Fatherly speaks with Milardo for article on being a good uncle

Robert Milardo, University of Maine emeritus professor of family relations, was interviewed for a Fatherly article about how to be a good uncle. Expectations for uncles vary wildly by family and culture, the article states. Milardo interviewed hundreds of uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews for his 2009 study and book “The Forgotten Kin: Aunts and Uncles.” “Once I started talking to uncles, I realized how complex this was and how important these relationships could be,” said Milardo. About a third of his subjects reported tight bonds between uncles and nephews, according to the article. “People were closer geographically, but that turned out to be not the most important feature. What was more important was social distance. If uncles and their nephews found things they had in common then they were more likely to become closer,” Milardo said. For example, Milardo found social distance was hard to bridge for college-track kids and uncles with no higher education experience, the article states. But when uncles are close with their siblings, they find it easier to bond with their kids, who in turn are more likely to trust the uncle as an authority figure independent from their parents. “Children, even fairly young kids like 5- or 6-year-olds will often ask uncles about their parents or complain about a rule in their households that they don’t agree with,” Milardo said. “And then uncles become the springboard for the child coming to understand the parents.” That means parents can enlist the help of the uncle to reinforce rules, the article states. “A nephew might come over to an uncle’s house, complain about his parents, which is a pretty typical thing and the uncle listens but sides with the parents. And oftentimes that’s acceptable to nephews because their uncle is seen as a more neutral voice,” said Milardo. And kids often turn to uncles about topics they want advice on but aren’t comfortable discussing with their parents, like drugs and sex, according to Milardo. “It’s important to be responsive to those issues and provide an opportunity for a nephew to talk about what’s important in their life, what issues they have, what their friendships are like and so forth,” Milardo said. “When the relationships work really well, the uncle’s important for the parents as well because oftentimes fathers will talk to uncles about parenting, about what the frustrations might be, what the difficulties are. And uncles can provide a supportive ear because they know all the parties.”