Monday, January 10, 2005

This is something I was working on over the weekend. As I considered how to be a good uncle for my Niece and Nephew. I will probably add more in the future but here is a start.

How to be a good Uncle. An essay of lessons learned in life to avoid mistakes taken by those before me.

Gift Giving.

1. Be considerate of the younger children. If you get a gift for one remember the others. Do not buy a gift for one on their birthday but when the next rolls around forget the other. Also remember that on a rainy day or snowed in day all the kids will be in the house and probably playing with each others toys. So remember the age of the youngest child and try to not get anything that they can choke on or possibly break. For example. My niece turned 7 recently. Since he was born I have been wanting to buy him Lego’s so he could build and play with them. When he was 4, I did not get him any knowing that his youngest sister was only 1. I knew that if I got him Lego’s they could be a hazard for his younger sister. So I waited until he was 7 and bought a batch. Not one of those play sets with premade pieces and instructions just a bucket with lots of random parts. Next year I plan on tripling the collection.

2. Remember that they are still children and will or may not understand about money. I remember when my niece was younger she did not understand that batteries cost money and that without batteries the toy they play with will not work anymore. Suddenly it becomes a motionless paperweight or something to throw at the other child. Often one of the best gifts you can get for the child is not really a gift for them. It is a gift for the parent. Get them a battery recharger and various sized rechargeable batteries of the same brand. This will allow the parent to recharge the batteries as needed to keep the toy functional. When the next year comes around just include another package of the same type of rechargeable batteries as sometimes they wear down with age and wont maintain a charge anymore. This saves the environment and it will ease the cost burden on the parents who would otherwise have to go out and buy batteries when the old ones die. For low income household rechargeable batteries are an option that is outside of their price range.

3. Stick to a budget for each child. This will prevent one getting a new game system while the other gets a little plastic car. Among siblings there is envy. There is the feeling Tommy got the new bike and all I got was this toy truck. There is often competition and rivalry. If you stick to a budget this will help reduce some of it as being an uncle you are never really there so you don’t have to deal with it. The parents though will and the children will also definitely deal with it as many who grew up with brothers or sisters can testify.

4. If you buy a game if you can buy two copies of it. Nothing ruins a child’s day or even a parents day when the child plays with the game. Then suddenly a piece is missing or broke. Have you ever played Mousetrap without the diving board? Candyland missing the INSERT PART HERE!!!. Checkers missing a few pieces. If you can get two copies this gives them a spare set of parts and cards. Also a replacement board incase milk, soda, or water is spilled on the other. Most of the advance games you would not have to worry about. The younger games that have lots of parts are the ones I am talking about. Now I know it can get a little expensive so only do it if you can heck go to a thrift store and buy a copy even if money is that big of an issue. However it will allow the game to give hours of enjoyment even after someone steps and breaks a piece.

5. Remember the sanity of the parents needs to be kept. So unless you do not wish to be welcome at the house or have the kids get in trouble for the gift you give them be reasonable while also looking out for the other rule about remembering the other children’s ages. Getting the eldest a pellet gun at age 10 may seem like a great gift but if there is a younger child there that shares the same room or could have access to it may not be so great. Water guns are another thing. If you get them more and likely they are going to get used in the house and the kids will either be punished or the guns taken away. Running a gift by the parent before you give it to them is a kind thing to do. It will also allow you to find out if they have had that already and know if the parent really does not wish such torture. One year I gave my nephew a squirt gun and his sister a big thing of cotton candy. Then I dropped them back off at their mom’s house and left. I imagine the havoc created was not a good sight to see. Remember why your giving them a gift. Are you doing it because you do not like their mom or day (in my case I did not like their mom and was using the children as a tool) or are you giving it because you want them to enjoy such an item.
On little family outings.

1. Communication with the parents is key. Know before hand the limitations of your niece and nephew. If one of them has an allergy or some disorder educated yourself on it. Know the symptoms of an attack and what to do. If your taking them away from their parents for any amount of time know you are responsible for them. Find out if one of them has had a cold and if your trip out to the park on a spring day may be too much. Know if one of them has a fear of something like water before you do a boat trip. Also find out if the parents restrict access for their kids to certain media. Do they allow them to watch TV? Would they mind if you took their impressionable youth to a church activity that is different from their religion? Do they allow them to see movies rated PG13? Do they care if the show has violence and such in it? Though again you are the uncle and at times you are supposed to spoil the kids going directly against the parents wishes can mean no more visits. It could also mean that future visits will require a parent to come along as they have to make sure your following the rules that they have set. They are the parents and their rules should be followed because if you do not follow them it sets a poor example for the children. Why should they obey when you flaunt them or allow them to break them when your around? Also find out what type of punishments the parents use so you can do the same. Find out if they believe in spanking or other cruel and usual punishments.

2. Remember who’s kids they are and that they are kids. They are not trophies to sit with you nor are they your chance to get revenge on your brother or sister’s childhood. Also they have limitations to both their physical and mental ability. Taking them out water-skiing when they have never been and expecting them to grasp it quickly is too much. Throwing them off at the deep end of the pool without knowing if they can swim is not good. Do the parents mind if you let the kids light off fireworks while they are still young. With my friends going out and trying something new and dangerous is nothing but with kids it could result in injury or death. Never forget they are not your kids and if something happens many people will feel the repercussions for the act. Also kids can tell when they are being used as a trophy. Borrowing your nephew or niece to take to the mall while looking for dates is not good. Overall I guess the main point is you do not use people as tools to get what you want. It is a bad thing to teach to a child when they are young.

3. Set time limits and time frames. If your going to take the kids out and say your going to be gone for an hour be gone for an hour then come back. If anything happens like your going to come back early or arrive late call beforehand. Preferably 10 minutes before hand. This gives the parents time to prepare incase they were doing a puzzle or wrapping gifts. Since parents don’t get a lot of time away from their kids especially during the summer they capitalize on what time they get. Having the kids come back and walk in on them wrapping a birthday gift or the parents doing something else can cause problems. Also if your going to be late then calling ahead and notifying them will reduce worry and let you know if there was something else planned.

4. Compare notes with the parents afterwards. If you learned something new like Billy likes boats and is interested in fishing do the parents mind? This allows the parents to possibly learn something new about their child or perhaps what direction to help steer them in. If the parents are Vegetarian I imagine the thought of fishing is not a good thing. If you noticed something different like Sarah appears to no longer like tomato’s. You know the saying, ‘It takes a village’? Well guess what? Your part of the village and if one side doesn’t know what the other side is doing conflicts that could be easily avoided can be created. Another example is if you took them to a social function like a church picnic that little Billy was interested in hearing bible stories but you kept him away because you know the parents were atheist. Next time you take him out should you avoid religious functions or do the parents mind if the child makes their own decision on what their beliefs are? Also comparing notes will key in the parents possible new interests for the child or possible gift ideas for the holiday season. Your time spent with them is not some secret that only you and the child should keep. The memory will still be there but sharing information and talking about it with the parents will only improve your relationship with all members of the family.

5. Encourage education. When my niece turned 3 I asked her to count to 3. I asked her to tell me how old her brother was. I encourage them to write their names on paper once in a while. If I take them to the store and have a picket full of change I try to have them pay and count out the coins for the person. To others this seems silly but encourage them to learn and then use that knowledge. This also follows under communication in a way. If you find out that Billy has just learned about something then bring it up and ask him about it. Not only will it reinforce what he learned but most kids when young are happy to show off. This I feel is also important if the child is one of many. In a family of brothers and sisters they don’t get the chance to shine. Sometimes even praise is not split up evenly or even given for some things in larger families. Obviously don’t be ridiculous about it and don’t mock the child but still encourage education and give praise where it is due.


1. Respect the parents desires. No matter how much you either dislike or disagree with them remember they are still the parents. If the parents follow a different church than you then learn a bit about theirs so you don’t give mixed teachings to the child.

2. Instilling belief or the desire for mysticism into a child can be either good or bad. If the parents are not religious and you want to bring the child along to some activity run it by them first. I imagine most parents would not have any disagreement to a church picnic most would have words to say if you were to bring the youth to be baptized. Find out how they plan on raising their child in regards to religion. Personally I believe the child should be raised with neutral teachings that give background and history towards whatever faith the parents have. However leave it open to the child to make their own decision when they get old. Most children cannot even comprehend the idea of life after death. They most likely cannot even understand the whole death part in itself. So blind faith in a deity or order is expecting a lot out of someone young. Taking them though to little things like Midnight Mass, picnics, and other socials where there are other kids and allows them to be in an environment that is both wholesome and safe is “A good thing”. I cannot stress it enough that you should not go against the parents wishes. As the child grows most likely they will rebel anyways against their religious belief. If you force such a rebellion or if you bring it on by introducing them into another theology you chance fracturing the relationship between you and the parents. Which can mean you will no longer be able to visit your niece and nephew. Gently pointing them in the right direction and helping them along as they grow up the child will discover for themselves their path. If it happens to be the same path that you follow in your beliefs then good. If it is their parents or some other path remember religion should be a personal choice. It should not be something forced upon someone. What is the point of following a belief you do not truly believe and you only go through the motions because of pressure from someone else.

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