How To Support A New Parent
Becoming a parent is overwhelming. There’s a lot of change, a lot of unknowns, and just general chaos. Sometimes it really does take a village to raise a child, and that village can offer some very valuable help. Just like new parents may not know what they need, those who care about them may not know exactly what to do. Based on my own experience, I wanted to share some of the best ways to support a new parent.
1. Ask how they are doing
This was a big thing that struck me after having Miles and I noticed it with other parents as well. Once I had him, the questions stopped being about me and started being about him.
- How’s the baby?
- How is he sleeping?
- How is he eating?
The list goes on. Obviously, it was nice that people wondered how he was doing, but very little attention was paid to how I was doing after a long labor, an unexpected c-section, and learning how to take care of a tiny human for the first time.
I made this remark to Neil a couple months ago and of course he chimed in with his ever-profound metaphors to describe it like this: it’s similar to genetically modified seeds (oh, Neil). The companies care the most about the seeds because they are the valuable commodity. They care about the farmers of those seeds only while the seeds are on their way to the farmers and the farmers work on planting and harvesting them. Once the crop has grown and is harvested, there is little to no concern given to the farmers and the focus then shifts back to the product of the seeds. Take from that what you will, but I definitely understood his point and could relate to it.
When someone you know has a baby, make sure the baby is ok, but check more on the parent. Delivering a baby is a life-changing event, and sometimes even a traumatic one if things don’t go as planned. It’s not always talked about, so don’t always assume that mothers give birth and are beaming and happy about the entire experience (or in the times after they go home from the hospital). Check in on your parent friends and remind them how amazing they are for everything they just went through.
2. Send food
I think most people know that sending food is one of the top ways to support a new parent. This can be done in several ways depending on your culinary ability and proximity to the new parent:
- Make freezer meals with simple directions that they can heat and eat
- One-handed foods are also helpful (sandwiches, etc.)
- Send a gift card for a meal-delivery service (UberEats, GrubHub, etc)
- Have an Instacart order delivered to their house (one of my friends did this after Miles — from California! — and I thought it was so thoughtful and caring)
- Organize a meal train so that others can sign up to send food
3. Help. Help. Help.
If you’re nearby, come over and help out with chores around the house. When in doubt about how to help a new parent — just help. This includes, but is certainly not limited to:
- doing the laundry
- doing the dishes
- watching baby so mom can shower
- taking care of any pets (I couldn’t walk Donut for a good month after my c-section)
- tidy the house
If you’re not nearby, see if they would mind if you paid for a cleaning service to come by. Make sure to check with them due to a) the pandemic and b) their desire to have others in their house during this time.
4. Give them some time
When I had Miles, we had visitors for about a month straight with some minor breaks in between. Don’t get me wrong — I’m happy that everyone came and visited and helped out where they could, but in retrospect I think I would have spaced out visits by a little more so that we could have some more solo time with him after getting home from the hospital.
There’s a lot of adjusting when you bring your first baby home from the hospital — learning how to change them, dress them, feed them, etc. — all while also taking care of your body post-delivery. It can be overwhelming and a new parent might not want an audience around for all of it. Give them some time before coming over or scheduling a lengthy visit (unless they ask you to).
5. Let them sleep
It’s fun to go over to hang out with a new parent and baby, but what may be the most helpful is to actually let them sleep during this new adjustment phase. The baby may also sleep during that time (newborns sleep a LOT), but they also may not, so having you there to take care of the baby while the parent sleeps allows them to not worry as much about being asleep if the baby wakes up. Just take baby in another room and tell them to go take a nap. 🙂
6. Don’t just hold the baby
This tip is associated with the one about giving a new parent some time. It’s important for newborns and parents to have time to bond, and if people are constantly in and out, there’s less of that bonding time available. The most helpful thing is to assist with things that a new parent can’t or has trouble doing, not just sitting there and holding their baby. I’m not saying that that’s not appropriate, since of course everyone wants to hold a new baby, but it’s not actually one of the best ways to support a new parent.
7. Take pictures
You guys know that I’m obsessed with taking pictures and have so many from when Miles was smaller. I also made sure to take pictures of Neil and Miles, Donut and Miles, and whatever other ones I could think of. I do have some of me and Miles (mainly selfies), and that’s because I made sure to tell Neil that I wanted him to take pictures whenever he could.
A new parent may not think about this, so if you’re around, try to take some candid shots that they can have. The newborn times can be a blur, especially with sleep deprivation thrown in there, so it’s really nice to have photos of that time to look back on.
8. Invite them to things
This was one that stuck out to me because I felt like as soon as I had Miles, my friends stopped inviting me to things. I would see pictures later or hear about things that had happened and it made me feel very lonely. I doubt that it was malicious and had more to do with the fact that people assumed I wouldn’t go because I had a new baby at home, but it still stung a little.
And the assumptions were probably right, but to not be given the option to accept or decline was tough. Even if you think that your new parent friend won’t want to go out, still invite them. That way they feel included and can make the decision that feels right for them. Heck, they may accept because they’re ready for a break from new baby life!
9. Give encouragement
Make sure to let new parents know that they are doing a great job. A lot of the time parenting means learning on the fly, which is how self-doubt and guilt can creep in. The things that meant the most to me were when people would tell me I was a great mom or I was doing things really well. A couple times I even cried, which I’m blaming on hormones. 🙂
It’s super easy and doesn’t cost anything:
- send a card
- make a phone call
- tell them in person
- send flowers/gift basket/whatever
Did I forget any? What are some of your top suggestions of how to support a new parent?