Friends, cousins, grandparents; lend me your ears!
Hurrah! Your daughter or son/brother or sister/cousin/friend has just become a parent. You are likely to be very excited, and so you should be! Frankly, if you weren’t I would judge you. However, in your excitement over the baby you may not be quite up on your new-parenting etiquette. You will no doubt have the best of intentions. You will want to swoop in and lend a hand, maybe give a few hints and tips if you yourself have had a baby, or, like, read about it online. This is all good stuff, but it may need a little moderating. Remember, these people you have known for years have suddenly been handed the biggest responsibility of their lives, whilst also being sleep-deprived. This is not a combination that serves sanity at all well.
But do not fear! I have coined 6 simple rules to avoid any baby-related faux pas. (you’re welcome).
1) Become a Yes Man.
People we are close to are often the ones we’re most honest with. You know, like if a colleague at work says something you disagree with you let it fly, but if your sister says it you have a 30 minute stand-up row with her. (How dare she say Kim and Kanye’s love isn’t for reals??) It’s hard to tell a stranger when you think they’re wrong, but much easier when it’s your best mate; the person who has held your seventeen-year-old hair back in the loos after misguided boozing. This honesty is a sign of your closeness in itself, right?
Well, yes, but for now, just give it a rest. It doesn’t matter what they say, your new-parent friends/family are RIGHT. If they think it’s time for the baby to eat, they’re right. If they think it’s too cold to go for a walk, they’re right. Basically, unless they suddenly announce that they’ve decided to feed their baby McDonalds’ strawberry milkshakes instead of breast milk/formula, then they are right.
When baby first arrives on the scene most of us are one massive ball of doubts. Should I put an extra layer on him? Oh, but maybe he’ll overheat. It’s only been an hour, but I think he’s hungry, should I feed him? Is this okay? Is that okay? Arg *minor brain implosion*
So, when we actually make a decision, the last thing we need is to be told we’re wrong. Smile and nod. Smile. And. Nod.Oh, and say how well we’re doing; everyone likes that! Got it?
2) Sometimes advice is ill-advised.
There is one, simple rule for giving advice to new parents, and it is this: wait to be asked. Just. Wait.
Have you any idea of the level of advice-saturation a new parents’ brain is under at any one time? They are likely to have been to birthing-classes, read books, talked endlessly about babies with the world and his wife. They will know a lot. And even if they don’t, within a month of socialising with other mums your daughter/sister/cousin/friend will be well aware that there are 50 different ways to do everything. And all of them are the right way.
So just be patient. You may be itching to tell your loved one that it’s easier to do it this way, or to try this little trick you learned from a friend. But if you can manage it, keep it to yourself. If the baby is safe and the parent is okay, then what’s the harm? You will see when they’re struggling; that’s the time to tentatively offer suggestions. Just suggestions, mind you. e.g. you could try this, rather than you should try this.
The problem with advice is that to a sleep-deprived, doubting, first-timer it can often sound a lot like judgement. However nicely you put it, your words of wisdom may only be heard as You’re doing that wrong, I know how to do it better.
3) Be negative – in a good way.
I remember when my Bubs was tiny small. There he’d be in his little chair, with his chubby cheeks and sceptical facial expressions, and all my visitors would be cooing over him. “Aw, he’s soooo cute.” They’d say. And he was, obvs. But some days I just couldn’t see it. I was tired and emotionally exhausted and I didn’t have much enthusiasm at all for the little bundle that had caused these states. Of course it was lovely to be surrounded by loving people; I wouldn’t have it any other way. But sometimes, what I could have done with, was a bit of negativity.
“What??” I hear you cry. “You just told us we weren’t allowed to disagree or make judgements, what do you want from us woman???”
Well, I want you to be positive about their parenting, but just a little bit negative about parenthood. Okay, I’ll explain…
It’s is vitally important to hear that ‘it gets better’ and ‘having a baby was the best thing I’ve ever done’ and all that crap. You do need that. But. There comes a point when you just need someone else to sit next to you and say “yeah, mate, it’s shit when sometimes, isn’t it?”
Proper, down to earth, honesty. Because if you say that he’s much cuter when he’s asleep, or bloody hell that cry is piercing; I’ll feel a smidgen less guilty for thinking those things.
4) Ask Questions.
It is quite easy to visit someone close to you, spend hours with them and their new baby and not really ask them a single question past the obligatory how are you? greeting, which no one actually answers anyway. You will, of course, ask how baby slept last night, you might ask how feeding is going, or who’s doing more nappy changes. These are all fine, nowt wrong with a bit of baby chat. But somewhere in there, throw in a few questions to the parents. Directly to the parents.
How are you finding it? Have you seen Strictly this week? Do you want to come for lunch next Thursday? What’s been the funniest thing that’s happened since baby was born?
You know, just normal stuff. I’m not telling you to grill them or anything. But it’s amazing how little attention you pay yourself as a new parent (more on that here). It’s all about baby, so sometimes you need a bit of help to actually notice yourself. And a reminder that you are still a human being in your own right is nice too!
5) Remember, it’s not about you.
Of course, no one actually, consciously thinks that visiting a new baby is and all-about-me event. However, you may have imagined it in a certain way. Perhaps you wanted lots of cuddles, or a good long chat with mum/dad. Maybe you were hoping for a walk. Well, if you can, just let go of all that.
You may find that your gregarious care-free friend/son/brother has turned into a protective, cautious father overnight. He may not want you to hold the baby at first. Conversely, maybe all mum wants to do is have a nap, leaving you alone with a sleeping baby for an hour. Deal with it. And, whatever it is, try not to take it personally. You’re not being rejected or ignored, your just being included in this peculiar, mundane process we call parenting.
6) Do the dishes, then leave.
Make your own tea; clean your own mug (and whatever else is piling up by the sink); bring a ready cooked meal; take a load of washing. Do these things are you’re instant god-parent material. Nuff said.
So there you have it. All you need to be the perfect visitor. Oh, and a bottle of wine never goes amiss either…
What are your dos and don’ts for supporting parents? Do you wish someone had told your loved these rules before you had kids? Leave a comment below, visit my facebook page (like me, like me!) or tweet me @aafew