On the Duties of Uncles and Aunts

Has it ever struck you that most uncles and aunts seem pretty detached from their nephews and nieces? The duties are not well-defined. The impetus to help raise the nephews and nieces is mostly obliterated by a sense that it might be seen as interference (and surely, sometimes it is!).

But it seems to me that a proper understanding of the covenantal structure of the family would place uncles and aunts in a much closer position to help than, say, daycare. After all, uncles and aunts are descended from the grandparents of the nephews and nieces. Maybe a slightly broader (or deeper!) view of the covenantal structure (not headship, obviously, as the father is the head) would dictate a closer involvement.

Most relationships between uncle/aunt and nephew/niece seem to rely mostly on the nephew/niece initiative. Why should this be? Is there no telephone? Is there no internet? Is there no such thing as gifts? I can testify that every time I have gotten involved in the lives of my nephews and nieces, not only have the parents been grateful, but also the nephews and nieces have been grateful. Our culture is rootless enough as it is without this fragmentation of the larger family that tends to happen.

I believe that the Bible hints at a larger involvement. One could profitably look at the house structure of families (one room added on whenever a new family starts), and the importance of uncles and aunts (even in a negative light, such as Jacob and Laban) in the biblical narrative.

I would therefore like to challenge us to be much more involved in the lives of our nephews and nieces. This is especially true of those nephews and nieces that become ours by marriage. They are not to be treated in any different way than the blood-line nephews and nieces.



  1. March 2, 2009 at 10:07 am

    This is a great point, Lane. I have noticed among the Hispanic families in our church neighborhood that extended family is virtually no different from the immediate family relationship. Cousins are like siblings, kids move around between aunts and uncles homes and view aunts and uncles (and grandparents) as having practically the same authority as their own parents. There’s certainly a greater sense of involvement and responsibility among family in their culture than I think we generally see in non-Hispanics.

  2. drollord said,

    March 2, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    My aunt? The one who eats broken glass and changes into a wolf at night?

  3. David Gray said,

    March 3, 2009 at 5:54 am

    Actually what Annette describes among Hispanics is pretty much how our family (English/Scots) works.

  4. Janice said,

    March 3, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    I grew up on my grandparents farm where my aunts and uncles were important. My house was on the farm though my father worked outside of the farm. When he died m aunts and uncle who were still on the farm stepped in. My aunt, who never married is 91 and her brother, 83 are still alive and now my family helps with them though they are quite independent. In our family we have tended to continue this mode. My sister and I who are married are very involved in our nieces and nephews lives. My sister and brother have encouraged our involvement and it has been wonderful for all involved. I now have the primary care for my mom who has Alzheimer’s and we have a very close knit family. My nieces and nephews are seeing in addition how care takes place in the body of Christ. Thanks for your article.

  5. Janice said,

    March 3, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    I left out a word in the last comment. My sister and I are NOT married and so the involvement with the nieces and nephews has been a blessing to us and to them.

  6. Matt Beatty said,

    March 4, 2009 at 8:58 am


    I have a question for you and I don’t wish to hijack a thread or create a “issue” where one doesn’t exist. Could I email you off-list and ask you? If so, please just send you email address to mhbeatty AT mac DOT com. Thanks.

  7. revkev1967 said,

    March 4, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Wonderful idea, only I am hundreds of miles removed from my family.

  8. March 4, 2009 at 10:45 am

    This is true for so many. I spent all my growing up years separated by many states from my extended family, sometimes living in completely different countries. It does make connection difficult!

  9. greenbaggins said,

    March 4, 2009 at 10:46 am

    I also am separated by hundreds of miles from ANY of my nephews and nieces. But there are phone calls, emails, Facebook, not to mention cars and planes.

  10. March 4, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Yep, one of the great uses of the internet has been the ability to rapidly and directly communicate, send photos, videos, chat online. It helps a lot!

  11. David Gray said,

    March 4, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    And to a degree we have some control over how great the distance is. We’ve made a conscious choice to move back among extended family at a substantial financial cost. Haven’t regretted it for a moment…

  12. Admin said,

    March 5, 2009 at 11:35 am

    Great and much neglected topic Lane. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. I am the member of a huge southern family and growing up I relied heavily upon my nine aunts for wonderful times of fellowship and to this date attribute much of my homemaking, social and etiquette skills to their witness, love, direction and care (and my Mom as well). Wonderful memories of beautifully shared moments to be shared forward. The internet has been a wonderful tool for gettng together with my younger nieces and nephews and especially at FB since they love it so. My first invited “friends” at FB were these young folks who need well-seasoned leadership in life matters and social activity and it has been a reciprocal experience. It makes us feel young again! Today we lose much because of distance and commitments but these tools certainly can encourage us, bring us closer and the result will be a blessing to all and perhaps more personal contacts face-to-face when social activity in the family is available.

  13. rfwhite said,

    March 7, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    Lane, while there is no doubt good that can come from reflecting on our duties as uncles and aunts, I’m not clear about what you believe is the biblical basis for including nephews and nieces in “the covenantal structure of the family” in this context. Can you elaborate on this?

    Also, what would you say were uncle Seth’s obligations to his Cainite nephews and nieces? How might they compare and contrast to uncle Abraham’s duties to his nephew Lot?

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