I never wanted children. My biological clock never seemed to start ticking. Even when my friends and family started having kids, all I could think was: Why would anyone want to go through so much suffering, all just to have their brood grow up and one day yell at them: “It’s all your fault!” However, now I find myself faced with a midlife childless crisis. I have to find a way to accept a future without my own children, and beat that nagging feeling that I might have made a mistake.

I adore my nieces, and whenever we are together I am overwhelmed by the love and enthusiasm they radiate. And as I watch my sisters interact with their girls, I can’t help feeling a bit sorry for myself—nobody is ever going to love me the way their kids love them, need me the way a child needs her mom, or grow up by my side.

The moment I fully  realized what I had missed out on was when my 11-year-old niece came to visit me for a week. She was actually dying to come see me—that alone made my heart melt. I had never spent a whole week in charge of a child and I was nervous and afraid that I wouldn’t meet her expectations. I thought she’d be bored and that I wouldn’t know how to relate to her.

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All those fears, fortunately, were proved wrong. We had a blast! Every night was girls’ night. We went shopping, we hung out at coffee shops, watched movies, talked incessantly and joked around. It was all so easy. Every morning she would lie by my side on the couch and tell me that she liked to cuddle with me like she does with her mommy. Ouch! I was starting to understand why people want children.

When my niece left when the week was up, I felt I had lost a companion, a playmate and a reason to get up and find something fun to do. That’s selfish, I know, because I missed her company but I also found that her visit distracted me from myself. My focus was all on her, and I could truly enjoy each moment. Not once did I check my watch: I was present in the here and now.

I’ll never experience the bond that a mother has with her child, but I catch a glimpse of it when I spend time with my nieces. So, in the face of my midlife childless crisis, I follow these tactics to keep me focused on what I have, instead of what I may have missed out on in life:

  • Remember that being a parent is really hard work. Think of all the other things you have time to do and enjoy.
  • Volunteer to help a child. There are many kids out there in foster care, and you can make a difference in their lives by volunteering to spend time with them. Check out Helponechild.org.
  • Be realistic. Consider that if you never felt a burning desire to have kids, perhaps it was for a good reason.
  • Enjoy your nieces, nephews and your friends’ kids. Spend as much time with them as possible, offer to babysit or have them come visit you, and spoil them because you can.
  • Stay connected with the children in your life. Send them letters and care packages; talk to them on Skype, and exchange texts and messages on Facebook. Let them know you are there for them if they need you.

I choose to be the best possible aunt to my nieces. By making them feel special and giving them all the positive feedback they deserve, I’m helping them to grow up confident and strong. And they might not know it yet, but they’re helping me get through my midlife childless crisis!