Welcome to re-Prudied where I fix the terrible advice of Emily Yoffe, a.k.a. Dear Prudie, in the dim hopes that the original letter writer will read it and disregard Prudie's terrible advice. Today's response fixes Prudie's snarky, unhelpful advice to a woman who openly admits that she and her husband do not care for children and do not wish to have their nieces spending the night in the couple's cramped apartment.
Q. Bad Aunt? I Don't Want My Nieces Staying Overnight: In a couple of weeks, my brother and his family (wife, two kids) are visiting the city where my husband and I live. They are unable to afford a hotel, so prior to booking the trip I informed my brother that our place isn't set up for overnight guests. We live in a loft, and the only room with walls is our tiny bathroom. Fortunately they are able to stay with my brother's friend. Then my brother mentioned via email—our usual means of communication—that it would be great if the kids could spend one night at our place. My husband and I are childless by choice, and it's well-known that neither of us cares much for children. We of course love our nieces, though we don't know them too well considering we see them maybe once a year for a day or two. On our last visit with them, one of the kids barely spoke a word to us, and the other is a teen whose only concern seems to be her phone. Neither my husband nor I is comfortable at the thought of having children as overnight guests. I told my brother this, and he finds it ridiculous that we are refusing to host his kids for a night. Am I a bad aunt for making such a decision?
A: You're a bad aunt, but just embrace it. Lots of people are happy in their choice not to have children. But when you say you globally dislike all children, even your own nieces, because they've inevitably started out life as children, that makes you a bad aunt. You love them? Really? You don't even want to know them. You're offended that on the last visit they did nothing to charm you, but that's generally how people, especially kids, react around others who have not only no interest in them but only contempt. (And no one should take personally a teenager's focus on the phone.) You don't want them to stay over, so just stick to that. However, maybe your brother and his wife would appreciate an afternoon or evening to themselves. So you could offer to take the kids to a museum, or a show, or a cool neighborhood. Keep your expectations low, and maybe these slowly emerging adults will surprise you.
No, LW, you're not a bad aunt, and your husband isn't a bad uncle. Prudie is giving bad advice. I'll get back to you in a minute because Prudie needs a smackdown first.
Prudie, "neither of us cares for children" doesn't automatically mean "globally dislike children." There's a major difference between preferring the absence of something in daily life versus a deep-rooted hatred of that same thing. I don't like Gorgonzola cheese in any form, but I don't hate it so much that I can't stand to be in the same room with it.
Assigning adult motives to children is also extremely shitty. I've reread this letter several times, and I find no evidence of contempt or no desire to know these nieces. Plus, you really think children, especially one glued to a phone, are even remotely capable of figuring out an adult's true intentions? Adults can't even figure out fellow adults' true intentions! That's why people write to you in the first place!
Prudie, siblings are thrown together by chance not by choice. So it really isn't a surprise that some families do not have close relationships that resemble the ones on Full House. Just because some family members might not be besties doesn't mean they hate each other. It just means some people get along better with others; it isn't an indictment on those individuals.
You don't need this, LW, but I applaud you and your husband for your honesty, especially because what you prefer goes against the grain of commonly-held beliefs. There are two big celebrities who also chose not to have children, and they are very open about it. Christopher Walken and Stevie Nicks credited their success to a child-free life. More people like you should be commended for making a private, mature decision and living in accordance with that.
Ultimately, Prudie had the right idea, despite her terrible delivery. Your accommodations alone do not allow for your nieces to stay with you. Couple that with the awkwardness and unfamiliarity of it all, and all four of you aren't going to have a good time. Don't do it.
I strongly suspect the parents are aching for some alone time. That's understandable. You can give them what they want (and probably need) but in a different way.
Do your best to find engaging activities instead of going to a movie where no one talks. (Planned interactive events also have the added benefit of the elder niece staying off her phone.) Children may not be the best conversationalists, but that's okay. Ask them about their lives, what they do all day, and their thoughts on things relevant to their lives. Better yet, ask them to name some things they want to do. Having a say will give them some personal investment.
Finally, children are constantly growing and changing. Yes, you've got a niece stuck to her phone and another one who won't talk, but it won't always be that way. As they grow up, so much will change with them that it's like getting to know a new person every time you see them. Think of this phase of their lives as one snapshot in time and nothing more.
It's great that despite the awkwardness and distance that you love them. That love is the foundation of your relationship no matter what happens.