Help me be the best uncle to a newborn
April 21, 2016 8:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to be an uncle for the first time and I AM BEYOND EXCITED!!! I want any books, instructional videos, lullabies, songs, stories, tips, tricks, and advice that will make me the most fun, capable, safe, entertaining superhero-uncle-to-a-baby-girl in the history of the world.

I have no experience with babies and I'm a bit nervous nervous. I get anxious whenever people put a baby in my arms because when they start to cry or get squirmy, I don't know what to do and I try to pass off the baby ASAP. But I don't want to be that way as an uncle. I want to feel capable and have fun with my new niece. Tell me your best tricks for calming a whiny baby and, as she develops during the first year, keeping her occupied when I'm lucky enough to be with her.
posted by Triumphant Muzak to Human Relations (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Spend lots of time with her! That's really the most important part, because babies level up quickly and if you're nervous to start with, you'll never catch up by hanging around in the background waiting for some magical perfect moment. In the beginning, they're generally fond of whomever feeds them, so get in on that if you can (politely, obviously, deferring to her parents' choices). Nap-time buddies also make nice friends, and that's easier because all you have to do is sit/sway/walk/bounce quietly, depending on what baby likes. Soliciting ideas is great, just take them as starting points rather than mandates. Basically, be present and participate throughout her development so that you can learn alongside her parents what works for her. She'll love you for your effort.
posted by teremala at 8:53 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you want the parents to like you, get them a case of baby wipes from Costco as a baby present. Then after the baby is born, bring prepared food (takeout or homemade) and be willing to do some household chores. This will allow you to observe the baby and how she interacts with her parents.

DO support the baby's head when holding her for the first 4-6 months.

DON'T give the parents any parenting advice, unless they have asked you for it or you see something happening that you believe violates your state's child abuse laws.

DON'T wear non-machine-washable clothes when holding the baby. Trust me on this.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:05 AM on April 21, 2016 [8 favorites]

Learn how to use the parents' baby carrier of choice and become a ninja with it. Protip: if you have a snuggly cat at your disposal, they make great stand-ins for a newborn if you're learning to use something like a Moby wrap. If you can strap that nugget to your chest and walk and walk and walk and walk, you will be a hero.

Having said that: in order to preserve your relationship with your sibling/sibling's partner, scrupulously respect their boundaries and put your antennae way, way up for any hint that they may want you to back off/go away/step aside but are just being too polite to say it. Parents have differing levels of comfort with other people being around their baby, and it's not something that can be predicted ahead of time. As it turned out, I was like "Please everyone dandle this baby as much as you want while I eat some ice cream" but I know plenty of parents who do not want other people so much as touching their newborns until all the hormones start to calm down after several weeks, and becoming fully comfortable with something like leaving the baby alone with a trusted adult, even a relative, can take many months or even a couple years (again: this varies wildly from individual to individual).
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:17 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Changing diapers (assuming they're using disposables, I don't know about cloth diapers) isn't that difficult, especially for a newborn. It can be gross, yes, but it's not that hard. If you're willing to do that, you'll get a lot more time with the baby than you will if you're not.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:18 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you haven't had a pertussis vaccine in the last 2-5 years, get one before going to visit the baby. A regular tetanus shot isn't good enough, it has to include pertussis too.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:20 AM on April 21, 2016 [12 favorites]

If you want to know how to hold, and how to help get a baby to sleep, I would suggeset "The Happiest Baby on the Block" DVD (possibly from your local library). You'll be able to calm and put a baby to sleep like a champ. A baby that age likes to hold and be held. Smile, make faces, hold objects up for them to see, eventually reach for. If you can give the parents some time off, it is a tremendous help and goes a long way.
posted by nickggully at 9:27 AM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

When the baby is small, wash your hands all the time, as soon as you get there and before you touch the baby. Seconding getting the pertussis vaccine and learn how to change diapers!

Really, at first - help the parents. Bring food, bring coffee, clean the house when you come visit. Publicly brag how cute/awesome/perfect your niece is. ;) It'll take awhile for the baby to notice you. Don't be hurt if it takes awhile for her to warm up to you. My kid is two now and she ADORES her uncle but at first she was afraid of him for some reason. Be goofy. Make silly faces, play silly games. Ask the parents what she likes. Be gentle and cautious with the baby, especially at first. Be sensitive about the schedule - some babies REALLY need to stay on their nap schedule. Some don't!

Do any of your friends have kids? Ask them for recommendations for baby books or toys before buying. Or check some of the past ask-mes on the topic. Lots of stuff actually isn't all that great or useful or isn't what the parents want - some parents really try to avoid plastic, or toys that make noise, or whatever. Washable toys are good! Books are good. (Someone gave us a gorgeous blanket - but it's dry clean only! We won't use it for years.)
posted by john_snow at 9:29 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Especially in the early months do everything possible to reduce work (even tiny tasks) for her parents. Wash your own dishes and any dishes in the sink when you're at their house and don't make a big deal about it. Put away dishes to the best of your ability using their organization system. Refill their water. Ask if you can switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer. Fold laundry to the best of your ability. Fill the cat's water bowl. If you're on your way to their house, text and ask if they need anything at the store.

If they tell you the "right" way to do something with the baby or the house just shut up and do it.
posted by k8t at 9:35 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Your doctor will have pertussis vaccines (or will know where you could get one), as should pharmacies that do vaccines. Tell the doctor or pharmacist that you'll be visiting a newborn, that may help them figure out what you need. Get a flu vaccine, too.

If you smoke, don't smoke around the baby, of course.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:59 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I get anxious whenever people put a baby in my arms because when they start to cry or get squirmy, I don't know what to do and I try to pass off the baby ASAP.

Even pros can't magically know what to do. Every baby is different, and more importantly, every parent is different about how they want it handled. I can change a diaper, but does that mom want me to do a diaper change on her baby and do it my way while she's standing there listening to her baby cry? No, almost certainly no. And parents who are showing off the new baby realize that a happy sleepy baby is "showing off" and if she's a squirmy crying baby they're not exactly doing you a favor by letting you hold her, so of course they offer to take her back. So tell them you want instructions from them on how to keep holding her and how to calm her down; if there's actually something that can be done (wet/hungry/cold) instructions on how to do it otherwise general feedback on whether she likes cuddles and swaddles or bouncing and walking, or singing, or what. But the first step is just expressing your willingness to try holding her when she's not at her best.
posted by aimedwander at 10:04 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I make sure to spend time with my nephew and follow his lead. When he smiled I smiled back. When he opened his mouth, so did I. When he learned to grab things I made sure to have baby things on me for him to grab. Like, a teething ring dangling from a shirt pocket or a stuffed animal poking out of my shirt. We gurgled and made noises together. When his core strength got better and he could sit up in my arms I'd carry him to the window or outside and we'd look at the trees in the yard and watch cars pass by. I'd hold him and sway to music.

When he could sit up on his own, I started bring an Aunt Bag. In the bag I'd pack plastic spoons and cups and we'd spend a lot of time putting spoons in the cup and taking them out again. We'd stack the cups and knock them down. He just turned 2, and those cups are still a big deal. Other thing I pack include a ball, some finger puppets, some plastic trucks and an old cosmetic bag with a zipper that he loves to open and close. Inside that little bag I have little mirror, a plastic flower, a block, and a piece of paper with perfume on it. The Aunt Bag comes and goes with me, so I don't add to his toy mess, and so the things inside are still novel to him when I see him. He looooves my bag.

Every time I travel, I send him a postcard through the mail. I make sure the picture is colorful, and on the back I date and explain to him where I am and what I'm doing. This will rock his world in the future, because I had a grandparent who did this with me. :)

Enjoy your niece. Don't worry too hard about dropping her or getting her sick.
posted by kimberussell at 10:05 AM on April 21, 2016 [11 favorites]

Consider taking an infant/child first aid/CPR course. Or better yet, if you can swing it, take it alongside precious nieces adult people! Hopefully you will never need any of it, but it's a safe bet you will at least need to bandage knees and ice boo-boo's. They also often cover some basic 'child safety' which will help you be an awesome (and safe!) Uncle.
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 10:10 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Everyone has offered lots of practical advice but if it makes you feel any better I dropped my niece before she was even a month old over a brick floor. Insane fear & monkey brain kicked in & I caught her before she hit the floor, and managed to do it in a way that supported her neck. I can't even catch a ball & could not repeat that trick for all the money in the world. She is now a lovely 16 year old, who despite all my clumsiness over the years, still loves me, only now she rolls her eyes & grins if I do something particularly stupid.
posted by wwax at 10:14 AM on April 21, 2016

Talk to her! Talk to her lots and lots so even early on she a) gets used to your voice and associates it with Best Uncle Ever, and b) because language acquisition starts early and if you spend time reading to her or even just telling her that she's amazing, smart, strong, etc, starting when she's a few months old, it'll be great for her mind. What a lucky baby she'll be to have an uncle like you. :)
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:20 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

In re holding babies, the best way to get good at it is to do it a lot! The first time feels awkward. Then, the more you do it, the more comfortable it seems. You will get used to this, and you'll stop feeling like this lil person is made out of crystal that could shatter at any moment. Also, as your niece gets bigger, she'll get sturdier and this will feel less weird. If you don't live super nearby or see them daily, probably the next time you see her you won't experience the OMG DELICATE BABY dread when you hold her.

In re being an awesome uncle in general. I have one particular uncle I was very close to as a child. (We're still close now that I'm an adult, but it's not like he does anything special or has a way of relating to me that wouldn't be the case for any two adult family members.) Stuff that cemented this bond: He was comfortable being alone with me and taking me on outings without my mom's supervision. Even when I was very little. One of my first memories, from when I was around 3 or 4, was going to the park with my uncle. It started to rain, so we had to make a run for the car in a downpour. Then we listened to James Taylor in the car. (Again, I was 4, not an exciting story.) As a kid I remember him reading me stories, playing his guitar, playing with me, etc. He and his wife also always gave the BEST Christmas presents, usually really simple but creative stuff like drawing paper and nice colored pencils, or the complete series of some childrens' books I was reading (all the Ramona books, all the Little House On The Prairie series, etc). In general he always kept up with what I was into, what kind of kid I was, what I would like, etc. unlike other relatives who tended to see me through the lens of "Sara is a 7 year old girl who probably likes whatever 7 year old girls like." He also listened to me, and was generally available on my terms. When I was a teenager, I'd stay with him and his wife and their kids, and the two of them were very much "cool" parent-substitutes who introduced me to things like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a ton of art and music, vegetarianism and what was then known as "health food", poetry, comics, etc.

So, in sum, that is how to be a good uncle.
posted by Sara C. at 10:21 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Be a self-sufficient guest when you visit. Bring food or be willing to get food for yourself WITHOUT direction or assistance from the parents. Bring stuff to do, don't expect them to entertain you. Do your own housekeeping, maybe some for them as well. Ideally you should have your own transportation (be that car, walking, public transit, whatever). It sucks to have a new baby and guests who expect you to plan meals and entertainment and clean up after them. Don't be that guest.
posted by Anne Neville at 10:24 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Neither my husband nor I have brothers, so our sons' "uncles" were their godfathers. They live far away but they established an investment savings account for our sons. Each month the uncles made a deposit. Theirs was very generous (they are both well-paid professionals and neither has kids of their own), a total of $50 per month, but if you can afford anything at all, the regularity of the savings over years adds up; in our sons' case that money was building over 20 years. They deliberately did not tie the money to education, although both sons used it for that primarily. In a very real way, our sons were able to successfully launch because of their uncles' foresight and generosity, and they and we, their parents, will always be exceptionally grateful.
posted by angiep at 11:30 AM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

When you're visiting get up when the baby gets up and, once you're comfortable, offer to take care of the baby and let the parents sleep in.

Most babies are pretty easy- carry them around to look at different things, look in their eyes and smile at them, imitate whatever sounds they're making. Babies love love love when they can anticipate something happening. Move slowly toward her making a noise or move a toy toward her. That really is all you need to do.

You can search for "circle time songs" on YouTube for songs with hand motions. I do itsy bitsy spider for my infant and she instantly stops crying.

Once the kid is mobile and playing with stuff, just get down on the ground and play too. Just follow the kid's lead and they'll be happy you're around.
posted by betsybetsy at 11:51 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Everyone has amazing suggestions! Mine is much less practical and probably completely obvious, but my favorite relatives were always the one who were so, so happy to see me and made me feel like I made their day just by being in their presence. I don't remember anything specific except infectious laughter and wide grins. They made me feel loved, and that's the best thing you can do. In my humble opinion : ) And.... it sounds like you will be a fantastic uncle!
posted by onecircleaday at 11:58 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Put your phone away when you're with her. Spend time with her - her parents will probably be in need of a break, so they'll welcome you spending time with her. Especially true when she's gets more interactive.

I don't really do anything special with my nieces and nephews, other than spending time with with them. I'll play the same game with them over and over, let them dress me up, play hide and seek, etc. I think that's all it really takes. I don't really discipline them unless they're doing something particularly dangerous, or mean spirited.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:53 PM on April 21, 2016

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