When my sister told me she was having a baby, I was just getting over the fact that she’d bought a house with her husband and turned 31.
I’m the younger sibling, so when monumental things happen in her life, I can’t help but look at my own timeline. I’m not married, not even 30, and own only clothes. My sister and I lead very different lives, but with her belly getting bigger, our daily conversations revolve around the same thing, Baby E.
As I watch my sister go through her pregnancy, I’m confronted not only with the fact that she’s going to be a mother, but also that I’m going to be an aunt. How do I do that? Well, turns out aunthood starts now, while she’s pregnant. We’ve figured out some guidelines together for grooming the perfect auntie.
Teach, don’t tell
Throughout her pregnancy, my sister’s been bombarded by people telling her what to do. You know, that unsolicited, weird-sounding advice like, “If your child bites you, bite back.” With me, she skips the telling and teaches. I may not yet be a mother, but my sister knows I’m not a child.
After each visit to her place, I leave with pregnancy magazines, child-care books, and lists of parenting blogs to weed through. A great resource is SavvyAuntie.com, the first online community for aunts, great aunts, and godmothers. “The site is designed to be a parenting guide for non-parents,” says SavvyAuntie.com founder Melanie Notkin. “A place for Savvy Aunties to share and exchange ideas, it offers all aunts a community, a place to connect and get support.”
With all my questions, it’s impossible for my sister to know all the answers, so I head over to the forums, which are super-helpful and an ideal place to get insight.
The first time I understood how I felt about my sister’s pregnancy was during an ultrasound. I watched the little alien image move around in her tummy, and I freaked. Was I happy for my sister? Yes. But all I could think about was how I’m nowhere close to having a baby, and that I don’t have tons of time to dedicate to her child. Fortunately, instead of getting upset, my sister tried to understand my feelings. Sure I need to get what she’s going through, but she also recognizes what I might be feeling about the fact that she’s pregnant.
By treating her pregnancy as a shared experience, we define the relationship we need together, making everyone a happy camper. “Remember that there are two adults in this scenario, and each should be respectful of the other,” says Cara Natterson, M.D., a pediatrician and contributor to Momlogic.com. “The sister who isn’t pregnant might be thrilled for her sibling, but may also have pangs of jealousy or sadness.” Without a doubt, appreciating the needs of your sis will go a long way someday when you ask her to babysit last-minute.
And speaking of needs…the best way to get what you want is to be open about what you want.
For your single sister to be a help rather than a pain in the rear, be honest but sensitive with her. If you need a judgment-free zone to vent about being tired, swollen, and wracked with heartburn, tell her all you want is an ear to rely on. Often my pregnant sis will call and say, “I need to go off for a second.”
On the other hand, if you’re overwhelmed with concrete tasks, don’t expect your child-free sister to read your mind. Ask for help and your needs will be met, if she can meet them. Other things in her life may have to take precedence over what’s going on with you, so don’t throw a fit—just tell her you’d love it if she could help you later.
You might think, I’m a first-time mother, I don’t know what I’m doing, let alone what I need. (I can count on more than one hand the number of times my pregnant sister has said this.) If that’s the case, says Jenn Berman, a doctor of marriage and family therapy and the author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids, “Express to your sister that you don’t know exactly what you need, but you do know you need her support.”
Now that my sister and I have figured out these basics together, with her teaching me, understanding me, and being direct with me, I can look at her stomach and say, “Bring it on Baby E, we’re ready!”
— Soon-to-be auntie Cynthia Blair Kane just got used to the idea that there’s a human being growing inside her sister’s stomach. She is a freelance writer, editor, and weekly blogger for the Jerusalem Post.