Start with a frank conversation.
If you’re an aunt or uncle who doesn’t have kids of your own, Dr. Lakshmin said, it’s almost like you have to learn a different language. “You’re not versed in the world of being a parent. The TV shows, the toys, all of the struggles,” she said. “It’s really hard to even know what questions to ask.”
It can be helpful to start by asking your sibling about what their hopes and expectations are for you, said Joseph S. Tan, a clinical psychologist in the department of family medicine at UVA Health in Virginia.
“Different people are going to have different needs and different wants,” Dr. Tan said, “and some things they would prefer to handle themselves, and other things they would want a little help with.” He recommended being honest about what you’re hoping for with this budding relationship, too, and why you need your sibling’s help.
You can also support your sibling by putting forth a little more effort in the beginning, just after your niece or nephew is born, Dr. Lakshmin said. Maybe that means offering to babysit or help do laundry every Wednesday. Or if you live far away, Dr. Lakshmin suggested, you might send your sibling dinner one night per week for a few weeks.
“Things like that, that aren’t even necessarily having to do with your connection with your niece or nephew,” she said, “but just supporting your sibling through a hard time, so that your sibling sort of knows like, ‘Hey, I’m here, I want to be involved.’”
Create a regular ritual.
Planning one night a week that you’ll read a story together in person or over Zoom, or a yearly vacation for the whole family, can lighten your sibling’s load and strengthen family connections, the experts said.
“The key is having something regular,” Dr. Lakshmin said, so parents can know, “‘Thursday night we don’t have to worry about dinner because it’s going to be takeout that my sister is going to send. Or Saturday night I get to have 20 minutes of free time to drink a glass of wine in peace because Joey is going to get a Zoom book.’”