The new aspirational identity for young women is being the “cool aunt,” according to Business Insider, who detailed the trend of aunthood over motherhood in a tell-all piece last week. As more women push off motherhood, they say, “Aunthood promises both independence and family ties.”
“Being an auntie has all the benefits of being a mom… and then I get to give them back & sleep 8 hours,” said @wreckitren98 on TikTok. She and many other women are flocking to #auntielife, which boasts videos with a total view count of 62 million, or #auntie, which boasts 988 million views.
Whether it's a young woman prioritizing her career goals, having a doomer mentality about being able to afford kids, or thinking that they’re literally worsening a climate crisis by raising children, more women are choosing to set aside motherhood and settling for aunthood. So who is this cool aunt, anyway, and why is her lifestyle so appealing?
She’s Childless and, As a Result, She’s Rich
TikTok and other shortform social media videos like Instagram Reels do a great job of spreading relatable humor. Sometimes it’s outwardly self-deprecating, but then sometimes it hits a weird gray area where the video creator appears to be boasting or seeking clout for a trendy opinion they have.
“I'll probably never be a mom. You know what I will be tho… the cool, single, rich aunt who doesn't look a day over 20 and has a second house in Italy," reads the text in a video by TikTok user @peytondstyles, which was one of several videos highlighted by Business Insider romanticizing the idea.
Young generations seem to want it all, and motherhood apparently won’t get you that. The article explained that most of the women following this trend just “aspire to a clean home, disposable income, ample travel, and a carefree status in the lives of their nieces and nephews.”
One term that keeps popping up among #coolaunt videos is the acronym PANK, which stands for “professional aunt, no kids.” The acronym was created by a childless marketer named Melanie Notkin in 2008, who wanted to shift mainstream perception of aunthood.
“Professional aunt, no kids” is being romanticized as a replacement for motherhood.
Since then, countless ladies have boasted about their aunthood status online, with buzzy headlines like “Raise your hand if you’re a millennial and obsessed with your niblings,” or “Let’s Hear It for Aunthood,” and even “The most undervalued women in America are childless aunts.”
And I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Having a supportive extended family can be incredibly beneficial to a couple who may struggle with balancing work schedules and childcare. It’s not a problem whatsoever to want to love your nieces and nephews. I for one feel so much joy about the fact that I’m about to become an aunt.
Where this trend loses me, however, is that women are romanticizing the idea of choosing to be the cool aunt in place of motherhood. To them, one is empowering and the other is putting yourself in an oppressive box.
Even though flashy, humorous videos on TikTok make #coolaunt appear on face value to be a new trend, this tea kettle has been brewing for many years now. In 1976, 35% of fertile-age women were childless. Hop ahead to 2016, and 48% of fertile-age women were childless. With the way those numbers trend, it's easy to imagine that the amount of fertile-age childless women has likely increased.
Society’s Case Against Motherhood
I won’t mince words, not everyone is fit to be a parent. Some people also truly feel as though they have never desired to have children, like writer Lara Holmes who admitted in a piece for The Guardian that she felt defective for not reproducing and that she might have missed out on the child-loving gene.
There have, of course, been many women in history who chose, after careful consideration, not to have kids which is a personal choice that we can respect. However, what we can't get down with is the intentional programming of our society to convince young women that they shouldn't desire motherhood.
In the era of the empowered girlboss, many women now are made to feel like motherhood is oppressive. In her piece, Holmes proposes that motherhood is a patriarchal institution. As a statement on it’s own, that’s quite perplexing since the unique bond between a mother and her child is physically and psychologically deeper than the father’s relationship with the child.
According to Holmes, the mother sacrifices her body, career, and relationships to satisfy a patriarchal culture. The easy way out? Well, if you’re not actually a mother and you’re just providing love and supervision off and on to your siblings' children, then you’re not controlled by patriarchal standards. You’re just a free spirit!
If you’re not actually a mother, then you’re not controlled by the patriarchy. You’re a free spirit!
Holmes also was irked about how apparently being a mother holds a woman to unattainable standards for their parenting styles, such as letting the kids watch tv or making the decision between formula or breastmilk. To me, this reason makes childless aunts seem as though they’re scared of true responsibility. Maybe they don’t want to fail or be perceived as doing something the wrong way, so they take the path of least resistance.
It’s quite ridiculous to advocate for more women choosing aunthood over motherhood because of perceived unattainable standards. Billions of women, no matter what culture or what time, have made things work. Why should you let a social expectation stop you from motherhood? Talk about being controlled by a society, and it’s not the patriarchy. Women using this logic are letting what strangers might think of them dictate the course of their bloodline.
“Don’t Let a Baby Steal Your Identity!”
Another thing that Business Insider analyzed regarding the trend to ditch motherhood and embrace aunthood was that part of the allure of being the #coolaunt is that you can have the freedom to be more creative with your identity.
One way this is romanticized is through the idea of the “wine aunt.” Unfortunately, that identity is also the subject of relentless ridicule online that we certainly don't condone, with one Urban Dictionary entry saying that women adopt the persona “so that they can have freedoms that parents sometimes cannot have such as traveling the world. In reality though, they are unattractive, boring, quirky 40-somethings with no personality that no man would ever want to settle down with.” Not to mention how many “wine aunt” starter pack memes there are out there that capture the exact same identity that young girls on TikTok now are aspiring to have.
But hey, I can understand where this fear of losing your identity comes from. Sometimes women let their role as a mother become the defining factor of their personality, and some let it rule them to a fault. Maybe they don’t partake in the hobbies they used to love anymore, or maybe they don’t dress up like they used to.
In the #coolaunt movement, however, this is not a problem because you get to choose when you want to have responsibility. Gen Z and Millennials eat this up, since they broadly value individualism and want to express their uniqueness.
“You can be the loving aunt who shows up with presents all the time, or you can be an aunt who feels just like a mother,” explained one #coolaunt. Another one said that the “looseness” of not having to “do anything to teach them how to be people in a constantly changing, terrifying world” rids her of any potential baggage if she were instead to be the mother.
It’s pretty alluring to have all of these freedoms that supposedly parents have to sacrifice, but I don’t remember any sort of manual that says parents can’t have a personality. Anecdotally – and I’m sure that I’m not alone – I know plenty of moms and dads with iconic personalities who have robust social lives. The only difference is that they’re not entirely carefree, and that’s okay. A healthy amount of discipline and responsibility helps you grow as an adult.
In the #coolaunt movement, you get to choose when you want to have responsibility.
Admitting that the world is terrifying and that you’re scared of the thought that you’d have to teach your kid how to deal with it all might be an indication you don’t yet know how to deal with the world yourself. But honestly, a lot of parenting is just figuring it out as you go.
Additionally, Business Insider also repeats one of the most common excuses in the book by lamenting the financial burden of child rearing and childcare. But as we know, starting a family is not necessarily as expensive as people hysterically claim it is. Having kids certainly isn’t free. There are plenty of financial sacrifices involved, but it’s less about sacrificing extravagance – which many #coolaunt videos express wanting to hold onto – and more about not having our priorities backwards.
So I repeat, not everyone is fit to be a parent… but that can also change with time and growth. Let’s stop trying to market motherhood as a bad thing.
The proliferation of trendy #coolaunt videos and memes alike enticing younger generations away from wanting motherhood with aunthood apparently filling that niche is a net loss for society.
America already has seen a declining birth rate, with 2019-2020 showing the sharpest single-year decline at 4% in nearly half a century. That same year boasts the lowest birth rate since 1979. The “professional aunt, no kids” trend as a replacement for motherhood misleads young women – you don’t have to give up being the cool mom (and all of the incredible joys of motherhood) just to be the cool aunt.
Readers make our world go round. Make your voice heard in the official Evie reader survey.