I’ve been thinking a lot about help lately.
Since the birth of our second son, we have had loads of help. My mom stayed with us for three weeks. Late one night Wilson cried for a couple of hours and refused to be soothed by all the usual remedies. His tummy was full, his diaper was clean, he was warm and cozy. I was nearing my wits’ end.
About an hour into his fussy grumpitude, my mom stared him straight in the eye and said, “You don’t scare me. I’m going to figure you out.” Then she sent me to bed and brought him in to me when we were both sound asleep. She’s a baby whisperer.
Dozens of wonderful congregants, friends, and family members have gifted us with baby clothes, books, toys, and gift cards.
Friends have dropped off dinners, coffee, and nursing tops. They’ve taken Lincoln to the park or into their homes; they’ve texted encouragement without expecting a response. They’ve given us space to bond (a SERIOUS MUST for introverts like my husband and me) as a family while still reminding us that they are around if we need them.
We have been so ridiculously blessed.
And it’s gotten me thinking – what are the best ways to help a new mom? Maybe someone in your neighborhood just had a baby and you don’t want to intrude but you’d love to help. Maybe you know a single mom, a first-time mom, or a mom who just welcomed Baby #4, 5, or 6. Maybe someone from work just adopted or is fostering a new child. You want to help, but aren’t sure how.
For today’s Top 10 Tuesday, the Top 10 Ways to Help a New Mom.
10b. Bring food.
Cooking is waaaaay down the list of things that happen when a new baby arrives. Bringing food is always a huge blessing. Ask, schedule, cook something or grab take-out.
The pizza friends brought us on day #2 of Wilson’s life was the BEST pizza I’ve ever had. It’s from our neighborhood takeout place and we eat it probably once a week, but WOW, was it good two days postpartum when I was still getting my bearings on being a mom of two.
Sometimes I’m not sure how to bring a meal, so I don’t offer. I’ve been convicted in this season that I will be that person who always offers food. It’s a lifesaver, and I want to be in the business of saving my friends’ lives, too!
10a. Coffee totally counts as food.
Yes. Yes, it does. Bonus points for offering caffeine to a new and almost certainly sleep deprived mom. Bring it. Bring it on.
9. Suggest ways you could help.
Often people say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Most of us have said this. I know I’ve said it dozens of times.
But the thing is that when someone is utterly sleep deprived or depressed or overworked or totally at their wits’ end, you don’t want to give them another job – a job of thinking up something that you could do for them, and then coming back to you to ask. I don’t know about you, but I’d almost never contact someone days or weeks later who’d made this offer to me and say, “Hey, you know what? I really need you to bring me dinner tonight.” It’s socially weird and not something I’d feel comfortable doing.
Great helpers suggest ways they can help. They take out the guesswork and give concrete ways they’d be available and willing to serve.
“Can I pick up your daughter for a playdate on Saturday morning?”
“Can I drop off take-out for your family tonight? Pizza or Chinese?”
“Would you mind if I washed your car?”
“Do you need a stroller? I have a great one I’d love to give to you.”
“I’d love to babysit for you this weekend or next if it’d be a blessing.”
“I’m at Starbucks, can I bring you something?”
In her book Operating Instructions, Anne Lamott writes someone who showed up to help her with an incredible offer.
“A man from my church showed up at the front door. His name is Gordon, a 50-something man who is married to our associate pastor Margaret.
“After we exchanged pleasantries, he said, ‘Margaret and I wanted to do something for you and the baby. So let me ask you this. What if a fairy appeared on your doorstep and said that he would do any favor for you at all—anything you wanted around the house that you felt too exhausted to do by yourself and too ashamed to ask someone else to help you with?’
“‘I can’t even say,’ I said. ‘It’s too horrible.’
“But he finally convinced me to tell him and I said it would be to clean the bathroom.
“He spent two hours scrubbing the bathtub and toilet and sink.
“I sat on the couch while he worked, nursing the baby to sleep and feeling very guilty. But it made me feel sure of Christ again, of that kind of need-meeting love. This—a man scrubbing a new mother’s bathtub—is what Jesus means to me.”
8. Don’t be offended by a “no.”
If you offer concrete ways of helping, sometimes the person will say no. Perhaps the timing isn’t right or it’s not the kind of help they need. Accepting an honest and kind “no” is a huge act of service. Forcing your help onto someone is the opposite of actually helping.
At seminary there was this big end-of-school banquet all seniors looked forward to attending. At that point in my life I was newly diagnosed with Celiac disease and was still learning what I could and couldn’t eat (and making mistakes and accidentally getting myself sick much too often). I desperately wanted to attend the banquet – I’d already committed to sitting at a table with some dear friends – but I was unsure what I could eat. So I decided to eat beforehand and just enjoy the drinks and the fellowship.
One of the hallmarks of this banquet was that the staff, faculty, and administration served the students. It was an incredibly sweet gesture of love and Christian service – the higher ups blessing the soon-to-be graduates.
We sat down and were served our drinks and then the woman serving our table – someone quite high up – came with our first course.
“No, thank you,” I said, not wanting any food to go to waste (I’m a German Midwesterner – we just can’t help this). She stopped dead.
“You don’t want it?”
“No, thank you,” I said. Conversation at our table stopped.
“Can I bring you something else for an appetizer?” she asked.
“I have some food allergies,” I said, “and I’m still figuring them out, so I’d really rather not have anything. I’m fine, really. Thank you!”
She didn’t budge. She did, however, grow louder.
“Well, what are you allergic to?” Now people at neighboring tables were looking at us.
“It’s complicated,” I said. “I’m not trying to be a bother. But it is better for me not to eat tonight and I don’t want to waste the food either.”
“Oh,” she said, her eyebrows arching into her hairline. “I guess you just don’t want to eat anything from here.”
This basic scene repeated itself for the main entrée and, of course, dessert. Fun times were had by all, and I left at the banquet’s end in tears.
Forced help is not helping. Offer once. Offer once more, perhaps. Then accept a “no,” and don’t let it hurt your feelings. Sometimes what we believe will be helpful wouldn’t be for the person in question. That’s okay.
7.Offer to forgo a thank you note.
For someone in crisis or transition, thank you notes can feel like the straw that breaks the camel’s back. One of the most life-giving things you can say (or write in the card that goes with a gift!) is: “Don’t worry about a thank you note!”
I’m an etiquette junkie with thank you notes, so I work really hard to keep track of names and addresses and write and send them. But the occasional friend who says, “Don’t sweat it” is a huge blessing.
6. Offer porch/front-door drop offs.
I’m an introvert, but even extraverts can feel overwhelmed by having to socialize when times are tough. Offer to bring food or supplies or groceries and leave them outside.
A friend brought us Chinese takeout the first week in Wilson’s life, rang the bell, handed it to my husband, and left. I was so thankful for this kind gesture. I didn’t have a shirt on half the time (breastfeeding for the win!), I hadn’t showered, and to pull myself together for even a brief social visit would have been really tough. Instead we got a hot meal without having to worry about the state of our living room. It rocked.
5. Don’t ask to hold the baby.
Some new moms are extra nervous about germs, and with lots of friends and family stopping by, those fears multiply. If they are open to you holding the little one, they’ll offer.
I love passing our littles around, but I do ask for a hand wash first (especially in the first month!). When people don’t ask to hold our newest addition, it makes me feel like I can offer them a gift in return for the gift–a meal, a present, a playdate–they’ve given us. I’m not up for baking muffins anytime soon, but I can hand over a brand new baby for a snuggly few minutes, as a way of saying thanks.
4. Clean something.
If you’re close enough friends, just hop in and start washing dishes. Let them ask you to stop if they want. Fold the laundry that’s out on the couch. Ask if there’s a chore or two they’d be willing to let you do.
Housework is often the first thing to go when a family is under stress, and looking out at a clean dining room table or a vacuumed living room can breathe new life into a family. Almost no one will ever ask a friend to clean, but by offering 10 minutes of energy that no one in the family has to spare, you’re a huge blessing.
This is especially true for friends who are newly postpartum (and thus can’t lift much or stand for long) or have just had a health scare or surgery. With any medical restrictions, the house can quickly becomes a mess. A helping hand can make a huge difference.
For friends who are hospitalized or who have a hospitalized child, offering to have someone clean their house while they are out can be a huge blessing.
3. If you visit, don’t stay long.
This was drilled into me during my hospital chaplaincy internship. When people are sick, stressed, or grieving, they have limited energy. Visits take energy, so keep them brief. Let someone ask you to stay longer if they want.
A good rule of thumb for new parents is visits under an hour. A good rule of thumb for people in grief is the same. For those recovering from surgery, a few moments may be all they can spare. Keep your antennae up, read the room, and leave sooner rather than later.
2. Remember the whole family.
People have offered me tons of help. They’ve also remembered my husband and our firstborn son. Daryl has occasional daddy playdates with our older son and other dads and their kids. These have been invaluable for him as our family adjusts to our new son.
Tucked into many gifts for Wilson have been little gifts for Lincoln – a Matchbox car, a book, a game. It’s helped head off the natural sibling jealousy that can come with the addition of a new baby, and it’s made Linc feel so loved.
Friends offering to bring us dinner ask, “How many are we feeding?” assuming that we may have visiting family over and we may need extra food.
When friends love my family, they love me. Don’t forget the spouse, the partner, the kids, the parents. When one member of a family is in transition or crisis, it affects everyone.
1. Offer help early and then offer again weeks or months later.
Some of the best help we’ve received since having Baby #2 has come in week three. Weeks one and two were a blur. We had lots of help, lots of offers of help, and lots of love, but later on is when the exhaustion hits. It’s when the adrenaline wears off. It’s when out-of-town family goes home.
Offer to help right away, and then offer help again down the line. When people welcome a new baby, there’s lots of attention–hospital calls, casseroles, visiting family–right at once. Then sometimes there’s nothing. The nothing can be the hardest of all.
When there’s a new baby, eventually the chaos dies down and a new routine is born, but this can make the offer of help even more appreciated. A little relief pitching from a fresh arm when a family is in the trenches is an incredible gift. Offering a night of babysitting, a meal, a playdate, a coffee.
My sister and brother-in-law are coming to visit us in June, and I’m already excited for all the baby-rocking and toddler-wrestling they will do. I might even sneak in a nap…
What have you found helpful in a time of transition or crisis? How do you help best?