Joining a large close-knit family with small children can feel daunting for any new partner, so what exactly can you do to make the transition to almost auntie a little easier?
In the lead up to Pippa Middleton's wedding, all anyone seemed to want to talk about was whether her brother-in-law, Prince Harry, was going to bring his relatively new girlfriend.
It turns out that Meghan Markle, his girlfriend, had already spent some time getting to know the prince's close family, and is apparently a big hit with Prince George and Princess Charlotte, his nephew and niece.
Here are five tips to ensure your transition from stranger to auntie goes without a hitch too!
Tip One: A little bit of prior warning goes a long way
Kids love surprises, right? Wrong
In my experience, little kids like surprises only when they're not really surprises at all (unless the surprise is chocolate). I'm sure you've heard parents banging on about sticking to the schedule for eating, sleeping, TV watching, or whatever else kids do. The reason that this schedule is so important is that children really like structure. Knowing what is going to happen next is really reassuring. Added to this, the build up to a big event is often the best bit.
Whenever I visit my nieces and nephews they tend to give me a really warm welcome. I always used to think this was because I was a big exciting surprise. One day I showed up to babysit last minute and all I received for the first few minutes were looks of suspicion from the 3 and 5 year old. Ten minutes in and everything was back to usual, but it really showed me the difference between a real vs an anticipated surprise.
So I'd suggest before any meeting, and particularly the first time, that the kids have a bit of preparation about your visit.
Having said that, the less of a big deal made of your first visit the easier the transition. Hopefully the parents will simply slot your visit into the schedule and mention "Uncle Tom's friend" a few times, so they know to expect you. That is as much information as children really need to start. They certainly won't care whether or not you met on Tinder (at least not until they've decided if they're going to like you!).
Only fools rush in, as they say. And for good reason. No matter how much you've heard about these kids already, don't forget that for them you are still some stranger that is probably trying to steal their favourite uncle away.
Expect suspicion to start with, and even a cold shoulder, potentially. Don't take it personally, and definitely don't try to overcompensate with too many games and chat and gifts straight away.
Children need time to warm up to new situations, and watching you getting on well with the grownups will give them the confidence that you are probably a person worth them getting to know too.
It's a good idea to let them have a bit of space to play with your boyfriend / girlfriend on their own at the very start. After all, they are probably used to having their favourite uncle/aunt all to themselves. Don't leave it too long though - a nice idea might be to get your partner to invite you in to whatever activity or game they are playing after the first few minutes.
After the initial period of adjustment you are almost home safe! But any false move and you risk being delegated to the boring relative pile. Asking questions is great, but rather than starting off with questions about school or expecting them to remember what they've been up to recently (a notoriously hard question for anyone to answer when put on the spot I find), pick something small and easy to ask.
If you are playing with coloured blocks, you might ask a favourite colour
If numbers come up, ask them how old they are (and any brothers / sisters)
Another great icebreaker is to deliberately use the wrong name or pronunciation - for a toy rabbit "that's a nice bear". Children love to correct grownups and will enjoy explaining why you're wrong.
Once they start to accept you, children will be desperate to impress you. Give them the chance to show off their moves, tell you their stories (no matter how tedious and repetitive) and answer all the questions they have.
One thing to note, though. As well as trying to get to know everything about you and show you how amazing they are, kids also love to test boundaries. They will be trying to figure out just how much of a soft touch you really are.
If you don't have kids of your own (and also if you do), it can be really difficult to say no to someone else's children. Just remember that hanging off dangerous ledges and eating solely chocolate for a meal are generally frowned upon by all parents, so they won't mind if you tell their child to go and ask permission from mum or dad first.
The holy grail of getting in with a child is the invitation to read their bedtime story. Never turn this opportunity down.
Apart from anything else, reading a book is calming for everyone and can give you the space to come down from the adrenaline rush everyone experiences at a first family meeting.
Once you've read a book to a child, you can be sure that you are 'in', and repeated invitations to stay or come back again soon will be forthcoming.
One final tip - you will be a hot topic of conversation in the following days, so don't worry if your ears start to burn!
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