Until you’ve experienced it for yourself, it can be hard to understand just how the arrival of a new baby can turn your life upside down. The adjustment to new-parentdom can be the single-most exhilarating, exhausting, chaotic, overwhelming time in a couple’s life. The learning curve is steep and unrelenting; and the parents must juggle all of their usual responsibilities in addition to learning how to keep a totally dependent small human alive. The challenges are no less significant whether you’re welcoming your first child into the family fold or your fourth. A parents’ self-care tends to temporarily fall by the wayside (does the first 5 years count as temporary?), along with their laundry and their dishes. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make life that little bit easier for the happy couple – even the smallest token of support can be worth a whole lot – perhaps more than you’ll ever know.
- Bring them a meal
Whether it’s a home-cooked dinner or an UberEats – consider dropping round a hearty meal to save the new parents from a night of having to think about what to cook – which is almost as time-consuming as actually having to cook it. Better yet – choose something that will last them a couple of days such as a lasagne, pot pie or a pasta bake. We were the very grateful recipients of cooked meals provided both by friends and our church community, and I can’t tell you how much this helped lighten the load in the sleep-deprived blur of those early weeks.
2. Bring lunch
If you visit, consider bringing along the parents’ favourite afternoon tipple (such as a decaf latte if she’s breastfeeding – if not, the more caffeine the better!) along with a light lunch, delicious cake, or a fruit salad. Such a small gesture of care is sure to mean a whole lot to the proud new parents. Bonus points for asking if they need any shopping essentials such as bread or milk brought over on the way! Chances are they might not have had time to get to the shops, or mum’s recovery may prevent her from doing so.
3. Do a chore or two
If you visit and happen notice a pile of unwashed dishes or a stack of laundry, consider offering to wash, dry or put away the dishes; or put on, hang out, or fold a load of washing. Even one small completed task will help lighten the load.
4. Give them a break
Whether it’s a chance to let the new mum nip to the loo in peace, or taking care of baby for an hour while she has a power-nap – give the parents an opportunity to practice some much-needed (and most likely neglected) self-care, even if it’s only for a short time. If you’re a familiar, trusted figure in the new parents’ lives (and their kids) and they’re happy for you to do so – perhaps you could even offer to take the older kids to a park or playcentre for an hour or two, or take baby out for a walk in the pram.
5. Engage their older kids
It can be overwhelming adjusting to an expanding family, and in the case of a new sibling, the elder sibling (who will likely be struggling to adjust to the new arrival) might respond very well to some 1-1 care and attention from visitors while the new parents are seeing to the baby. An occupied elder sibling also temporarily halves the load for the new parents and gives them a guilt-free chance to bond with their newest addition.
6. Consider the older kids
The elder kids might already be feeling a little displaced by the new arrival. Deliberately aim to include and attend to them – and if you bring a gift for baby consider bringing a little treat for their brother or sister too. It needn’t be anything fancy, just enough to let them know they have been kept in mind despite all the changes to the family dynamics.
7. Remember Dad
There’s often so much focus on supporting mums, that a new dad’s wellbeing might get overlooked. New parenthood is a huge adjustment for dad too – don’t shy away from asking how he’s going with it all and maybe offering to catch up some time soon, with or without baby.
8. Have realistic expectations
Keep in mind that the new mum is not going to be in a position to host and entertain – she has just birthed a human and needs a good chunk of time to recover physically and adjust emotionally to the huge changes in her life that a new baby entails. Offer to put the kettle on and make a drink for you both and grab her a snack in the process – I’m sure she won’t mind. And if you’re hungry, eat before or after your visit or better yet offer to pick up a takeaway for you to share together.
9. Offer to babysit
Even if it’s not the right time right now, a genuine offer of babysitting will likely be very gratefully received, especially if the new parents in question have a limited local support network. Don’t be afraid to remind them that the offer still stands down the track – they might be unlikely to ask you for fear of seeming rude. The first few weeks at home can lead to cabin fever – and mum and dad would likely jump at the chance to spend some quality time together to nurture their relationship.
10. Respect routines
If you arrive when mum is trying to settle baby to sleep, this really isn’t the time to start serenading the baby with songs or playing with them – this is more likely to stimulate than soothe the new baby, making the task harder than it needs to be. Respect the routines the parents are trying to put into place with their children – even if that means foregoing the newborn snuggles just this once. New mums in particular can be fiercely protective of their babies – I wouldn’t wake my baby up for the benefit of visitors and would take them somewhere quiet if they were showing any signs of discomfort. They can be very vulnerable to overstimulation and can quickly become overwhelmed or upset by a lot of new faces.
11. Ask them how they are feeling
The new parents may have a whole host of emotions needing an outlet in relation to the labour, recovery, and adjustment to caring for a new child or with the addition of another child to the family. Consider providing that supportive, listening ear.
12. Compliment the parents
The new mum might not be feeling quite like herself after delivery, and would likely benefit from a thoughtful, genuine compliment or two. And don’t be afraid to tell the new parents you think they’re managing their new role like a pair of pros – even if they feel like they’re getting it all wrong or they’re approaching it differently to how you would. Most of all, avoid criticising their parenting, as they’ll likely be intensely sensitive about this – especially if they’re feeling out of their depth and are only just finding their way themselves.
13. Compliment the baby
New parents tend to be immensely proud of their offspring and keen to show them off – so be sure to tell them you think their baby is amongst the most beautiful of creatures to have ever graced the planet, even if you really think their purple scrunchy newborn looks scarily like a little old man. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it!
We are extremely lucky to have had family and friends who have done all of the above for us and more. We haven’t needed to ask – they’ve just noticed what needs to be done and haven’t hesitated to do it. I can’t tell you how gratefully these gestures of support have been received, what they have meant to us, and what a difference they have made in helping get us through those early weeks and months as a growing family. I sincerely hope you will be as blessed in the kindness, support and generosity of others as we have been – and that one day I get the opportunity to pay these gestures forward to others who have the joy of welcoming a new addition into their family.
What gestures of support have meant most to you as a new parent?