How to really help a new parent
You’ve got to know to understand. But unless you’re a parent yourself it can be difficult to decipher what a new parent actually needs. Pippa Henderson serves up some food for thought.
Space and support
New parents need oodles of both, which can be tricky, because at first glance these concepts don’t seem to go together.
The important thing is to let new parents know you’re ready and available to help, but to leave the ball in their court. Having said that, sometimes new parents are too busy to put their finger on what they actually need, so if you take initiative with specific suggestions they may be more likely to respond. When our first child was born a group of women from my church kindly offered to weed and spruce up our garden, which we gratefully accepted. It seemed particularly thoughtful as it was something they could do without compromising our sense of space.
When it comes to meeting the new baby, try to be patient. There will be countless well-wishers also trying to squeeze in a visit, and in the first couple of weeks with a newborn time is particularly precious. Don’t turn up unannounced, as new parents can be sleeping at any time of day. When you do arrange a time or get an invite, make your visit count. Be on time, or you may miss your window of opportunity, and check in with them on your way, to see if they need anything. It’s music to the ears of a new parent to hear “I’m at the supermarket/The Warehouse, do you need anthing?” and these errand-type gifts are often more gratefully received than yet another cute onesie for baby.
Be on your best behaviour, and read the cues when it’s your time to leave. When the baby goes down to sleep, it’s time for you to depart, unless the parent explicitly asks for you to stay, as baby’s nap time is a new parent’s only downtime. If the new folks seem a little unsociable or erratic, don’t take it personally. This could quite possibly be one of the most demanding times of their lives.
Share love, not germs. If you’re sick, sadly you need to do the right thing and stay away, even if you’re busting to meet baby. It’s not worth the risk. Hang in there, your cuddle-time will come.
Food, glorious food
I challenge you to find a hungrier person than a breastfeeding mother, and sleep deprivation only adds to this all-consuming state of affairs. When you bring food to a new parent, you’re undoubtedly speaking their language, as food represents both energy and time. The bonus is that when everybody brings food it makes a significant difference to the family’s grocery bill at a time when budgets are tight. I usually make bacon and egg pies for new parents as they’re quick and easy, filling, and good for lunch or dinner. Lasagnes are also a popular choice as they’re easy to freeze. But if time is too precious or you’re too self conscious about your culinary capabilities to make a meal from scratch, don’t fret. Pick up a rotisserie chicken or a frozen meal, or order them pizza delivery. Alternatively, bring an assortment of groceries, or load the family up with healthy drinks and snacks. Nuts and grapes are aways well received.
When you have a new baby housework, especially laundry, seems to instantaneously quadruple, and because new parents are so home-bound, they can feel like there’s no escape from these never-ending chores. What’s more, bending, reaching, and vacuuming can literally be painful for new mothers with stitches and caesareans scars. Quietly use some of your visit time to load or unload their dishwasher, or hang or fold their laundry. You’ll literally be buying the new parents some sanity.
A listening ear and a ready laugh
As cute as their new baby might be some new parents are simply craving adult company, especially if their partner has just returned to work. With all the life-changes they’re in the midst of experiencing, having the opportunity to retell stories of their never-ending nights, or baby’s birth, is as good as therapy. Simply listen and encourage. Laugh when they laugh – it really is as good as medicine – and weep when they weep. If you’ve been through similar trials yourself think carefully about sharing your own stories of woe, as a new parent often doesn’t have the capacity to take on other people’s struggles. If you have advice ensure you frame it with “This is what I found worked for me…” as new parents are often overwhelmed with well-meaning ‘experts’, right when they’re trying to establish what works best for them and their growing family.
Entertain the elder sibling
Often it’s not the newborn baby that’s exhausting a new parent but the newborn’s elder sibling, who may well be keenly missing their parents’ attention. If the elder sibling is comfortable with you, offer to take them out for a run-around. If they only want to stay home, arrive armed with playdough, stickers, crafts, bubble blowers, or a DVD. Happy child, very happy parents.
Brain food/soul food
With paid employment on hold, and round-the-clock feeding, burping and nappy-changing on the go, a new parent can easily find themselves hungry for a little intellectual stimulation. Creative types can also find themselves craving an opportunity to express themselves – without a breast pump at hand. Keep this in mind when you’re selecting a gift. New parents may actually be more grateful for a sketch pad and pencils or some new reading material than a baby’s bath toy. But as they’re so often interrupted it’s more realistic for them to get through a magazine than a novel. Choose finger food for the brain over War and Peace. Short story compilations are a good option, or bite size encouragements like Chicken Soup for the Soul. We recommend a subscription to OHbaby! Magazine. It makes an ideal gift for a new parent.
Pippa Henderson is a mother of three. She's ever-grateful for the support she received as a new mum, and is keen to ensure other new parents cry tears of happiness not desperation.