The first year of new parenthood is full of extreme highs and lows. Our loved ones show up and show out for the baby. However, more often than not, the rest of the family is left to fend for themselves.
If you’re wondering what you can do to make sure new parents — not just new babies — are getting the support they need, you can help by doing these things:
1. Less space, perhaps?
Pregnancy can be the most alienating time in one’s life. While it’s true that plenty of folks are exhausted during pregnancy, just as many crave adult interaction. Don’t assume that your pregnant friends want to be alone all the time. Small gestures, like offering to go for a walk, heading to a farmer’s market, or even attending a painting class are great things to do with your expectant buddies. They’re pregnant; they haven’t fallen off the face of the earth!
2. Take the baby (and maybe even the dog) for a walk.
Movement helps babies sleep – it’s why we all benefit from sleep-inducing car rides. But getting a baby to sleep robs new parents of any hope that rest is possible. If you’re close enough that the parent trusts you with their new bundle, offer to gather the baby and much of its assorted gear and go for a walk. The impact of this can’t be overstated. First, the baby will be out of the house, so exhausted parents will know those phantom cries (I hate those things) are fake and they’ll have the chance to sleep. Second, it will give the baby time to adjust to life in the great outdoors.
If you’re an overachiever, take the dog along too.
3. Don’t forget the older kids.
Everyone loves babies. There’s a waiting list of people willing to babysit new infants. But how often do folks like to help with the older kid(s)? Chances are, they are more self-sufficient. Not to mention, they are likely bored out of their minds while the new baby cries and the parents are the walking dead.
In the first few weeks postpartum, I had a friend offer to take our toddler to the park with them a few times. It was a small gesture, but it felt amazing to know our oldest child wasn’t being left out. Really wanna help? Consider the life changes that the older kid is facing and fill those needs.
4. Food, food and more food.
Do I even have to explain this one? It’s likely that the baby is the only one who’s eating well for the first couple of months.
We had a bit of a mini meal train bring us food for the first week or so after delivery. It was awesome. If you have a network of friends, this can be a great thing to discuss at (or in replacement of) a baby shower.
Your friends can’t take care of a baby if they’re starving to death. The more well balanced the meals, the better.
5. Wash some dishes.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if all household chores ceased to exist in the first few months postpartum? Well, that’s not the world we live in. Those responsibilities keep on coming, even when the energy well is dry.
If you notice your new parent friends have jungle-like grass in their yard, mow it. Offer to drive one parent to the store while the other stays home with the kids — or better yet, bring them the damn groceries yourself. You know what would really be useful during those early days? Getting together with a group of friends and paying for a cleaning service to come.
6. Check in and show up.
Helping out is simpler than one would think. For plenty of parents, an hour-long visit to let them know the world is still moving is great. Anxiety and depression are just as common as joy during those early days. It’s normal for new parents to feel “trapped” and in a sort of bizarre world in the first month or so after birth. Loneliness can make negative feelings so much worse.
One of my friends tried to visit at least once every couple of weeks. Knowing that she would be on our couch, especially when my husband had tripped out, kept me going when I didn’t think I could.
Just make sure to ask first!
7. Encourage them.
It might sound cheesy, but for someone whose love language is “words of affirmation” (spoiler: I’m someone) hearing a loved one say that they are doing a good job can mean the world. There are a million things to do “wrong” in those early days. Adjusting to feeding, the management of multiple kids, or life without working can feel like a soul crusher for many new parents.
Let your loved ones know they aren’t alone on the journey and experience of parenthood. Tell them you are proud of them and give feedback when things get rough.
Of course, it’s important to encourage new parents in a way that also leaves space to address the frustrations and obstacles of new parenthood. Give a listening ear, advice only when requested, and love always.
New parenthood is no joke, but with support from good friends, parenthood is so much more manageable.