Are you a new aunt or uncle? Congratulations! You are in for a real treat. This relationship can be a treasure for you and the little one.
Yours truly has been an aunt for over a decade now, which means I know a lot of things that do not work and a few things that do. Let me share a few of those things that might benefit your relationship with your niece or nephew.
1. Be Excited!
Being an uncle or aunt is exciting. You are almost like mom or dad (But with the advantage of returning the kids to their parents when you’re finished babysitting ). You are a different version of grandma or grandpa. You are that perfect blend of authority figure, modernity and screwy fun to them. Celebrate it!
2. Get Your Bluff in Early; a Tantrum is Not Cute and Leads to Future Problems
I’m not saying that if you bribe the kid with an extra ice cream cone to compel her to stop screaming that she’ll one day murder the gardener in the basement. However, she will learn from that kind of training that she will receive whatever she wants if she just yells loud enough and embarrasses you. What a terror to unleash on the world.
Do not do anything the parents will have to undo. You are there to help raise a responsible adult; you’re not there show how awesome you are (even though you are pretty cool).
3. Teach Them What You Know
Family traditions, your occupation, your hobbies, virtues – whatever you do, let your nieces and nephews in on your life. Tell them stories of when their parents were young.
Tell them the concepts that you believe to be imperative to know. You are giving them another perspective on life. You are imbuing them with the knowledge that has taken you years to glean so that they will not need to reinvent the wheel.
Teach them what you know
4. Always Respect the Parents
Right now the whole family is elated that the little bundle has arrived.
However, there might come a time in the future when you might not agree with everything the parents are doing, you might not raise your own children in that way. However, unless you have legal custody, the nephew or niece is not yours.
Barring some kind of extreme circumstance, like criminal behavior in the home, what you can do instead of contradicting the parent is influence the authority figures by creating a good relationship, a respectful relationship. Bite your tongue if you have to do so. Eventually, you will be able to make gentle observations and occasional suggestions, when appropriate.
Remember that to have access to the child, you must establish trust with the parent.
Now, let’s say your brother (your niece’s dad) likes to complain about his wife. Do not join in. Skirt around the disrespect as much as you can; that’s not your place. As you establish trust, suggest ways that the couple might mend their differences.
When you disrespect a child’s parent, you are bashing his or her hero. Not only is that a character flaw in you, the child is less likely to respect and listen to you.
Remember that an aunt or uncle is there to supplement parenting, not overhaul it.
5. Be There to Listen and Humbly Share Advice with Nephew or Niece
Develop a relationship with the ankle biters when they are younger; it’s easier for them to trust you when they are older. That ease will lead them to talk to you and consider your opinion when mulling over a problem.
In other words, be accessible. Learn their goals and objectives. What is important to them? How can you help them achieve what they want in life? At times, all they need is a listening ear. Be there.
6. Savor the Moments
Be in the moment. Take photos. Write in your journal about what little Timmy/little Kwame/ little SeokJin did today. Record little catchphrases and habits that they use as young children and remind them of same when they are a little older. Everybody likes to hear about themselves. It also shows that you care enough to pay attention.
My uncle would say to me on occasion, “Enjoy this time now, kid. Pretty soon you’ll be an adult with bills.” Frankly, as great as childhood was, I wouldn’t turn back the clock for anything. Still, I know what he meant – savor your moments, they are fleeting. Perhaps he was savoring a moment with his niece when he said it.
Now go forth and prosper as the best aunt or uncle that you can be!