There’s Nothing Wrong with Embracing Aunthood Instead of Motherhood

Portia and Ellen: not moms and it's ok

Portia de Rossi and Ellen DeGeneres aren’t planning on becoming moms. I knew it. Come on, we all knew this. Portia has been very open about her plans not to have kids. Almost two years ago she shared her feelings in Out magazine:

“There comes some pressure in your mid-30s, and you think, ‘Am I going to have kids so I don’t miss out on something that other people really seem to love? Or is it that I really genuinely want to do this with my whole heart?’ I didn’t feel that my response was ‘yes’ to the latter. You have to really want to have kids, and neither of us did. So it’s just going to be me and Ellen and no babies — but we’re the best of friends and married life is blissful, it really is.”

I’ll confess that even though there was no reason for me to, a part of me was totally rooting for Ellen and Portia to make a big, baby-sized “Just kidding!” announcement this fall. The celeb magazines seemed to be on hyper-vigilance waiting for news, and I absolutely got swept away in the baby fray. Last week Portia went on Jimmy Kimmel to discuss her new role as “Lizzie Bear” in Scandal, but OF COURSE all we wanted to know about was BABY!!!

Portia quickly popped the bubble and gently let everyone know there is no baby happening, “At this point, I feel like I’m disappointing the whole of America, not just my mother. You know?”

Yes. Yes, Portia, I DO know. I’m one of those ridiculous Americans who was just a bit sad over this. As a mom who has a family thanks to alternative family building, I am hopeful for anyone who wants to have a child. Some hurdles are difficult: sperm not being readily available or unexpected fertility costs or issues. If Portia and Ellen wanted a family, I was rooting for it, and because I was living in a state of presumptive-ness, I assumed they were just pining away for a “baby makes three” kind of moment. Hearing Portia on Jimmy made me realize I was being hopeful for someone who had not asked for my hope. Nope. No hope needed here, move along!

What Portia and Ellen are, and what they celebrate very proudly, is their aunthood. That is seriously commendable. The world needs more cool aunts.

Portia quipped, “[My nieces] are adorable and we love them and we play with them, and then we leave. My brother’s way too smart to leave me alone with his children! It’s supervised play, Jimmy.”

I would have been thrilled to have had super cool aunts in the big city.

Portia’s comments are solid reminders that not every woman, married or single, is interested in becoming a mother. Kate Bolick, who wrote about aunthood for The New York Times, shared that she far prefers being an aunt to what she imagines life would be as a mother. “Certainly the aunt’s public image is far more appealing than that of the modern ‘mommy,’ that bedraggled, desexualized creature forced to spend her disposable income on mammoth strollers or careen about in ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ fashion.”

Aunts have an important part in our culture, and we don’t celebrate them as much as we should. Just look at great works of literature and you’ll discover it’s difficult to find a wise and helpful aunt in the heart of many plots. Sure, there’s Aunt Gardiner in Pride and Prejudice who helps Elizabeth realize just how much Darcy has helped her family after the Lydia scandal. But beyond the works of Austen, we have Harry Potter’s awful aunt, Dorothy’s frazzled Aunty Em, and the overwhelming Auntie Mame. Yikes. Aunts are supposed to be fun … right?

In Savvy Auntie, Melanie Notkin’s definitive book on claiming your aunthood, she writes,

“The day my nephew was born, I took a photo of the sky to remember what the world looked like the day my life changed forever.
When I cradled him in my arms for the first time, I felt the weight of his tiny body. I felt the weight of my devotion to him. I felt more joy and love than I had ever felt in my life. In fact, what I felt was a love I’d never known before. A powerful, unconditional, prideful love.”

In 2008 Notkin established a website to connect other savvy aunts with each other, and it has become the hub for women who love a child who is not her own.

Portia and Ellen are exactly who you would want as celebrity aunts: They’re glamorous, love to dance, and have homes all over the world. The couple already famously dote on their nieces, 5-year-old Eva and 3-year-old Perry (children of Portia’s older brother). Let’s face it, there’s something “road less traveled” about a power Hollywood couple without kids. When we fantasize about going to award shows and wearing designer gowns, does that fantasy also include a diaper bag? Portia and Ellen give us a glimpse of exotic life without kids. We don’t have to be disappointed for them because they’re more than fine.

Photo courtesy of PCN — Portia and Ellen with their niece, Eva

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