Monday, May 31, 2010

after the birth, what a family needs

"Let me know if I can help you in any way when the baby is born."
"Just let me know if you need a hand." 

"Anything I can do, just give me a call." 

Most pregnant women get these statements from friends and family but shy away from making requests when they are up to their ears in dirty laundry, unmade beds, dust bunnies and countertops crowded with dirty dishes. The myth of, “I’m fine. I’m doing great. New motherhood is wonderful. I can cope and my husband is the Rock of Gibraltar,” is pervasive in postpartum land.

If you are too shy to ask for help and make straight requests of people, I suggest sending the following list out to your friends and family. These are the things I have found to be missing in every house with a new baby. It’s actually easy and fun for outsiders to remedy these problems for the new parents but there seems to be a lot of confusion about what is actually wanted and needed.

1. Buy us toilet paper, milk and beautiful whole grain bread.

2. Buy us a new garbage can with a swing top lid and 6 pairs of black cotton underpants (women’s size____). 

3. Make us a big supper salad with feta cheese, black Kalamata olives, toasted almonds, organic green crispy things and a nice homemade dressing on the side. Drop it off and leave right away. Or, buy us frozen lasagna, garlic bread, a bag of salad, a big jug of juice, and maybe some cookies to have for dessert. Drop it off and leave right away. 

4. Come over about 2 in the afternoon, hold the baby while the new mother has a hot shower, put the new mother to bed with the baby and then fold all the piles of laundry that have been dumped on the couch, beds or in the room corners. If there is no laundry to fold yet, do some. 

5. Come over at l0 a.m., make us eggs, toast and a 1/2 grapefruit. Clean our fridge and throw out everything you are in doubt about. Do not ask me about anything; just use your best judgment.

6. Put a sign on our door that reads, “Dear Friends and Family, Mom and baby need extra rest right now. Please come back in 7 days but phone first. All donations of casserole dinners would be most welcome. Thank you for caring about this family.”

7. Come over in your work clothes and vacuum and dust our house and then leave quietly. It is tiring for a new mother to chat and have tea with visitors but it will renew her soul to get some rest knowing she will wake up to clean, organized space.

8. Take our older kids for a really fun-filled afternoon to a park, zoo or Science World and feed them healthy food.

9. Come over and give the new father a two hour break so he can go to a coffee shop, pub, hockey rink or some other activity that will delight him. Fold more laundry.

10. Make us a giant pot of vegetable soup and clean the kitchen completely afterwards. Take a big garbage bag and empty every trash basket in the house and reline with fresh bags.

These are the kindnesses that new families remember and appreciate forever. It is easy to spend money on gifts, but the things that really make a difference are the services for the body and soul described above. Most of your friends and family members do not know what they can do that will not be an intrusion. They also cannot devote 40 hours to supporting you but they would be thrilled to devote four hours. If you let 10 people help you out for four hours each, you will have the 40 hours of rested, adult support you really need with a newborn in the house. There is magic in the little prayer, “I need help.”

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