“The days are long but the years are short.” Many people will say this to new parents but really, parents who have a newborn added to the household might feel this instead: “The days are long and the nights are even longer.”
Even though having a new child is exciting, it is also a stressful period coupled with many emotional and physical changes for the new parents. Personally, I have heard people talk about the struggles after having a newborn (including postpartum depression), but never really understood what it meant until I experienced it myself. Even though I did not reach the point of depression, my postpartum experience was bad enough that I wish never to go through it again. My mood went up and down like a roller coaster, and I found myself crying at random moments and almost every night. The days felt really long and the nights felt even longer. It could have been because of my hormones, post C-section recovery, expectations of caring for my newborn...or just everything fused together.
Thankfully, I got through that dreadful period and in retrospect, I realised that the people around me played a major role in helping me out of it. And if you’re wondering what you can do to help new parents (yes, daddies need care and support too!), here are five things you can do.
1. Find out how they are doing
Often, people tend to ask about the baby and forget that the parents need some tender loving care too. In fact, the bombardment of questions about only the baby can lead some new parents to feel like they are losing their sense of self. So if you know of someone who just became a parent, ask how he/she is coping with this major life change and find out if he/she is feeling overwhelmed. It is fine (and perfectly normal!) to ask about the baby as a conversation starter but don’t stop there – find out how mom and dad are doing too.
2. Offer to help with specific things
“Let me know if you need any help.” Most well-meaning people will offer help to new parents in this way but unfortunately, these heavily sleep-deprived parents may leave that kind offer hanging as they may not even have the capacity to think of what help they need. The next time you want to help new parents, try asking “Can I help you with…?” and it is more likely they will not turn down your help if it meets their needs. Consider what help they might need and be specific with the kind of help you would like to offer. If you have no idea where to start, try offering to help with simple household chores (like washing the dishes if you’re at their place) or to bring over a meal or some groceries. Also, it’s good to ask first in case your “help” is adding more stress to them.
3. Celebrate their successes
Affirm these new parents of what they are doing well and celebrate with them. Parenting is an extremely steep learning curve and sometimes parents (especially first time parents) are unsure of how they are doing. They need people to tell them whether they are doing a good job in being dad or mom to the newborn. Your affirmation will go a long way for these parents!
4. Just listen
Listening with the intention to help is not a bad thing but in the case of new parents, what they mostly need (especially mom) is often just a listening ear so they can share what’s on their heart, including their worries and concerns. Seek to be someone who will listen without giving solutions when you’re with a new mommy or daddy, and offer solutions only when asked.
5. Give them space
Last but not the least, give them space. Most new parents need space to settle down, to get used to taking care of a newborn, to cope with the lack of sleep, to cry, to find themselves again… Don’t expect them to respond to your calls or text messages immediately or as quickly as they used to. They have a newborn life and themselves to care for and these are huge responsibilities! So give them space and time, and continue to check in on them intermittently while allowing them the freedom to respond at a time that’s convenient for them.
And there you have it, five things you can do to support new parents! You don’t even have to be a parent yourself in order to support them. All they need is someone who cares enough to be present. So if you know of someone who is expecting the arrival of a newborn soon, make it a point to check in with them and offer to help with specific things to ease their load. Remember that they also need space so don’t feel rejected if they turn you down. Just give them space and check in again the next time!
Written by E's Mommy, co-founder of Toddle 'n' Doodle