No matter how much you organize, practice, read and plan, nothing fully prepares you for parenthood. Having a baby changes your life. It doesn’t matter if it is your first child or your seventh. You face long nights and a completely changed routine. Similar to a computer’s background virus scan that slows the entire processor, a portion of your brain is always thinking, “When did the baby last eat/sleep/burp…” You’re juggling more with what feels like less.
This is why all new parents need support. Raising children truly takes a village – a whole village with people of all ages, strengths and backgrounds. As family and friends, how can we help new parents during this beautiful and challenging life transition? How can we be a better village for those around us?
Here are a few ways that you can help new parents:
- Bring food. After giving birth and maybe learning to breastfeed, new moms are hungry (and rightfully so!). Chances are, significant others are busy balancing a lot more too. Arrange a meal sign-up service or just drop a meal by the home.
- Offer to take older kids. If the parents have older children, keeping them entertained through feedings, diaper changes and exhaustion is hard and can add a lot of guilt. Take the older kids for a playdate to the park, bowling alley, movies or swimming pool for a few hours. It’s a great outing for them and a needed break for the new parents.
- Pitch in on chores. This tip can be awkward, but just do it. Fold laundry, put away dishes, pick up toys or mow the yard. It is so practical and so helpful. Obviously leave your judgment about laundry piles and dirty dishes on the porch before you arrive and simply support the family.
- Hold the baby during your visit and tell Mom to go shower. After having a baby, a long hot shower can feel like an entire day at the spa. It’s a rare treat that gives a relaxing break from the baby.
- Call or text before you come. This one is big. When you operate on a 24-hour always on-call schedule, you aren’t always ready for drop in visitors. Just give a little notice. Be sure they are awake, dressed or feeling like having company. If you are taking a meal or gift, offer to leave it on the porch if it is a bad time.
- Don’t offer advice unless the new parents ask you. This is their moment and experience, not yours. It is unique to them and their family. If they need to vent about challenges, just listen and validate them. If they want your input, they will ask.
Parents need help for more than just the first few weeks. As we mentioned last week, crying peaks around 8-12 weeks, which can be a very difficult time. This can be a time when visitors, meals and help have stopped coming, but your fatigue and stress remain very high. If you come see the new baby in the first few weeks, plan to come back during this period.
It’s important to point out that adoptive parents need the same kind of support. While they may not be recovering from physical birth, the stressors of adjusting to a new baby are no less.