How to be a supportive offbeat auntie/uncle

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This is what I call rocking Aunthood! Photo by Caught You On Camera.

What are some ways that new offbeat aunties and uncles can help out their friends who are having kids? I am very excited about being an auntie and helping out, but not having any kids myself and no younger siblings, I'm a little at a loss at what to do. My fiance and I do not have to strong urge to have our own kids, at least not for a while, but we both believe very strongly in being a support network for the parents and kids in our lives. However, I'm worried about saying something wrong, doing something wrong, or just in general being a clueless friend.

Great question! We're going to do another she said/she said response, so that both Stephanie and Ariel can take a crack at this one…

STEPHANIE SAYS…

Invite your baby-making friends out

I think one of the first things we noticed is that our friends no longer knew if they could invite us to places — they did for a while after we had Jasper, but slowly, and then suddenly, the invitations stopped coming in. It wasn't that we were turning them all down — it was a combination of us not going to some events or get-togethers, or bringing Jasper with us when we did go.

I know nothing kills a party mood like a baby being around, because then you have to worry about smoking or the music being too loud, but it did start to suck to simply be dropped from any and all events that occurred. Since Jasper has gotten older, and since we started making it obvious that we're still able to do things, this has slowly died out. So, I guess my first bit of advice would be this — as tedious as it feels to always invite people who you're 90% sure aren't going to make it (read: someone with a newborn), invite them anyway! Even if they can't come, it will make them feel really nice to still be included in the loop, however far removed.

Listen to stories about their kid

If you're really going to be there for your friend or relative, it's probably wise to accept that at some point, their kid is going to come up. Luckily, most of our friends are incredibly supportive and love Jasper to pieces, and also understand that our relationship with him is a gigantic part of our lives now. So, in a similar way that I tell stories about what Sean does, I also tell stories about what Jasper does. Do I sit there and regale my friends with stories about Jasper's poop? No, because seriously? That shit (pun!) is gross. I think that having friends who are happy to hear about the latest tooth that's come in or what words Jasper is trying to say has helped me AVOID talking about things that no one else besides Sean wants to hear about. Also, you might pick up a few valuable baby tips for when you do decide to have kids.

Remind them that they were people before they were parents

I have a few very close friends who have done an awesome job of reconciling Stephanie the Parent with Stephanie the non-Parent, and it's been amazing for me. I don't even know if they have done it consciously — just make sure you still talk to your friends with babies the same way you did BEFORE they had kids.


ARIEL SAYS…

If Offbeat Mama can accomplish only ONE thing, I hope it helps support parents and non-parents maintaining their relationships. Aunties and Uncles of the non-bio sort are so critically important for kids … and I think it's a win for everyone: non-parents get a little dose of kiddie wonderment in their lives, kids get an ongoing lesson that "grown up" isn't the same as "parent" and that they can be friends with people of all ages, and parents get to enjoy a diversity of relationships … keeping in touch with the "non parent" parts of their brains. This is all to say: good on you for wanting to support and keep in touch with your parent friends!

I'm going to focus on how you can help in the first few months, when your parent friends are dealing with a newborn:

Bring over food

Figuring out how to juggle a family and getting food on the table is always a challenge, but especially so for new parents. In the first six months after a baby is born, I don't think there's a single new parent who would EVER turn down an offer to bring over food. Sometimes they may be too tired to do much visiting, but parents will ALWAYS appreciate a smiling face at the door with arms full of take-out or home-cooked deliciousness.

Help around the house

Make the offer to come over and help with a little housework. Parents of newborns are in total shell-shock and need all the help they can get. Let them take a shower or vegetate on the couch while you sweep the kitchen or change the kitty litter. Don't expect a social visit — just get in, do a little tidying, and let yourself out the backdoor. Your shell-shocked friends will appreciate it more than they know how to say.

Be patient

Your parent friends may be sleep deprived, disoriented, crabby, confused, and generally unpleasant to be around sometimes. Their endearing foibles and flaws might get a bit more extreme and less endearing. You may wonder why you ever liked these people. The best gift you can give your parent friends is patience and understanding. Not that some people don't because insufferable assholes once they have kids (because they do!) but the transition is definitely rocky. Give your new parent friends a year or so to get their heads back on straight.

And later: accept that you will have to be the social instigator

As a parent, I'm constantly wrestling with Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and unfortunately "organizing social outings" is pretty low on the priority list. I love getting together with people, but I don't always have the energy to get the ball rolling with, say, a group outing to a pumpkin patch or a big Sunday afternoon brunch outing. I used to love organizing group social outings … so it's extra triple appreciated when a kidless friend organizes something that I can go to. I worry that my friends may be put off by my lack of time to organize … so it always means a lot when a friend organizes something family-friendly where I get to see all my peeps AND bring the baby.


Stephanie and I both focused mostly on tips for dealing with parents of babies and toddlers…I'd love to hear from some of you Offbeat Mamas who've got older kids about how offbeat aunties and uncles can get involved. I know that as a kid, some of my very favorite people in the world were my parents' childfree friends. How can aunties & uncles (bio and non) cultivate meaningful relationships with their friends' kids?

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  1. I wish my non-parent friends were more willing to come over to my house. I think they think they're doing me a favor by hosting — but it's so much easier to deal with the baby at home where I can easily put him down for a nap when he's tired! Seriously — invite yourselves over already; I'll say no if I can't swing it.

    9 agree
  2. My husband and I are very lucky in that we have a very supportive family and if it wasn't for his brother we would have to put our son in daycare. With my brother-in-law living with us, my son is able to stay home when my husband and I are working and have light-saber battles and Mythbuster marathons! My son is very lucky to have an awesome uncle that cares for him like he would his own child.

    2 agree
  3. Excellent article. We were the very first of our family and friends to have a baby and I found the hardest thing was people wanting to visit and see our son, but also wanting to be entertained by us. Bringing food over, saying Hi and then heading out was the best, most helpful thing a good friend can do.

  4. When you have a party, let your friends know if their kids are welcome or not. If the party starts at 7 why not allow their kids, they'll probably only stay till 9 and then things could crank up. You could mention in the reminder email to everyone that so and so's kids will be there until 9 which might encourage some friends who like those kids to come earlier too. Makes them all feel welcome and like they didn't miss anyone important.

    Along that line, remember kids change a lot in a short amount of time. Ask if they're mobile yet (if babies) and have them over before they are. We were uninvited to some parties because their houses weren't baby proofed, but those people hadn't seen our daughter in two months. They assumed she was mobile but she wasn't crawling yet. We could have come for a couple hours and left when things got going. A month later, she was mobile they missed their chance.

    Look for kid friendly restaurants and suggest dinner there. Parents like getting out of the house… at least I do, but testing out restaurants to see if their kid friendly kills me so I end up at the same places over and over again, boring. Watch for space to tuck a stroller, wide walk ways, high chairs, kids mats/crayons and diaper changers in the bathroom and note what time the place cranks the volume on their music, if it's after 8 or 9 they're pretty friendly. If you find a place with these ask your friends to meet you for dinner.

    Yes invite yourself over. Especially on weeknights. Our weekends end up PACKED and not so much fun because that's the only time we can really go places further than a few blocks away. Come over for dinner. We are starting to do 1 dinner a week with friends. They often come over and so far we've actually done all the cooking, which has been fine, but offering to bring food or even do a pot luck is good too. And when it's time for baby to go to bed, you can continue your conversation (one parent will get dragged away for a bit.)

    Ask what to baby proof, do it and invite them. During that tricky time from crawling to 3 it can be really hard on parents (I think). Kids get into stuff, they need to to learn, and as I mentioned kids change/learn quick. Parents don't want your stuff to get destroyed and they don't want to be left out either.

    If you think all they do is talk about their kids keep a couple things in mind… When they first started seeing their significant other what did they talk about? Probably that person. Parents talk about their kids because they are important people in their lives. It's no different than you talking about your latest date. But also, how often do you talk to them? If it's only once a month, you'll probably get an ear full of kid. If it's weekly then kids'll still be a subject, but you can quickly move on to movies, books, a party, project, work and the other things you always talked about.

    And my last suggestion (wow this is a hot topic for me right now), it doesn't have to be an Event! it can just be a walk around the block, go to the grocery or market together, go swimming at the neighborhood pool, go for a cup of coffee (super easy to do with newborns and portable sleepers).

    Great topic Offbeat Mama

    1 agrees
  5. For older kids: my brothers and I have an aunt and uncle on my dad's side who don't have children, and when we were younger, they did a lot to cultivate relationships with us so that now that we're adults, we're still close.

    My aunt's place was a regular destination for family holiday gatherings, and they made sure to have special treats for us when we came — chocolate advent calendars, squeeze-it sugar drinks, a sled for playing in the snow. My aunt and I share a love of art and history, and she would take me to museums for my birthdays.

    My uncle and his partner are younger than my parents and have always lived in a small apartment off the Castro in San Francisco. For suburban kids, going to spend a weekend with the uncles in the city was THE BEST THING EVER. When we were little, we did things like riding bikes in Golden Gate Park, eating dim sum and playing at the Exploratorium. As teenagers, one uncle would take us into the Virgin Megastore or Sephora and say, "You have $25. Go." The other would listen to us talk for HOURS about our lives, and he actually *cared.* They taught us about taking public transportation and curating art galleries. They're the ones who gave my brother safer sex education (very concise: "I don't care where you put it, just wear a condom.")

    I guess the short answer is: if you want/plan to be a long-term presence in a child's life, take time to spend time with them. Kids benefit a lot from non-parental adult relationships, and it can be fun for the adults. Show them things their parents might not introduce them to or have access to. (There was no snow where we lived, but there was at my aunt's house. And no dim sum in the suburbs.) Most importantly, treat them like people. It means a lot to a child and to an adolescent to be taken seriously.

    11 agree
  6. Some of these same things can be applied to being a rockstar of a step-parent too…

    I'm very lucky to have a situation with NO ex-wife/mama drama (we all can hang out together and have a decent time doing it… rare, but so awesome) and find that my real value to the kids is being around as a non-parent who cares about them and wants to be involved. They'll talk to me about things that are important to them and I can give them a perspective that's adult, but not parental. It's pretty amazing to see how much they appreciate just hanging out or doing simple things like school shopping or help with a project for school.

    For older kids: Your friends have spent YEARS on helping with homework, fighting about eating dinner, shopping for clothes…. all things that the kid in question will do with YOU, the cool aunt/uncle/whatever, with pleasure and everybody wins. You don't have to be Disneyland for the kids to like you. Just be around, treat them like people, and get to know them on their own terms. It feels good!

    3 agree
  7. I was pregnant when I was 21, so I missed out on the whole craziness. Just last weekend, all of my college friends met up at our favorite restaurant. We brought the baby and everyone fawned over her, and then we sent baby and daddy off and I got to have my first bar hopping girl's night out! Everyone took turns buying me drinks and screaming out that "She just had a baby!!!' It was such a fun and special night! Exactly what I needed to get rid of the cabin fever!

    My best friend is awesome with my baby, and she just gets so happy whenever she sees him, so whenever he's feeling down I always send him a picture message of her with a post it on her belly telling him to "cheer up emo boy, ya beautiful" He really seems to love that!

    1 agrees
  8. I agree with Amy about the non-parent adult being better sometimes for the day to day stuff like homework. My 15 y/0 and 11 y/o nieces both know that if I'm at their house during the week, I'm the "go to" for any homework regarding language- vocabulary, writing, essays, etc. It's no drama with us but I see the parents struggle because for them it is Every.Single.Day.
    In general the best thing is to just be there. Some of the best times as an aunt are working on hobbies together, or going to the game of whatever sports team they're on (I regard it as a requirement to make at least one game per season per kid).

    1 agrees
  9. I'm a recent offbeat auntie (my niece is 6 mo), so thanks for this article! I'm doing my best to be helpful– my brother and sister-in-law are going out of town for a few days to celebrate their wedding anniversary…and guess who's watching the baby?!

  10. As an offbeat auntie of two, I'd say, this article is great! My brother and sis-in-law have two young children (read: less than 2 years old) and are busy searching for work after finishing contract jobs in Europe.

    The best advice for helping with small children has been ;

    1)Make sure the parents dont feel like a "burden". My nephews made an entire house of people sick, cried all night with their fevers, and the aunties continually exclaimed how happy they were to help. My poor brother and sis in law felt awful- and we did everything in our power to let them know how lucky we felt to be included- crying fevers and all.

    2) Enjoy kid friendly outings, entertain the children during this period, like go to a park and play on a slide so mom and dad can have grown up converstation with the other aunts/uncles.

    3)Once those babies are in bed, DO ANYTHING non baby related. In our case this was a series of competitive board games and drinking, the whole group taking turns to sooth the babies when we heard them crying on the monitor.

    4) Best of all, love your sibs, love their babies. All other good things follow…

    1 agrees
  11. My four siblings were between twelve and seventeen when I was born, so sort of like aunties and uncles. (I'm eleven years older than my nieces – weird how life works out!) One sister went to a local college. She'd take me to all the Disney movies, to college basketball games, to visit our grandmother. My other sister was further away for college, but I thought the dining hall was the coolest thing ever. My brother was in high school when I was in kindergarten and our mother worked real estate. Every morning he'd ask her schedule to make sure he would be home to meet my school bus if she would be out late. I would hang out with him and his friends. I have vivid memories of watching them all play D&D.

    When my sister had her twins, I would sometimes visit for a few days to help out. With my mother, of course. My sister said that every time I visited, the twins' diaper rash would clear up because I was always changing them. This summer I got to spend lots of quality time with my two nephews, four and six months old, as well as the rest of my family. Everyone wanted a turn holding the boys, and their parents were delighted to spend hours not having to carry the bebes, and I had a great time getting to know them.

  12. Once you're past the baby/toddler stage, nothing is more special to a kid than a "just you and me" outing, which is also a great way to give their parents a break. Remember that you don't have to do anything big to be a special person in your friends' or their kids' lives. The biggest thing our friends did for us after our daughter was born was just come over and hang out. The biggest thing they do for her is treat her like a person and like they like her.

  13. Some of my friend have had babies in the last few years and this article both helps and reassures me that we've been doing the right things!

    With my best friend, it was a given for us that we'd love her children and we have so much fun with them! we love visiting them/having them to us and we're never bothered if we have to stay in or even to just go to our local park – we're also lucky as our area is really child friendly with cafes/restaurants and the parks.

    A second couple of our friends have a 16 month old and a few months ago we went to visit them (they live a few hours away). I was slightly suprised to find out that no-one else had really visited and they were obviously massively impressed and grateful that not only did we enjoy visiting, we didn't mind talking for hours about their son, were happy to stay in and then told them about how they can come to visit us when they want because we have all these children friendly options. a little bit of effort goes a long way!

    also, accepting last minute cancelations due to sudden illness is something i've learn to be not stressy about 🙂

    not trying to sound showey offey, and i do realise we're lucky with our area too!

  14. Thanks for this – I'm a soon-to-be first time auntie, and this was really helpful. <3

    1 agrees
  15. I regularly check OBM to gather awesome information and crafts for my ultra awesome 3 month old niece and so i was thrilled to see a post just for us offbeat ancillaries. However, i was dismayed to find all the tips and tricks are for local relatives 🙁

    I love my little bean quite a lot but am at a loss for how to incorporate myself into her and my sister's lives from 4 hours away. She's the first baby in our family and (as a kid who went virtually without aunts and uncles) it's really important to me to be a significant part of her life, and not just a check name on birthdays and Christmas.

    We send her handmade (and sometimes bought) gifts every month and we are planning to go and visit every other or so (and follow all the above advice!) but otherwise what's the word, mamas?

    • Skype dates! My bestie and I keep trying to set up Skype dates with her kids but between crappy connections and time zones it's only happened once. Still, if that's a possibility, I think it would be awesome!

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