so a sister or a best friend can engage in this knowledge to become better aunts."

She may be onto something. The day her site launched last month she was contacted by national brands that are looking to advertise on her site as well as a large venture capital firm. Last week, she was at Ford Motors test driving cars. As a city girl, she doesn't own a car, but Ford reached out to her. It wants to know about women and cars, especially those women who might want to purchase a luxury vehicle that can handle the occasional juice box disaster on its leather seats.

So do you think a Web site like this is filling a void? Are there other good resources out there for aunts and uncles who don't have kids?

Sharon McLoone writes the Small Business blog for washingtonpost.com at blog.washingtonpost.com/small-business.

By Ju-Don Roberts |  August 18, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs , Relationships
Previous: Ten of Cinema's Most Clueless Parents | Next: Grant Me College

Comments


I think it is all about marketing.
You can't teach common sense and love which is what you need most when caring for children. If you don't have a child you get to know them and spend time with them in person rather than reading a website full of ads.

Posted by: Me | August 18, 2008 9:08 AM | Report abuse

Haven't looked at it yet but as childless professional w/ godchildren and nieces and nephews whom I love desparately and love to spend time with and perhaps spoil just a bit I think it's a great idea.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 18, 2008 9:28 AM | Report abuse

I feel it would have been much more honest if, rather than having the same author write two virtually identical blogs, if today's On Parenting post had just said "Stacy is off today, please visit Smart Buissness for a discussion on the SavvyAuntie."

Posted by: RT | August 18, 2008 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Please ignore the extra "if." And it looks like the name of the blog is "Small Buisness" not "Smart Buisness."

What can I say, its Monday and my brain hasn't fully turned on yet.

Posted by: RT | August 18, 2008 9:48 AM | Report abuse

"It's a mommy club, and not being a mom makes you feel excluded"

Of course you are excluded if you are not a mom that is just a no brainer. You have no way of knowing what it is like.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 18, 2008 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Professional aunts? What is the hourly pay for this job?

And I thought that last Friday's blog was totally insipid.

Posted by: arrrrggghhhhhh! | August 18, 2008 10:34 AM | Report abuse

After 10:30 and only 5 comments.
Boring topic vs total disinterest? Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by: OP is dying | August 18, 2008 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Of course you are excluded if you are not a mom that is just a no brainer. You have no way of knowing what it is like.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 18, 2008 10:14 AM

10:14 certainly knows what it is like to lack a brain. Better head to Oz fast.

Posted by: Oreo | August 18, 2008 10:49 AM | Report abuse

"Are there other good resources out there for aunts and uncles who don't have kids?"

Life experience. Beats the Internet, hands-down.

who is Ju-Don Roberts? So many people involved in this blog, so little accountability.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 18, 2008 10:51 AM | Report abuse

I think this is a valid idea. There are a LOT of non-traditional families, and in our case, my kids have a powerfully important Auntie, without whom I'd be a much poorer mom. In a lot of famiies, the extended auntie network is vital. Why would we diminish the roles that our friends and family provide? There are grandparent sites (or even whole stores, since I consider the average baby boutique as targeting grands and great-grands).

So I think this is wonderful In order to validate our Auntie's role, she is also the god-mother. But that does not work for everyone and I can't see it as anything but positive to give some recognition to the vast number of folks who help raise kids.

Posted by: sophiagrrl | August 18, 2008 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Sure, Oreo next thing you'll tell us is that because you have witnessed a birth you know what it feels like to push a nine pound baby out.

Grow up, just because you are not a mom doesn't mean you are not important, it just means you are not "as" important in the life of the child. Political correctness has gone way too far in this country when people get upset because we have a term for the mother of a child or when groups of mothers get together to talk about “motherly” things.

wah, I feel left out because I am not a doctor.

Posted by: to oreo | August 18, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Folks:

Ju-Don Roberts is washingtonpost.com's Managing Editor and the person who edits me. I've just returned from a relaxing, tuned-out week at the beach, and she had a few folks guest write while I was away. I'll be back with entries early tomorrow -- after I finish slogging through my massive inbox and have time to read up on everything I missed last week.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | August 18, 2008 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Sure, Oreo next thing you'll tell us is that because you have witnessed a birth you know what it feels like to push a nine pound baby out.

Grow up, just because you are not a mom doesn't mean you are not important, it just means you are not "as" important in the life of the child. Political correctness has gone way too far in this country when people get upset because we have a term for the mother of a child or when groups of mothers get together to talk about “motherly” things.

wah, I feel left out because I am not a doctor.


Posted by: to oreo | August 18, 2008 12:11 PM

I am a mom, and not because I reproduced. Sure. I did that. That's only the beginning of a very long parenting journey.

If your view of what makes a mom a mom is limited to delivering a baby, I wonder how you can comprehend either the love adoptive parents or grandparents feel or the mere existence of motherless babies and foster children. Mothering is a long-term practice. Reproduction is over in a second.

Grow up, indeed. You're mighty proud of yourself for precious little reason. The adults will now to have a conversation at a level you can't begin to understand.

Posted by: Oreo | August 18, 2008 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Well, Oreo nice of you to interject some words for me. I said nothing about adoptive parents, grandparents, or orphans. I was speaking to the fact that an aunt felt left out on a parenting board where mothers were discussing being mothers.

The "you" in my sentence was not "you" specifically, but society in general.

Maybe we should stop calling mothers “mothers” and just call them it.

It please sign the report card before sending it back to the school. It please let us know if you can volunteer at today’s fundraiser. It would you mind bringing in the Oreos for the party? This way, no one will feel left out. Also, last time I checked if an adoptive kid had a female parent they called that parent a mother.

Now, run along and have a grown up conversation about hypersensitivity with a side of analogies thrown in for good measure.

Posted by: to oreo again | August 18, 2008 1:59 PM | Report abuse

I can't imagine my best friend wasting her time on such a site. But she's been involved in my sons' lives since the oldest was about 10 months, and in lots of other kids' lives for even longer. My boys love her.

Her goddaughter (now early 20's) has enjoyed a great relationship, and a wonderful role model. I and a lot of her other friends-with-children trust her with our kids before some of our own blood relatives.

Her most stellar moment as an auntie, on a camping trip stepping between a black bear and a 4-y-o who was provoking it. She grabbed the boy (thankfully, not my kid!), pushed him behind her to another woman, who passed him on to the next woman, who passed him on to his mother, while my friend stood up to the bear, looking as big and as scary as she could, and the bear decided to go elsewhere to find a meal that was easier to catch.

Just because she didn't raise children who called her mom, doesn't mean she hasn't been important in the raising of a whole bunch of children. I'm so grateful for her presence in my children's lives. We're so much richer for her investment of her time and interest in all of us - and because she was investing her time *with* us, not *reading* some web-site about what an auntie is supposed to be or do.

Posted by: Sue | August 18, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Honestly, I agree with the person who just told off oreo. I have no problem with other people loving my child, which includes aunts, uncles, etc. But, when it comes right down to it, unless you are raising a child, you don't know what it is like to be a mother or father. Being an aunt and buying toys and baby sitting is not the same thing as being a mother.

Let's be honest.

Posted by: oreos are good for dunkin | August 18, 2008 2:33 PM | Report abuse

'Just because she didn't raise children who called her mom, doesn't mean she hasn't been important in the raising of a whole bunch of children"

Sue no one said that she didn't help raise these children. The only thing that was said is that it's not the same as full time parenting. oreo was just trying to cause trouble.

Posted by: Aunt first, mom later | August 18, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

I think I speak for many when I say that the phrase "you are not a parent you don't know what it is like" just make most want to roll their eyes right out of their heads. It's the WAY it is said, exuding smugness and superiority. Honey, you had a kid, you didn't graduate from Harvard Magna Cum Laude or win the Nobel Peace prize. Just means you had sex at least once. Please get over yourself.

Love, Me

Posted by: Me | August 18, 2008 3:20 PM | Report abuse

What about aunts (and uncles) who take in nieces or nephews after their parents die, become seriously ill or mess up their lives? This was depicted effectively, for example, in the Peabody Award winning Bernie Mac Show.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 18, 2008 3:26 PM | Report abuse

and have time to read up on everything I missed last week.


============---==============---==========--

Once you get past those Cecilia/Donna/Nancy posts, it will take about 5 minutes.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 18, 2008 3:41 PM | Report abuse

you are not a parent you don't know what it is like

Wow me, you really need to calm down and stop taking things so personally.

People without kids don't know what it is like to be a full time parent just like I don't know what it is like to graduate from Harvard or win the noble peace prize.

These are just facts sorry you take them so personally.

Posted by: Someone needs a nerve pill | August 18, 2008 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Wow me, you really need to calm down and stop taking things so personally.

People without kids don't know what it is like to be a full time parent just like I don't know what it is like to graduate from Harvard or win the noble peace prize.

These are just facts sorry you take them so personally.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 18, 2008 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Just when my husband and I accepted our status as DINK's - now we can be PANK's and PUNK's - that is cool!!! :)

Posted by: amwhite1 | August 18, 2008 4:30 PM | Report abuse

What's the "noble peace prize"??
Calm down, sweetie, I don't take it personally, it just...gets old.
You are not homeschooling, are you? Just...wondering....

PANK and PUNK! I like it!

Posted by: Me | August 18, 2008 4:36 PM | Report abuse

You must take it personally if all you can do is point out her typo and ask if she is home schooling without addressing her questions.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 18, 2008 4:45 PM | Report abuse

PUNK must be a nasty certification offered by NAMBLA.

Posted by: Uncle Ernie | August 18, 2008 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Full time parenting isn't the same from one kid to the next. Being "mom" to a 16-y-o with autism is a completely different role from being "mom" to his bright-normal 11-y-o brother. Being "Auntie Bucko" to either of them is also a different role.

My point wasn't about the differences between being a parent and being an aunt or uncle. My point was that the best, most-involved "auntie" in my children's lives doesn't spend her time reading or writing about it on the web. She's the one who spends her time *with* *the* *kids*.

Posted by: Sue | August 18, 2008 5:06 PM | Report abuse

A website glorifying a good family friend...give me a break. It screams I-need-a-life and it's-all-about-me.

Posted by: mlc | August 18, 2008 5:13 PM | Report abuse

This is the second and last time I'll check out this blog. Another inane, I've-got-to-get-in-the-last-word argument. The last one was about a guy taking a picture on the playground, where the consensus seemed to be, if he looks like an accountant he's got to be a molester. Bu-Bye!

Posted by: Remy | August 18, 2008 5:52 PM | Report abuse

"Grow up, just because you are not a mom doesn't mean you are not important, it just means you are not "as" important in the life of the child."

The world is headed down the crapper fast when the whining class yammer about "taking it personally" when someone points out an error in logic. It's not about who is a mom, it's about who is an a--hole. Anon at 10:14's pride over a night of knockin' boots merits that title.

Posted by: oreo | August 19, 2008 12:34 PM | Report abuse

I think many of you are missing the point of this website. For many of us aunts and uncles who don't have kids, but yet are interested in staying current with issues going on in the world of raising kids, we don't have a place to go. On forums like this where people whip out the comments "you don't have kids so you can't possibly know what its like" we feel unwelcome. Most of us are just trying to learn a little bit more about what parents go through and what we can do to help. Sure we talk to our brothers/sisters/friends, but sometimes it is nice to be a little bit anonymous. Sometimes we don't want to admit we don't know something that our sibs imply that we obviously should. Sometimes we feel embarrassed asking our sibs and would like to put the question out the world anonymously. I'm sure many parents post to sites/blogs like this because they don't always want to ask their parents or other parents they know...same thing.

It will also provide a place for PUNKS and PANKS to go to maybe vent a bit about their brothers/sisters/friends or nieces/nephews without getting their head bit off. "how could you say that, you're not a parent, you don't know what your brother/sister/friend is going through." Those kind of comments hurt and make us feel less valid. Especially when we're trying to understand. I think you all might be a bit surprised at how many people will find this site helpful.

I'd like to counter that you as parents don't know what it is like to be an aunt/uncle without kids. you don't know what they do in their life, how they feel about their involvement/lack of involvement. Many times parents glamorize the life of their childless friends and siblings because they are jealous of the "free time" that these people are supposed to have. these other people will be able to relate to them because they are in the same situation and they won't feel like they're being judged.

Finally, I don't understand the hostility towards aunts and uncles/close family friends who get chastised for trying to learn more about raising kids. I think it makes them better informed helpers to understand a bit better about what people are going through.

Posted by: tc | August 19, 2008 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I love me and TC- so sorry I missed this topic Monday!

I, too, get really tired of all the people who just decided to go ahead and deliver a baby decide that they have ultimate supreme knowledge of all parenting issues and that no person who chooses to do so can EVER POSSIBLY have an insight or an idea that might be better.

While simultaneously all those parents making excuses and apologies for all the times they make mistakes and wrongs and have problems.

I'm trying to be the spoiling/loving/crazy/aunt they can come to when real stuff happens because both of their parents are wonderful but amazingly uptight and will be incapable of helping them deal with sex and adult relationships.

I think a site like this is awesome and I'm really glad it's out there. I think parents are too defensive and try to cut everyone off from criticism when we're just trying to HELP and be an integral part of the family. Remember that next time you call on Thursday and want free babysitting.

Posted by: Liz D | August 20, 2008 4:40 PM | Report abuse

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