There was no room in my new mom brain for anything else. I was definitely hungry. We all were exhausted. There were dishes and laundry to be done, toilets to be scrubbed, and showers to be had. But I didn’t have time to think about how those things were going to be taken care of.”
If you are (or ever have been) a new parent, I’m sure you are all too familiar with the following phrases:
“Let me know how I can help!”
“Don’t be afraid to reach out if you need anything!”
“I would love to do whatever I can to make your life easier! Just say the word!”
I know I am. Many of our friends and family joyfully spoke these words to us in the last weeks of pregnancy. We were showered with these phrases and the alike.
I adored hearing these words. In my mind, these people were going to be in the trenches with me in those first few weeks; I envisioned them helping around the house, making meals, and giving me time to rest.
They would be my village.
Jeremy and I felt incredibly loved. We were eager to meet our baby girl, and we were confident we would have all the support we needed upon her arrival. I mean, we had a village now, right?
This is where it gets tricky. Yes, we had a village — if we asked for it.
When we brought our bundle of joy home, we were physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. And that became the new norm for the next three months. My husband and I barely had time to talk to one another, and Lord knows most days we didn’t even have the energy to ask how the other’s day was going. Honestly, I rarely knew what day or time it was during those first few months of motherhood.
How were we supposed to find the time and energy to reach out to our kind friends? I could barely remember to brush my teeth in the morning. How could I remember Becky telling me she would like to come over and help with the baby so I could shower when I needed it?
That’s just it — I couldn’t. I was in survival mode. We both were. And when you’re in survival mode, you aren’t thinking about conversations you had in the third trimester. You’re thinking:
Feed the baby. Burp the baby. Put the baby to sleep. Now you sleep. Oh crap, you forgot to eat. Remind yourself to eat when baby wakes up. Now try to sleep. Shut your eyes. Forget that you have to pee. SLEEP. Baby is awake now. Maybe you can sleep in an hour when she naps again. Feed the baby. Burp the baby. Baby fell asleep again. YOU DIDN’T EAT. Stop thinking about the bathroom. Maybe now you should sleep. Wait, no. Baby needs a diaper change. Hmmm. How do you change a diaper without waking the baby up? That didn’t work. Now baby is crying. Soothe the baby. Baby is hungry again. Feed the baby. Burp the baby. REPEAT. REPEAT. REPEAT.
There was no room in my new mom brain for anything else. I was definitely hungry. We all were exhausted. There were dishes and laundry to be done, toilets to be scrubbed, and showers to be had. But I didn’t have time to think about how those things were going to be taken care of.
It wasn’t until after the newborn stage I even realized this. Initially, I assumed our village was never really there — that the offers were simply empty promises people never intended to deliver on. At the time, it didn’t occur to me the offers were indeed well-intended, valid offers and I just needed to ask.
And I feel sad I never found the time to reach out and ask for help. I wish I had called on my village. But I know why I didn’t — rather, why I couldn’t. And I know many new parents were (or are) in the same boat.
We want the help. And Lord knows we need the help. We just have too much going on to text Cindy or call Paula to cash in on their offers. And if we do get a second to breathe (hallelujah for that), it’s usually spent quickly devouring as many snacks as possible and racing to the bathroom before we are needed once again.
Since recognizing this, I started changing the way I offer help. Instead of leaving the ball in their court, I make the play.“
Now, I am not saying my husband and I didn’t have help after our daughter was born — because we did. Our church organized a meal train for us, which was amazing. Someone dropped a meal off twice a week for the first four weeks of parenthood. We also had a few friends (not part of the meal train) drop in and bring a meal during those first few weeks as well. The best part? All we had to do was open the front door.
I am also not saying I am not guilty of making the same offers to fellow moms. I have — on more than one occasion — told new parents to “let me know” if they needed help with anything. More times than not, I never received a text or call from them. And it probably wasn’t because they didn’t need help. In fact, I know they could have used my help. There is not a single new parent who wouldn’t benefit from a free meal, a nap, a shower, help with household chores, or simply a break.
Since recognizing this, I started changing the way I offer help. Instead of leaving the ball in their court, I make the play.
Here are some alternatives phrases I have used when offering help:
Let me know how I can help!” “I would love to help you. Let me bring you dinner on Tuesday! Do you like Italian? What time is best for me to drop it off?”
Don’t be afraid to reach out if you need anything!” “I know you will be extremely busy and exhausted when the baby arrives this week, and I would like to help you with some things around the house so you can focus on taking care of the baby. Can we plan on me coming by next Saturday morning for a couple of hours to help you with dishes and laundry? If that day doesn’t work for you, what day would be better?”
I would love to do whatever I can to make your life easier! Just say the word!” “I am sure you are in need of a small break to nap and shower. Can I come by tomorrow morning with coffee for you? I will spend time with baby while you focus on yourself for however long you need.”
I have rarely been turned away by new parents when I offer help in this way. In fact, they are usually thankful I am willing to take the lead and work out all the details. After all, they’re tired and overwhelmed.
So, let’s stop putting the onus on new parents. They shouldn’t have to recruit and call on a village to help.
Let’s bring the village to them.
Oh, one last thing. When you bring the village, do NOT show up unannounced! I repeat, do NOT show up out of the blue. Surprise visits are not cute and whimsical in the eyes of sleep-deprived parents of a newborn. Call or text before dropping in to give some warning. Better yet, schedule a day or time in the near future that allows the new family to mentally (and physically) prepare for your arrival! Because if we are being honest, us new mamas are rarely wearing pants during those first few weeks home.