My brother-in-law is having a baby: how do I nominate myself for Offbeat Auntie of the Year?

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By: Jesse DavisCC BY 2.0
My husband’s brother and his wife are having a baby! We are very excited as kids are great and we haven’t had any in the family for about, oh, 15 years now. None of our friends have had babies yet so this will be the first baby that we have been around for a long time. I grew up with a fabulous close family network and had great relationships and lots of fun with my own aunts and uncles, and I would love to provide the same network for this child, with myself as the auntie this time.

My brother and his wife are living with her parents, so I’m not sure how hard it will be to see the baby often enough to develop a close relationship as the grandparents will be the first baby-sitting call. Also because we haven’t had experience with children of our own yet I’m worried that they won’t trust us enough to share with any baby duties and will defer to the grandparents instead.

They live about 5 minutes drive away from us, so it’s not like distance is going to be a big factor. My husband and I have been trying really hard to be a connected family with his two brothers, but I sometimes feel that we’re doing all the work and they aren’t really into it. So how do I initiate the process of becoming an auntie and fostering a close family network? — Cinnamon Girl


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Comments on My brother-in-law is having a baby: how do I nominate myself for Offbeat Auntie of the Year?

  1. I’ve known most grandparents to say that the good thing about grandkids is being able to spoil & return them. So, while they will probably be the first choice, it’s very likely that after a few months that “new baby smell” is going to wear off and grandma & grandpa will need a break. So, in addition to letting the parents know you’ll be available to babysit, I’d also let the grandparents know that you’d be really excited to spend time with the new little one. And keep saying that after the baby’s not quite so new and cool to everyone, anymore.

    • I have two nephews, my sister’s son age 3 and my brother’s son age 2.

      My sister and her son live with my folks and since sis and nephew moved in my parents have felt a lot less need to be THE secondary caregivers, as they are in reality primary caregivers along with my sister (and toddlers can be pretty exhausting).

      I’ve been very lucky to establish a close relationship with my sister’s son over the past 9 months or so since she moved back to the area simply by enjoying my nephew’s company!

      My other nephew is a little less outgoing and so our relationship is developing more slowly. He lives with his parents, next door to his mom’s folks, and right down the road from her brother’s family as well. He and I aren’t quite to the hanging out without parents around stage but with time i’m sure we’ll get there!

      Basically I’ve found just being around a lot, hanging out and establishing a rapport with the kiddos and then letting their folks know I’m willing to watch them has worked great!

      An infant child first aid/cpr class might also be helpful to have 8)

  2. I wonder about this myself. My step-brother, his wife and son are in a similar situation, in that they live in a duplex with my dad and step-mom. I’d love to take care of my nephew every once in a while for them, but they generally defer to the grandparents first. Maybe I could suggest a sleep over for the cousins?

    What we have done to hang out, though, is to, say, go to a family friendly thing and say, “Hey, we are doing this super fun cool thing, would you like to come with?” or when the kid is older, take a trip to a children’s movie. We did this all the time with my step-sister when she was 8 and 9, and it resulted in her coming over all the time once her mom saw that we could take care of her with everyone around.

  3. Honestly, if they are living with the grandparents — I’m sure that Grandpa and Grandma, much as they will love baby duty, are going to want a break, too!!!

    Also — don’t be upset if at first they don’t really want you to babysit, etc. I didn’t even want to let anyone else HOLD my baby for weeks!! And I didn’t go out without him for even 30 min until he was several months old. I think people often feel more comfortable (and more in need of a break) as the baby gets older and less easily-totable.

    So … be as friendly and helpful as you can without being aggressive or “grabby”; and offer to help them in non-baby-related ways first (laundry or dishes while mom snuggles with the baby, grocery shopping, etc), and as the baby “wakes up” to life and becomes aware of you, they will feel more comfortable handing over actual “baby duties”, most likely.

    Another thing that would be nice — offer to help mom when she needs to/wants to get out WITH the baby. An extra set of hands for her first couple of trips to the grocery store or out for coffee are INVALUABLE!!

    Everybody’s excitement over a first new baby in the family can be really overwhelming to a mom, so if she reacts by holding the little one more tightly, don’t worry or take it personally! And don’t assume that however they act in the first few crazy, thrilling, sleepdeprived weeks is how they really feel 🙂 Give them all time to get used to each other, and they’ll be thrilled you are there for them when they’re ready to reach out!

    • I think this is something a lot of people forget about — spending time with the parent/s and baby together! Volunteering to be around not just for the baby, but also for your brother & sister inlaw will help show them that you’re wanting to make a strong family bond with their entire family unit. It’s easier to trust people to take care of a new baby when you know they care about the family unit first.

      Start now, before the baby has even entered the world, and offer to help with preparations. They might need help painting a nursery, or putting together new baby furniture. It might be a huge relief to offer to bring over a home cooked meal (both before and after the baby is born). Include her parents in on some of these invitations, since they live in the same house. By getting to know her parents better, you might be the first ones in their minds to call when they need a break from babysitting too.

      • I definitely agree with showing interest in spending time with parent/s and baby together. I am a new Mom, and I am a breastfeeding Mom, so especially in the beginning most of the kiddo’s needs were met by me. Especially for all of the grandparents, they seemed to misunderstand “I don’t actually need help” to mean “I don’t want company”, when in all actuality, I was really eager to have people hang out with US…Just not so excited (still) about leaving baby more than I have to.

        • It’s very true that in the early days, a nursing mom can’t be away from the baby for long. So time with the nursing pair is a great way to bond with your new niece or nephew. Holding baby for the length of a shower or solo walk around the block was really appreciated, but some parents don’t want to let go of the kiddo for even that long which should be respected if it’s the case. Sitting with me and chatting while I nursed was also great – nursing takes up a ridiculous amount of time and gets boring. Also, I would’ve LOVED to have someone take me out to do errands and do the driving, carry the diaper bag + stay in the car if the baby fell asleep in the carseat. Learning how to do outings with a new baby can be a steep learning curve and driving can be tough when you are majorly sleep-deprived. Your sis-in-law and future neice/nephew are lucky to have someone who wants to help and connect with them! Good luck 🙂

      • This worked for me! When my friend had her baby, I was unemployed at the time and went over her house frequently just to keep her company and help out. I also got to hang around and hold the new baby a lot too, which was very cool!

    • I totally agree… Our daughter is the first grandchild/neice on both sides of our family, and I have found family members to be a little possesive of her. I often feel like a spare wheel when we visit my husband’s family now, because everyone wants special bonding time with the baby, and I feel like I should leave the room to give them more space! It’s a very uncomfortable feeling. Meanwhile I have wonderful friends who our daughter probably sees more of than our family because they meet us for lunch, come over armed with coffee and muffins to chat and hang out, and are still interested in spending time with ME! So I find myself making more effort to see them.

      Best wishes on becoming an auntie though. It can be such a fun role and one that I’m looking forward to having myself one day.

  4. As a 1st time mom with 2 sisters and a brother with no kids of their own, I can tell you what they did. I feel that my brother is the most active in my 4 mo old life- and he lives an hour away and works. When he is free and I need a sitter, he offers and does a fabulous job. They go on outings and play. My youngest sister is only 15, so she will babysit for very short amounts of time, but plays with her whenever we are over at my parents. My other sister fails at this- she won’t go out of her way to see her niece and her childcare skills leave much to be desired. My husband’s brothers also fail at this, making no effort to see the baby.

  5. Don’t wait around for them to call.. call them! Or just show up with a ‘I’d love to take my nephew/niece for a while’, etc. Provides surprise relief, AND promotes the sense of family and love.

    • Oh no, showing up unannounced is not a good idea. But calling ahead with an “I’d love to…” would be great.

    • Thanks for your advice, but I don’t think I could do surprise visits without an invitation. Unfortunately they have not invited us to their house so far (I guess this is because it’s not their house, but her parents house) although they are always welcome at ours.

  6. My suggest would be that you should make an effort to really connect with your niece/nephew as a PERSON. Don’t worry so much about how big or small your role is in their lives– instead, look into their eyes (even when they’re tiny babies), talk to them, listen to or watch for their “responses” (which will be really subtle at first), and basically really show this little person that you’re actually INTERESTED in who they are. Having a non-immediate-caregiver adult who really “gets” them will be a huge gift as your niece or nephew gets older!

    Also, as someone who probably won’t be doing a ton of day-to-day caregiving, you’re in the perfect position to do really fun, focused, high-energy things with your niece/nephew when you are with them. I’ve had some pretty epic teaparties / baking sessions / crafting/ storytelling times with my nieces and nephews which, in retrospect, are very different from the parenting I do now, but were hugely fun for all of us! What are your interests and strengths? Find fun ways to share these with your nieces and nephews! Think “special” time, not quantity time.

  7. While I agree with all the comments here so far, I’d like to offer another perspective. It’s not my intention to offend or accuse anyone, but this was my thought on reading the post.

    If I think about my parents and my wife’s parents, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the first weeks and months with a new baby if we’d been living under the same roof. While it would have been convenient and free childcare, the immersion in benevolent, expert interference would have driven my wife and I bonkers.

    That’s my own family situation, and it’s probably completely different in your case, but it might be worth offering the new parents some space away from that. They can come and hang at your place, bring the baby, and not care about clothes that are vom-free and crazy ideas about doing things ‘properly’.

    With the best will in the world, but with a good deal of experience of parenting in a completely different decade, grandparents can often be the chief offenders when it comes to ‘should’.

    • This is a really good point. I know that well-meaning advice has been given freely before from grandparents, which has the added strain of sharing a house.

  8. Lots of good advice here! I especially like the advice about being around when the new baby excitement wears off, getting to know the baby as a person, helping with outings, and offering to have them over to your house for low-pressure hanging out.

    I’ll add two things. One, your feeling that you’re doing all the work in the relationship is probably going to increase when they’re busy with new baby stuff. Two, once the baby is on a predictable nap schedule, babysitting during naptime can be incredibly helpful, if somewhat unglamorous.

    Oh, a third thing! I just read a lovely letter written as a first birthday present for the writer’s family friend. New parents often wish that we could document the baby’s growing up better. Aunties are great memory keepers, not being sleep deprived and all, so you can think about that when you interact with your niece or nephew.

    • I really love this idea of being the memory keeper! This has really clicked with me and I totally feel that this could be part of my role as an auntie.

      I already try to make our house a family hang out place and often host casual family get-togethers and have just done Christmas and my Husband’s 30th birthday party. My brother-in-law and his wife are hard to get to come over to our place at the best of times, so I’ve been worried that we’ll see even less of them when the baby arrives.

  9. There’s some great advice here. My sister has two munchkins – a 1 yr old and a 4 yr old and I was able to spend some time staying with them when they were each little (I live pretty far away so I don’t see them much daily.) with the first one they were happy to have me hold him and bottle feed him, but the second he fussed his parents would jump up to grab him. With the second one she can scream her little head off, but if I’m in the room they know I’ve got it under control. My abilities haven’t changed much with the second kid, but their comfort level has. I think you need to let them know you’re interested and excited to have a relationship with your niece or nephew, but be willing to follow their lead and be supportive of their parenting. They will be trying to find their way as parents and worried about doing the right thing, so showing your support and not questioning their parenting choices (which the grandparents will probably do) will help them to be more comfortable. Once they’re more comfortable in their new role they’ll be wore likely to see you in your new aunt shoes!

  10. When my baby was born, my brother offered to come over and make us all dinner once a week. It has been INCREDIBLE, both for having at least one homecooked meal every week when everything was overwhelming, and for letting my brother develop a relationship with my daughter. It’s been especially helpful to have something scheduled every week. I have several friends I’ve seen less often than I’ve liked because it feels like so much work to find a time we’re both free, but I can count on dinner with my brother every Wednesday at 6 and plan around it in advance. Every week might seem like a lot, but it means that if we have to skip a week for any reason it’s not a big deal.

  11. It’s a little early for this, but if you want to be really awesome I would suggest babyproofing your home so they know the kiddo can come over without fear. Sometimes I dread going places because I know I will be spending 90% of my time keeping my 1 year old from falling down their stairs/dumping out all of their trash cans/knocking over their figurines-vases-coffee table books…It’s just easier to stay home, even though we’d love the company and people to play with our kid.

  12. Here’s why I would nominate my sister for the offbeat auntie award:
    – she lives three provinces away, so can’t help with childcare, but she did fly out for what ended up being the second week of my babe’s life. She stayed with our parents but came over nearly every day. Some days we stayed home all day and she eother held Dew or

  13. I have a 2 year old son and my sister has successfully become the 3rd most important person in his life. Here are some things she did:
    – drop by (calling first) with coffee or lunch.
    – hold him while I showered.
    – throw laundry in for me.
    – take a million pictures then put them on a usb drive for me.
    – get us all bundled up for our first trip out to the mall and assure me she’d help me find a private spot to breastfeed.
    – never criticise me/my son/my house/my parenting.
    – ask me a million times when he could first sleep over at her place and wait until I felt ready to let that happen.
    – create a weekly ritual of going to the farmer’s market together.
    – now that he’s weaned and in day care, she takes him on her Mondays off and spends the whole day with him.
    – respects his nap schedule.
    – made her house peanut free because of his allergy.
    – has a car seat in her truck for him.
    – cleared out her guest room so that it only contains a mattress on the floor for safe sleepovers.

    They are super close now, and I am so grateful that she made all this effort. It must have felt one sided at times, because I was lost in new-mom-land, but I think we all agree that her effort were worth it.

    Best wishes!

  14. Hi, I have a 5 month old with 4 sisters on my side and 1 on his side. What I appreciated most was offers of help in the beginning, not expectations to hold the baby. It really rubbed me the wrong way when relatives would come over in the beginning and expect me to just hand over my newborn while I fixed food for people. Give the new mom some space to get settled into her role by picking up the slack of laundry/dishes/food prep. I’m sure you have the best intentions, but please let the mom set the tone/pace for your interactions. Let her offer for you to hold the baby.

  15. As a first time mom of a 3 month old I advise you to be around as general domestic savior once the baby arrives. I was amazed at how much we needed extra hands (still do) and we hire someone to clean so didn’t even have to do that. The more helpful you are the once the baby comes the closer you will be. Helping with meals, general housekeeping, running errands, etc. Show up for them as family and see what happens!

  16. You’re in a really good position to help with things mama won’t have time to, like chores and making sure there’s food in the fridge and lots of healthy one-handed snacks at the ready. She’ll be forever grateful.

  17. TAKE PICTURES! Be that one with the camera who is willing to be silly and photo-document their early days together. Make a photo-book for them. Help preserve the memories.

    And trust…the grandparents are gonna want/need a break, too. My mother-in-law watches the babe A LOT and it would be super cool if an auntie volunteered, or they did it together!

  18. My aunt firmly secured her place in my life when I was very young. It helped that she and my mother are very close and see each other all the time, but in addition to that she did a lot to keep her place in my life. Whatever she did, it worked, because she’s going to be getting ready with me and my bridesmaids before my wedding, and I’m having to consciously remind myself that I can’t let her do everything with my mother, mum should get some extra recognition on the day. Some of the things I remember her doing during my childhood:

    1. Offer to stay over and take on the late night shift. Seriously, my aunt did this once or twice when I was an infant and my mother still talks about it (24 years later!). It may not be practical for a while, but as soon as the night feed can come from a bottle mum and dad can both get some sleep (!) without the hassle and worry of the baby leaving the house. Grandparents may be able to do this if they are living together but there is something about volunteering to have no sleep that makes parents like you.

    2. Carry stickers. For years she carried a small sheet of stickers in her wallet. Kids are amazingly easy to bribe with stickers, parents don’t get as annoyed as if you give them sugar and the kid thinks they have won a huge prize. Be sparing enough that they are still a treat, but generous enough that it becomes a special thing. Be as excited about the treat as the child is – they can tell if you are just giving them something you don’t care about. If you find cool new stickers show them off or call the kid over to see your new purchases. That way it’s something just between the two of you that is really exciting.

    3. Have toys at your house. I had a special stash at her house – toys I didn’t have at home but still things I wanted to play with, so I always had an extra reason to look forward to visiting. She didn’t have kids until I was 8 but she had toys and pencils in her house long before that just for me. Sounds like it’s a bribe to visit, but honestly, kids don’t like going boring places and parents are more likely to hang around if the kid is engaged with a toy/game they can’t take home.

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