No matter how ready you think you are taking care of that new little person once he or she enters the world takes some getting used to. The more help you can get, the better. Here are some things I wish I had known before having children.
When my son was born, I felt a sense of surrealism the whole time we were in the hospital. We stayed for two nights. Despite my irritation with the constant interruptions of nurses, I felt reassured that we had help just a button call away if something happened with the baby we couldn't handle. Discharge day eventually arrived, however, and as we drove home over icy roads, our son slumbering quietly in the backseat, I realized that my husband and I were now entirely in charge of keeping that infant alive. It seemed impossible. At home, I shuffled gingerly into the house, my husband following behind, laden with bags and baby. He set the car seat gently in the middle of the living room floor and then we both stared at it, wondering what to do next. The enormity of it all was overwhelming.
Luckily, 20 minutes later, my mom arrived breaking into our daze and helping ease us into life with our new baby. I'm not sure how long we might have sat there staring otherwise. And I know we weren't alone. All parents, whether they're having a first baby or fifth, need a little extra help during those first weeks and months after an infant arrives. If you know or are related to parents of tiny babies and are interested in finding out how best to help them survive those initial days, you've come to the right place.
1. Offer your arms.
There's nothing new babies love more than being held, and there are few things more wonderful than holding a tiny infant. However, life moves apace. As much as they might like to, parents can't constantly hold their little ones. There are other mouths to feed, floors to vacuum and jobs to do. Parents often feel conflicted about what to do with their new little one. That's where friends and family come in. Any chance you get, offer to hold the baby so the parents can get a few other things done — like take a shower or eat a meal — without feeling guilty.
2. Be a babysitter.
In addition to food and bathing, parents also like to sleep and go out together with just the two of them. Your offer to babysit the baby while the mother takes a nap or watch the children while mom and dad go on a date will sound like a new verse to the Hallelujah chorus. Don't wait for them to ask because they will feel like they're imposing on you. You should offer your babysitting services whenever you're able. If they're concerned about leaving the baby while he's still so little, agree graciously and then offer again in a few weeks. By then, they'll likely have changed their minds.
3. Give them conversation.
Being a mother is an incredibly rewarding calling, but for the first few years it can be lonesome hanging out with an adorable baby that can't understand or communicate with you. Sometimes, all a mother really wants is someone to talk to who has something to say back. All it takes is a phone call and a listening ear. Let her talk as much as she wants, offer comfort and commiseration and remind her she is not alone. Here is another resource on surviving the baby blues.
4. Make a meal.
It can be hard to summon the energy just to warm up a freezer dinner, let alone make a healthy, balanced meal in those first weeks following a baby's birth. Give the gift of energy and nutrition by making a meal big enough for the whole family to eat. Make it even better by providing paper plates and plastic utensils so there's no cleanup afterwards.
5. Provide service.
Parents often avoid asking for help when they need it because they feel like they should be able to get everything done on their own. Plus, it's embarrassing to ask for help. Everyone is busy, so why should anyone else worry about their problems? You can avoid that whole dilemma by offering service. It can be as small as watering the garden, vacuuming the living room or taking a pet for a walk. Secret service can be rewarding and fun, as well. Try doorbell ditching some treats or anonymously raking the leaves, mowing the lawn or shoveling the snow. Every little bit helps.
Parenthood gets easier and more rewarding with time, but you can never get those first days with a new baby back. Help the mothers and fathers in your life get more enjoyment out of those times by putting your services at their disposal. Your sacrifice will bless both their lives and yours.