‘Being there’ for brand new moms and dads
Three of my daughters have given birth recently. I am not sure that I have done it right, but I have given a lot of thought to how to support them and their young families. I love being part of this important time in their lives, but I am respectful of them and I love seeing them working as a team with their husbands. Here is what I’ve learned.
If you haven’t had a baby in the last fifteen years, you know nothing, so you need to follow your daughter’s lead. The crib is streamlined – no blankets, no bumpers. Babies are swaddled (think burrito) and put to bed on their backs.
The world revolves around the baby’s schedule, so you are most useful when you are available, but not demanding. Don’t be one more person who needs to be attended to. Do not announce that you will arrive at a specific time and expect to be welcomed. Be ready to bring them flat white coffees or make the pharmacy run. Take a book or a project when you go to your daughter and reassure her that you are delighted to help when needed. I had a wonderful time in San Francisco with ‘the other new grandmother’. We had fun together while being constantly available, and hopefully useful, when called upon by the new parents.
Dad’s are equal partners.
My sons-in-law have all taken ‘paternity leave’ and they change diapers, cuddle and swaddle with the best of them.
Look for support jobs while the new mom and dad bond with their their child.
Do the dishes and the laundry. I pumped up a car tire which was showing low pressure. It turns out that it’s fun to cross things off someone else’s ‘to-do’ list.
Help with the practical side of the trip home from the hospital.
The new parents will have last minute questions for the doctors and nurses and they are probably going to be wrestling with an unfamiliar car seat and equipment. Your job is to get the car into place and then make sure that you collect everything from the hospital room. My girls were happy to have disposable pads and other unmentionable hospital offerings for their first few days at home.
Provide meals, but don’t expect people to sit down at mealtime.
The best choices are meals which can be eaten when the new mom is awake and feeling hungry, whenever that is. My daughters loved having individual portions of nutritious soup ready in the fridge. They would heat it up when they were up for the 3 AM feeding.
Take them seriously when they tell you to have a flu shot and stay away if you are sick.
Anticipate the potential tough spots and help smooth them over.
My daughters have felt keyed up and energized for a few days right after delivery. At some point they each have a moment of recognition of the enormity of the love and responsibility for their child – just when the lack of sleep, recovery from delivery and cabin fever are all getting old. Remind them to ask for help and to take care of themselves. Their health supports a thriving baby.
Respect the new parents.
Answer questions when asked, but do not dictate. They are not going to do things exactly the way you would. Your job is to support and celebrate. Do not judge or provide too much advice.
Make the arrival of a sibling fun for older siblings.
Give a ‘big brother/sister’ present from the newborn or take your grandchildren on a special outing. When their parents were welcoming their new twins, I had a few days with my two-year-old grandson and another few with my granddaughters – which none of us will ever forget. Parents worry about a toddler’s transition when a new sibling arrives – you can help make the baby’s arrival a positive addition in the siblings lives.
Practical things you can do:
Feed them. Either cook yourself, or call for take-out meals.
New babies attract visitors. Stock the fridge and larder. Make sure that there is tea, LaCroix sparkling water, wine, beer, nuts, cheese and crackers, cookies – whatever your daughter likes to provide. She does not need to be thinking about this.
If you can afford it, consider offering a baby nurse or a doula. You may think that you know it all and you may be willing to take the night shift, but these women are pros. New parents are comfortable asking questions and reassured when told that the ‘spit up’ is normal. These nurses will work 24/7 or take the night shift. Your daughter will sleep well and recover her energy fast with just one or two brief wake-ups for nursing or pumping at night.
Post maternity clothing is a whole category in itself, but your daughter has been carrying a beach ball above her hips for months. She will appreciate a few new, comfortable clothes that are not too tight and will work for nursing.
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