An aunt is the female sibling of a mother or father, but knowing what an aunt is and what her responsibilities are are two very different things. American culture, which tends to put the nuclear family at its center, leaves the responsibilities of an aunt largely undefined. But among more collective cultures, such as Hispanic and Asian cultures, the aunt's role is much more demanding and defined. Regardless of cultural differences and norms, there are several important things any aunt should be prepared to do.
Nuclear Families vs. Extended Families
Traditionally speaking, the nuclear family has reigned supreme in American culture. A married couple and their children tends to think of themselves as self-sufficient. When such a family needs childcare, for instance, they will look for a childcare center or a day care provider. But in cultures that emphasize extended family, often an aunt or grandmother will be called upon to share the burden of children. If that aunt also has children of her own, she will embrace her sibling's kids as a part of her fold.
The Changing Face of the American Family
The face of the so-called "American" family is rapidly changing, and with such change comes different roles for family members. As more gay couples have or adopt children, often a female relative, such as an aunt, may be called upon to provide female influence and companionship to motherless children. Additionally, with huge numbers of immigrant families now living in the U.S., those families bring with them their particular culture's roles for aunts and other extended family.
When a Child's Parents Die
Many couples make provisions in their wills for who should assume responsibility for their children if both parents were to die. An aunt is a very common choice to take over the custody of the bereaved children. Even parents from a more nuclear family model often call upon an aunt in such circumstances.
Aunts at Funerals
When one spouse dies leaving the other widowed, it will often be the sister of the deceased who will speak at the funeral, offering a eulogy or some personal reflections about her brother or sister. Obviously, the immediate family of the deceased -- his spouse and children -- may not feel up to speaking in such an emotionally loaded and personal time, so an aunt of the children may step up to the task of offering some words to honor her brother or sister at the memorial service.