As a new mom myself this year, I remember all the emotions that came home with us in addition to our twin girls. Most of which came from a place of complete overwhelm in realizing all the basic self-care tasks I used to do without thinking were completely taken for granted up to this point (i.e. taking a shower or leaving the house at my own leisure, eating a hot meal in a timely manner, sleeping uninterrupted…) It’s all part of the wonderfully exhausting process behind newborn living. Times it by two in my circumstance lol. I look back at those first 3.5 months and have found it difficult to remember how we survived the days we didn’t have breaks or outside help; luckily I’ve written most of it down to jog my memory & glad I shared it here to look back on it fondly, someday…hah!
That being said, I know how difficult it can be to navigate this time as a supportive friend or family member; especially if the person who’s recently had a baby is the first one in your social circle. To be honest, I thought I had an impression of what to expect in terms of surface-level childcare, given how often I babysat infants growing up, and personal postpartum care based my recent research whilst pregnant. Reality: You truly have no idea of the magnitude until you’re living it personally. It’s one of those things that you won’t understand until it happens to you, no amount of preparation can provide you with the guaranteed blueprint of how to go about this life-altering change. Which is probably why so many new parents are completely shell-shocked and thrown into a tornado of intrusive thoughts, depression, and anxiety-filled fear within the first few days/weeks/months of it. All the more reason to offer your support to them during this time!
Which is why I’m here to list out some productive ways you can genuinely provide a helping hand, without being overbearing or passively overstepping during this delicate life event. These suggestions are based on the order of “priority” – ranked from the #1 thing you can do for any new parent in your circle, to the more-involved tasks welcomed to perform as a close friend/family member.
I’ve also included a few reminders of things to keep in consideration when you offer your help as well. This is a very emotional, somewhat scary time for many new parents; tensions are at an all-time high and the lack of sleep doesn’t make it any better. Remember that the simple act of offering to help goes a long way in itself, even if you’re not taken up on it. I’ll get into why that might also happen more often than not, too.
DO NOT ASK “HOW” TO HELP – JUST OFFER
The reality is that new parents are so exhausted from adjusting virtually overnight to their new reality, and that includes having extreme decision fatigue. Even though I jumped on any & all help offered my way, a lot of people don’t have that comfort (right away at least) to be honest when answering the dreaded, open-ended question of “How Can I Help?” In our spiraling brains, we’re like, “Where Do I Begin!?” but instead, we get so tired thinking about all the ways we can benefit from help that the thought of it is overbearing. Therefore, it’s dismissed and not asked for readily. At the end of the day, the offer in itself often means the most to us during this time. It makes us feel thought about, cared for, and appreciated during one of the loneliest times we’re trying to navigate without detriment to ourselves or the little person(s) we brought home.
Here’s the #1 way you can best support a new &/or overwhelmed parent:
FOOD + COFFEE
There’s absolutely nothing a new mom or an overwhelmed parent appreciates more than knowing there’s food in the house that’s readily available. The last thing I wanted to think about was what (or how) I was going to feed myself, especially in those early weeks. And if you’re breastfeeding/pumping, getting those calories in are even more crucial to maintaining your supply. It’s practically a job in itself; as if we don’t have enough on our parenting plate..
This is something anyone can offer to do, as it’s a necessity. Depending on your relationship with the parent(s), you can go about food/coffee delivery several ways:
DROP OFF BREAKFAST/LUNCH/DINNER
You don’t have to cook anything yourself in order for it to be more meaningful. Instead, text (or call) them & say, “Hey I’m picking up X for myself, can I drop anything off for you too?” By setting the pace this way, you’re implying that it’s no trouble or out of your way, because you’re going there anyway, & that you’re thinking of them. Even if you have to pretend you’re getting takeout for yourself, going about it in this manner is the gentle approach that is more likely to be taken up on. New parents are feeling guilty about asking for help by default, let alone taking anyone up on it. This way you’re avoiding that intrusive thought from the start.
FREEZER-FRIENDLY, READY-MADE MEALS
Anything that can be easily stored in the freezer & reheated to enjoy with minimal prep. Some of our favorite meals we received were meatballs, mac & cheese, and lasagna — all in aluminum trays that could be popped into the oven straight from the freezer drawer/shelf. Be sure to date or timestamp when the meal was made, as well as list reheating instructions, in sharpie on the aluminum top.
MEAL SUBSCRIPTION DELIVERIES
If you live far away & still want to provide something meaningful, paying for 1-3 months of meals is a great way to help support from afar! Most of these meal delivery kits allow for a trial-period or e-gift card amounts to be given, too. Some of my favorites from past experience to consider gifting from are: HelloFresh, Splendid Spoon, Home Chef, & Daily Harvest.
STOCK UP ON THE ESSENTIALS
When in doubt, stock up on the bare necessities that make a new parent’s ability to feed themselves much easier. Here are some grocery suggestions:
Breakfast: english muffins, eggs, bagels + spreads, cereals/granola, pre-sliced fruits, yogurts, coffee grounds or iced bottles + milk/creamer
Lunch: sliced deli meats & cheese, bread, select condiments (mayo, mustard)
Pre-Made: Pasta Salads, Rotisserie Chicken, Soups
When dropping things off, ALWAYS expect to leave it on the porch or at the door by default. Make sure there’s a good time to do so as well, as certain hours in the day are more flexible for drop-offs to be picked up from outside & put away/stored properly. And unless the new parent invites you in, do not assume you’ll be saying hi or meeting the baby.
If you don’t live nearby or feel uncomfortable sending food, then make the effort to text a message of encouragement, as well as generally check-in.
A lot of people feel like texting a new parent can be intrusive or overwhelming to them, but I promise it’s generally not. The most important thing to keep in mind is that we now have maybe 3-5 business days to get back to you, or might not respond at all. And that doesn’t mean we don’t want to – it’s because we’re too tired, too busy, or innocently forgot to. The amount of texts I open up & read but don’t respond right away to are countless, even still today lol. But I’ve never received a text asking how I’m doing or how the girls are and have gotten “irritated or mad” about it. If anything, I was overwhelmed in gratitude over how many people reached out and checked-in on me, especially in the early weeks and well into month 2.
The last thing you should do is refrain from reaching out to a new parent friend because you don’t want to add more to their plate. Just don’t expect a response in a timely manner or at all ahah. That being said, it’s the fact that we’re being thought about is what is truly appreciated at the end of the day. And we do remember who in our circle does/doesn’t attempt to connect during this time as well. If you intend on being in your friend’s life during this new era, as well as their new child’s life, then you should absolutely text them at least 1x every other week, in the first month or two.
And don’t forget how to ask how THEY ARE DOING in addition to how the baby is.
Please don’t be that person who sends something along the lines of “how are things? how’s the baby? send pix” without any sort of attempt to check-in on the anxious, exhausted parent too – yeah, you won’t be hearing from them anytime soon… if you need a prompt, use this wording below.
“Hey! Congrats on your new little one. S/he is so cute! How are you feeling/recovering? I can’t imagine how much it can all feel at this time, but please know I’m here for you and this is a safe space to talk/vent to if you ever need. I’m so proud of you & you’re doing amazing!”
And please please PLEASE don’t ghost the friend who opens up. A lot of us (new moms/parents) don’t know how to be open about how much we’re struggling at times, especially to those who haven’t gone through it – even if you’re the closest of friends. It’s a weird, lonely time that we’re trying to understand for ourselves every day while having no idea how to do it properly, simultaneously. Yet anytime I got a positive affirmation like the above, wow it made me feel so much better. Just know your encouragement goes a long way, even if it doesn’t seem it or you don’t get feedback. We’re always going to appreciate someone genuinely checking-in on us and saying something encouraging about ourselves/our efforts in adapting to new parenthood.
Here’s how you can be more helpful to a new parent if you’re welcome in the newborn’s inner circle (i.e. Family Member or Close Friend)
*Keep in mind, most of these things are appreciated the most when they’re done without being asked*
DO THE BABY LAUNDRY
WASH THE BOTTLES & TIDY UP THE KITCHEN
DO THEIR GROCERY SHOPPING
TAKE & RESTOCK INVENTORY (DIAPERS, WIPES, PAPER TOWELS, DETERGENT, FORMULA)
ALLOW THE PARENT(S) TIME TO NAP & EAT A MEAL TOGETHER
TAKE OLDER KIDS &/OR THE DOG OUT OF THE HOUSE FOR THE DAY
CHECK-IN OFTEN & ALLOW A SAFE SPACE FOR VULNERABILITY
RESPECT THEIR DECISIONS & CARE CHOICES, UNLESS ASKED FOR YOUR OPINION/ADVICE
MAKE THE EFFORT TO COME OVER; DON’T EXPECT THEM TO BRING THE BABY TO YOU
LEAVE YOUR OWN EMOTIONS OUT OF IT
Another thing that needs to be remembered is that these first 3 months, let alone first 4 weeks with a newborn, are crucial for bonding and adjustment. This also means the time to respond to texts/calls, let alone remember to, will change drastically. Not saying everyone falls behind with their personal social contacts, but don’t be alarmed or irritated if you don’t hear back from a new parent once baby is home.
Additionally, not every new parent is going to be ok with visitors, even if its family or if your intentions are to help them out for a couple hours. And don’t even think about dropping by on a whim or showing up unannounced, expecting to be let in with welcoming arms – unless you have that relationship/habit previously established. This is just the general rule, there are certainly exceptions. I was personally ok with close friends stopping by, when given a heads up or enough time to mentally prepare, but I wasn’t welcome to the idea of general visitors or extended family visits until month 3. I also purposely ignored anyone who randomly texted out of the blue asking when they could meet the babies, without even checking in to see how I was doing myself postpartum (or even during pregnancy.)
I mean, how many of us would appreciate hosting a visitor while personally 1) dealing with chapped nipples that won’t stop leaking; 2) wearing an adult diaper; 3) making sure your stitches (belly or down under) aren’t under stress of pulling; 4) crying along with the baby; 5) sweating due to anxiety & hormones; 6) probably smelling from lack of a proper shower, after having all sorts of baby fluids on you for hours; 7) feeling stupidly sleep deprived, borderline hallucinating, not in the best of moods as a result – doesn’t that sound ideal?
If you can’t relate to the picture I tried to paint for you above: consider it to be the equivalent of someone you wouldn’t get undressed in front of, entering a bathroom while you’re severely unwell & trying to take care of yourself, deciding to stay/watch you in your vulnerable state, and expecting you to be ok with it or thrilled about their company all the while… woof, talk about invasive!
It’s important to keep your own emotions out of your intention. Meaning – only offer to help a new parent without expecting anything in return (like an invitation inside to meet the baby.) If you’re someone who’s ego gets easily bruised if turned down, then might I suggest keeping your support in text message form until the newborn phase has plateaued for your friend/family member. Speaking for new moms here, the last thing we’re preoccupied with is making sure other people get a chance to meet our new baby; and we’re certainly not worried about how you feel as a result of us declining your invitation to come over. So don’t expect to be able to meet the little one or even see the new parents right away, if at all, when you offer assistance & don’t be offended if you’re declined it without reason.
IF YOU’RE WELCOMED INTO THE HOUSE, DON’T BE THIS VISITOR…
Plan to be hosted or entertained by the new parents if invited over – bring your own food/drinks/supplies, etc.
Show up late/early from the original time agreed upon stopping by, as well as overstay your welcome
Make comments about any mess in the house or how “tired” they look
Ask about the birth story nor provide commentary about another’s traumatic/smooth-sailing birth (including your own)
Expect to hold the baby unless the parent offers you the opportunity
Hog the baby or refuse to give it back when the parent asks the first time
Make suggestions about their parenting style
Give unsolicited advice about their baby care choices
Shove the latest parenting trend or knowledge towards them in conversation, unless asked
Expect the new parents to be in the best of moods or put on a “performance” for your ego’s benefit
MOST IMPORTANTLY, DON’T BE THIS PERSON…
Openly mourn the change in your new parent friend/family member. Becoming a parent feels a bit like an identity crisis; believe me, the first thing we want to happen for us is to feel like ourselves again. It will take some time, it will take some exploring, it will be different than it was before. Our priorities have shifted, but our core remains the same. It’s just a bit buried at the moment. Give us time, give us forgiveness, give us patience. We’ll forever appreciate you for the understanding.
If there’s anything you personally benefited from (or the opposite) as a new parent that’s not mentioned here, please share in the comments! We can all learn something from the different perspectives of those in the thick of it, alongside us or in our lives with little ones