Not Everyone Knows How to Help New Parents
Sit around the campfire, my friends, while I tell you a scaaaaary story. (Holding the flashlight up to my chin.) One of my coworkers, let’s call her Jenny, was pregnant with her first child. Her best friend, “Megan”, offered to come over and cook dinner Jenny’s first night home from the hospital. What a thoughtful way to help new parents! Am I right?! So Jenny made zero dinner plans for that night and looked forward to Megan’s visit and help.
Megan showed up late without ingredients and without a plan. She asked what Jenny liked to eat, and vaguely discussed plans to run to the grocery store. But after five minutes of discussing dinner, Megan got sidetracked chatting and visiting the baby.
Three hours later, Jenny was exhausted and starving, and Megan seemed to have forgotten that she ever offered to cook dinner. So Jenny ventured out on her own to pick up some take-out for her family and Megan, since she felt rude eating in front of a guest.
Jenny was extremely disappointed, frustrated, and ANGRY WITH THE FIRE OF 1000 SUNS!! Okay, maybe the last one was more postpartum hormones.
But having a baby is truly exhausting. And part of nurturing healthy friendships is loving and supporting our friends through every season of life.
So what can you do to help new parents? What do they really want and need? I’m glad you asked!
Help New Parents By Meeting Practical Needs
- Food. When you’re spending 20 hours a day feeding, changing, and rocking a newborn, you’re lucky if you can shower, let alone cook a meal. So imagine your friend’s relief when you take care of dinner! You could cook something yourself, pick up a family-style meal from restaurants like Bob Evans, or have heat-and-serve individual meals delivered to their front door through services like ICON Meals. Bonus points for meals that make fantastic leftovers! Snacks that can be eaten with one hand while the other holds a bottle? Another sure-fire winner!
- Coffee. What do you need when you’re running on two hours of sleep? Caffeine. Not another visitor, per se. Just caffeine. Drop it off at their front door, drive away, and then text them to look outside. Your friend will nominate you for sainthood.
- Babysitting a few hours. Offer to care for their baby while they shower, nap, or just take time for themselves. It’s an incredible feeling to start a shower with the comfort of knowing you won’t have to jump out in two minutes when your baby starts crying. Because newborns can sense when you’re relaxed. They can’t have that.
- Babysitting overnight. Oh. My. Goodness. If you feel comfortable caring for a newborn, and your friend either formula feeds their baby or can pump milk for the night, they will tell the story of your kindness for the rest of their lives. I’m not exaggerating.
- Help with grocery shopping or other errands. Ask your friend for their grocery list and credit card. They will gladly hand both over if it means they don’t have to drag a newborn into a grocery store. Prescription pick-up? Post office drop-off? Heck, these things are annoying with a two-year-old, let alone a baby that’s “fresh out the oven” as my husband says.
- Help out around the house. It’s hard to stay alive with a newborn, let alone keep your house clean. Does your friend need any help with dishes, laundry, picking up clutter, wiping down counters, etc.? Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?!
- Gift them with maid services. If you lack the time or desire to help clean yourself, and have the funds, a gift of one or two maid service visits would be a huuuge blessing…to help new parents…or any parents…or anyone…anywhere.
- Do something special for older siblings. Bringing them a small gift that will keep them busy, or taking them to a park or movie for a few hours, will give your friends a break to focus on their newborn. Plus it will help older siblings feel special in the middle of baby madness.
- Visit…if your friend is the sort of person that likes having visitors when they’re tired, stressed, and haven’t brushed their hair in three days. I’m personally a little bit of an introvert, so I wasn’t a fan of having a lot of visitors those first few weeks. But some people would love this! It’s a nice reminder that they’re more than a diaper-changing, baby-rocking, milk machine. And a lot of parents on leave from work find that they miss and need adult contact. You know your friend best. Try this one only if you’re sure they would enjoy it, and wouldn’t view it as additional pressure to look presentable, clean the house, and entertain guests.
Help New Parents By Being Mindful of Their Circumstances
- They probably won’t take you up on your “let me know if you need anything.” It’s not that they’re not desperate for help. But without a more specific offer, your friends might wonder how sincere your offer was, or might feel uncomfortable asking you to bring a meal. If you sincerely want to help, make a specific offer. “What day can I bring you dinner? When can I pick up your grocery list?”
- Follow through on your offer, or don’t offer at all. There is seriously nothing more heartbreaking than reassuring yourself over and over again that help is coming, and then having no help arrive. As a new parent, you remember the promise your friend made to cook dinner. Sometimes it’s the only thought you hold onto when you’re up at 3:00 am for the eighth night in a row. At least I won’t have to make dinner tomorrow night. If you make an offer, write it down so that you don’t forget. Because they won’t forget.
- Don’t come over expecting to be entertained. If you’re visiting, don’t expect your friend to cook a meal, bust out the board games, or do any entertaining…at all. They’re exhausted. In fact, if you’re visiting, try to bring at least one of the nine needs listed above with you.
- Don’t overstay your welcome. Be conscious and respectful of their energy levels. Either play it safe with a short visit, or be sure to leave at the first sign of overexertion.
- It’s hard for several months. Most people stop actively supporting new parents after the first week or two. But the first 3-4 months (or longer) are haaard, until babies start regularly sleeping through the night. Your friends will still be extremely grateful for support months down the road.
Wrap It Up
You can help new parents by meeting practical needs and being mindful of their circumstances. We should always love and support our friends, but this is one time in their lives that they’ll need all of the love and support you can muster! And who knows? They might return the favor the next time you have a baby “fresh out the oven”.
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