So, I’ve recently found out I'm going to be an aunt…for the first time!
I’ve seen women tell their families they’re pregnant on television shows and in movies a million times before – but now it’s real and it's happened with my sister. She's found out she is going to have a baby boy in November, and she's getting pretty excited about it, "counting the days and weeks", and is "excited for every milestone."
Of course my sister is the one having a whirlwind moment right now. But in the run-up up to the birth, I've quickly realised that I have some work cut out for me in my new role as an aunt, and no one's going to hand me a “How to Be a Good Aunt and Not Screw It Up” guide.
So I asked my sister how she would like me to help her as an aunt in the lead-up to, and time after, the birth – as well as asking some new mums who have been through it all already for tips on how to be supportive to my sister at such an important stage of her life.
Here’s some lessons I've picked up along the way.
1. Thinking practically is super helpful.
As the baby is due at the end of the year, I've started thinking of things I am meant to be doing – or, at the very least, I feel the need to help in some way, especially as I don't live too far away. Several new mum friends suggested that in the time leading up to the birth, I should think of practical, hands-on ways to be of help: Offer to help out around the house, with cleaning or gardening, do a food shop, anything they may need doing that involves a car trip or lifting heavy bags or makes my sister's life a little easier.
For the day of the birth itself, I found a handy checklist that lays out the items suggested for bringing to the hospital, including slippers, cotton wool, and some things I just forgot might be needed, such as a phone charger and an iPod. And of course, I'll make my sister an excellent baby-themed playlist, too.
My sister also suggested that I could make some sort of "family time" rota for when the baby is born. "When Scott [her partner] is at work, I'll get bored," she said, "so maybe you can all come over for coffee/lunch/walks on some sort of rota so I can see everyone!"
And I hear that babies cry a lot, so I guess another thing I should probably try to learn is how to soothe a crying baby.
2. Opt for an organized wishlist instead of a gift shopping spree.
OK, so I realise that as an aunt I can't go overboard buying cute outfits for the baby in the kids section of H&M, and as much as I love those tiny Timberland boots, I know I have to think through items to buy that will actually be practical. But I've suddenly found myself seeing baby clothes and toys in shops everywhere and thinking, Wouldn't this be great for the new baby!
Thankfully, people who aren't obsessed with tiny boots have offered some help. Babycentre goes into detail of the types of baby clothes that are needed, such as all-in-ones, a cosy hat, vests, and socks, as well as the appropriate type of baby bedding (a cellular blanket?!). Mothercare suggests everything from nursing bras and pregnancy pillows to blackout blinds and a room thermometer. And here at BuzzFeed we list some self-care treats for the new mum, from hampers to massages.
Some of the items are easy to throw on to an Amazon Wish List so those who want to chip in and help buy items can buy them straight from the site, helpfully avoiding any duplicates of the same gift. When you have a lot of friends and you're from a big family – there are eight of us siblings altogether – like my sister, having some sort of record of who's bought her what is key.
3. Respect her choice of name and allow yourself to fall in love with it too.
My sister has told me some of her baby name ideas, and now I've started getting obsessed with the chosen baby name. She went through a huge book and wrote out a long list, as well as keeping a note on her iPhone. When I met up with her the other day, she read each name out loud to see my reaction – but I was a crap aunt and was of little help. Instead of saying which names I did like, I said why some couldn't be used because they were the names of people I didn't like, or TV characters I hated.
One thing that new mums told me wound them up in the lead-up to their birth was people being too judgmental about their baby name ideas. Sure, you can help suggest new ones and send on some other ideas you've found while digging around on Magic Baby Name or Mumsnet, which has an extensive guide on how to pick the right name, noting what names have trended over the years and so forth. But in short, this one is easy advice for a new aunt: It's the parents' choice, so no baby-name shaming!
4. Remember that your sister is going to need a break, too.
Hey, being an aunt isn't all nappies and giving sound advice. When you become an aunt, you can do cool kid stuff. You can go back to Legoland! You can go to Disneyland without it being odd that you're there with no children! You can help plan kids' parties with GOODY BAGS!!!
OK, so I get that I won't get to take my sister's baby to do fun kids stuff anytime soon. So first and foremost, before all the day trips I'll be planning, there are some baby groups I can help my sister in finding, such as those suggested by parenting sites NCT and Netmums, both of which locate local groups and activity places for babies. There are services recommended by the NHS, too, that are important for both new mums' and babies' wellbeing.
My sister said she's keen for me to take care of and play with the baby so she can relax.
"I can already envisage asking one of you to come round for half an hour to watch the baby so I can have a bubble bath," she told me. "I won't cope if I can't have my bubbles baths any more!"
Bubble baths it is.
5. Be thankful to have a new member join the family.
Beyond all the practical tips and stress of my new aunt role, I'm really just so thrilled for my sister. I know it's a cliche to say that someone's going to be the best mum in the world but with my sister, I know she really will be a wonderful, caring mum, just like ours was with us.
We're a big family, and my sister says she's excited for her baby boy to have a lot of uncles and aunts.
"I'm excited because he won't get grandparents from me, but he will still get a big family," my sister said. "Also, you're all so different, so he'll get loads of knowledge, experiences, so this boy will have nine super fun uncles and aunties to learn from and be spoilt by!"
6. Know that you can be a good aunt while also being the "fun" aunt.
I've realised that, as an aunt, I'll get to encourage my sister's baby to have my same excellent taste in late '90s R&B, and love all the same hobbies and TV dramas that I love. Hurray, I don't have to be a regular aunt; I can be the cool, hip aunt!
But, of course, being a good aunt is about more than that. Reading around on parenting forums and speaking to new mums, one big annoyance is unwelcome advice from family members. As an aunt, you don't want to alienate anyone by pitching yourself as the "go-to" figure in the child's life by being the "fun" one, and you don't want to tell the mum how you'd parent differently from them either.
"I think one of the less obvious things is to ensure you're supporting the parents' decisions," my sister told me. "For example, I know I'll be quite strict because I think manners are really important. For me it'd really help if my family support that."
So what would my sister consider traits of being a good aunt?
"A good aunt would teach him things we can't, about things we don't know about, so he becomes a more rounded person," she said. "That way, he can be more than the sum of his parents.
"I think everyone wishes for their child to do greater things than them. A good aunt would open new doors, give him every opportunity. And treat him with ice cream sundaes."