5 Tips for New Aunts and Uncles: Starting off on the Right Foot
The birth of a niece or nephew can be a very exciting time and adds its own special touch to preexisting family dynamics. With the arrival of the bundle of joy comes transitions of all kinds, including changes for freshly-minted aunts and uncles who assume new roles.
You're a new aunt! You're a new uncle!
First-time aunts and uncles often find themselves learning to balance the old (their relationship with their sibling and spouse/partner, the baby’s parents) with the new (their nephew or niece).
With this large life event comes great celebration and hope as well possible bumps in the road that may test relationships and expectations over time.
While there is no official manual for a new aunt or uncle, common sense, respect and awareness obviously go a long way. That said, keep being the exuberant, doting aunt and uncle and consider the following friendly tips as you take your very first steps with that special child in your life.
Upon the Birth of Your New Niece or Nephew
If you haven’t done so already, offer a gift or a token of support.
Gifts are one of several tangible ways we show our love, care and concern. Baby-related items can also be quite practical for parents. Perhaps you've already purchased a gift off a baby registry or sent a sentimental card in the mail. If you haven't done anything yet, make it a point to do so or offer a helping hand and be present. Whether your greeting card ends up preserved in your niece/nephew’s scrapbook or your home-cooked meals feed your overwhelmed brother and sister-in-law, it all adds up in cultivating your familial role and relationship to the baby.
Send your congratulatory greetings promptly and appropriately.
Extenuating circumstances notwithstanding, getting this one right is a big plus (and self-explanatory) for fellow blood. If you can’t visit your new niece or nephew right away, sending your next best is only a phonecall, text message, facebook post, or flower delivery order away. Tapping into online video chats can also help bridge the distance gap (some hospitals offer wi-fi access in their rooms). Whichever route you choose, be certain that it’s a medium your loved ones readily access so that they can easily appreciate the well-wishes.
Be sensitive and ask permission.
Unless it’s overtly dangerous or imminently hazardous, be gentle when commenting on how your baby niece/nephew is being cared for. You may not be in the entire know of any extra details regarding the baby’s birth or special instructions received from the pediatrician. Indeed, those early weeks and months are still a great time of adjustment. Kindly ask permission before using a shot of your beloved niece/nephew as your profile image on Facebook or the like; this can be a touchy subject for some parents. Be careful in assuming that just because you’re “family” you can also drop by for a home visit anytime; it’d be helpful to arrange meetings ahead of time if necessary. Lastly, remain mindful of not overstepping familial boundaries, even if you are the protective (or bossy) older sister.
Even if you’re an extremely proud and happy aunt or uncle, and can’t get enough of your baby niece/nephew, constantly asking for more photos, videos or information on the baby can be taxing on your family members. Consider the tiring and often stressful reality of bringing home a newborn; lesser priorities will take a backseat to feeding, sleeping and diapering routines in those early days. Giving them some space is important as your family members find their footing. Chances are, once affairs are better established birth announcements may follow, and if there is some internet savvy, additional photos or blog entries may be posted. It’s also likely that if you’ve been asked to help out, you will see your niece and nephew more and glean information in passing.
Make the Most of Every Available Opportunity
Savor the moments you do spend with your new nephew or niece. Get to know their newborn features, cries and movements; make eye contact and interact with their coos and smiles as they develop. Talk to them, sing to them, and hold them closely. Revel in the collective joy of watching him or her continuously grow and blossom. Be there for them and they will soon recognize your face, grow familiar with your voice, and attempt to say your name as time goes on. Before you know it, you’ll be more comfortable in your role as a maturing aunt or uncle and your ties to baby Mia or little Johnny (and your parental sibling) will deepen. Be joyful and celebrate family!