Last summer, on Facebook, I saw a photo of a sign some new parents made after having a baby, in which they demanded help around the house in return for time with their newborn. I wrote a post about it. I shared it on Instagram. People were divided.
Some, myself included, felt the sign was presumptuous, pretentious, obnoxious, and at the very least, tacky. Others felt that in a world of overbearing in-laws, rude guests, and oblivious people with no awareness of how to behave around new parents, the sign was necessary.
Maybe we’re both right. Because people don’t know how to act around new parents.
I don’t know why; I certainly don’t. Sure, they’re cute, but in a uniform way, and they don’t evince much in the way of personality for at least three months. I’m always excited when a friend or loved one has a new kid – provided that person is not my wife! – and I’m happy to give the child a quick look-see, maybe even let her hold my finger for a second, but other than that, I’m good.
It seems I am an outlier. Many people react to the birth of a new baby like a shark reacts to blood. They get a sniff and they swarm. They must see the baby, they must smell the baby, they must hold the baby. Unfortunately, they mustn’t actually help with the baby because hey, that ain’t their baby, they’re just tourists! But they demand an audience with the baby.
Hence the need for the aforementioned sign.
Are there better ways to go about letting people know you are sick of them dropping by and expecting to be treated as honored guests when you just tore your nether regions and are now tasked with keeping the human equivalent of a Faberge egg alive by letting it chew on your nipples and steal your life-force than a sign that demands they do your housework and genuflect in your child’s direction? Yes, yes there are. But I get it.
People suck and they seem to lose all sense of decorum when there’s fresh new human around. Maybe you’re one of them? Maybe you see a birth announcement and can’t help yourself from sprinting to your friend’s house, lost in a fog of baby fever that robs you of all social skills, causes you to become an oblivious nuisance, and results in your friends resenting you?
Don’t worry, I’m here to help.
How To Help New Parents
Don’t advise. Unsolicited advice is the literal worst, especially when it comes to parenting. Unless you are the pediatrician, they’ve probably heard it before, or read about it already, or googled it last night. If they ask you something, answer, but don’t offer your pro tips, because more often than not, it’s obnoxious. Every baby is different, but no baby is more different than someone’s first baby because that baby is the world’s greatest baby and yours was trash you don’t get it, you can’t tell me nothing!
Do give hand-me-downs. New parents can’t get enough clothes. The spit-up. The poop. The [redacted]. If you’ve got extra onesies and bibs and blankets, bring em over! Also, the stuff on this list, if they don’t have it yet.
Don’t threaten. No parent wants to hear how things are going to get worse, least of all brand new parents for whom every day is a new challenge. During those first few months, the development comes some fast, the dreaded phases that you eventually associate with years (terrible twos, threenagers, etc.) move much more quickly than that. The last thing a new mom needs to hear is how much worse it’s going to be when the kid can walk, or talk, or drive, or drink. They are dealing with enough crap already (literally), save your horror stories.
Bring food. Even if it’s just for yourself; you best not be crashing some new parents’ house and expecting to be fed!
Reassure but don’t dismiss. There’s no way around the anxiety and uncertainty and second-guessing and general all-consuming fear that having a newborn brings. Is that sound normal? Is that smell normal? Of course it’s normal, almost everything – no matter how freaky or bizarre or scary it seems – is normal, including overreacting to all of it. Part of becoming a parent is internalizing that anxiety, using it as a tool, learning to filter out the noise and recognize the real issues. But that’s not something that can be taught; it can only be experienced. You can’t lecture or coach new parents into becoming veterans, they need the reps! So reassure them, but don’t dismiss their fears or patronize them for worrying about something small; nothing is small when you have your first baby to care for! It gets easier as it goes on, and for parents who have more than one kid, each one becomes less and less fragile. In fact, it can sometimes even be hard to remember those early days when everything was a potential crisis. And that’s how they get you have another one!
Bring booze. Trust me. It’s been a while. And they’re gonna need it.
Leave. Not immediately, because we love you and appreciate you and we treasure your presence in our lives. We want you to have a relationship with our child. But please don’t make us tell you to leave. Figure that shit out. If you feel like it’s been too long, it’s been too long. If you see us yawning or the conversation lulls or you’re suddenly left alone while we change the baby, or we drop any number of other hints that we need want to be alone, please don’t make us be the bad guys. Get out. Come back soon, but get TF out right now! And next time bring booze.
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