Friday, October 26, 2007

How to make new parents happy

Having had a baby recently, I had the chance to experience what was and was not helpful in supporting new parents.

Instead of spiking my thank-you notes with spite (though it was tempting), I decided to be positive and instead be inspired to treat my own friends and family well when it's their turn to be overwhelmed by a newborn.

So, I thought I should write these ideas down before memories of the sleep-deprived-fog days have disappeared into the ether.

These tips will help first-time parents for sure, and -- I would assume though I have no experience -- parents of a newborn who also have older children.

I'll add to this list as I come up with other ideas, and please do leave your own suggestions in the comments.

  • Having a baby is all about learning to get by with no hands. Be a pal and bring over foods that can be eaten (a) cold and (b) with one sporadically free hand. Ideas: cut-up veggies and dip, cut-up fruit such as melon or apples, pico de gallo and chips (for all of the above: mixed and single veggie & fruit containers and platters can be found pre-made at the supermarket in the produce section), cheese slices (gourmet or otherwise) and crackers, ready-made sandwiches and wraps, hummus and pita slices. Remember, think "Would this taste good at room temperature?" (which is what it will be by the time they finally get around to settling the baby long enough to eat it) and "Can they eat this without silverware?" (because juggling a newborn is hard enough without throwing cutlery into the mix).
  • Depending on environmental convictions, you might also bring over some paper plates and plastic utensils to help with dish cleanup, or volunteer to wash a load of dishes for them.
  • Along the same lines of having no time at all for anything, give the gift of having something done for them. Instead of loading them up with baby blankets and tiny clothes and stuffed animals (which I realize are fun to give, but that's why you can rely on plenty of others will fill the gap), offer them something that will be used immediately and will give them not only a service but, more importantly, time. Here are some options: diaper service (if they're planning on or interested in cloth diapers), maid service (oh, the bliss of a clean house without lifting a finger), laundry service (some areas will have companies or individuals who will pick up, wash, dry, fold, and return regular laundry within a day or two), yard service (if they have a lawn or garden to care for -- my poor neglected plants this summer!), grocery delivery (wrestling a newborn into and out of a car seat to run basic errands is not a joy for anyone), meal delivery (some areas will have ready-to-heat meals available for home delivery, often with organic and vegetarian options -- or, of course, there's always pizza and Chinese food!), temporary employees if they have a home business to run, babysitting or mother's helpers if they have older children to care for, dog walking if appropriate, etc. Check for any of these services online (do a Google search and check the ads along the sides of the results pages, go to Craigslist for your area) or in the yellow pages, or ask around and check bulletin boards. Usually the businesses will offer a gift certificate or pre-pay option for gift givers: You can either schedule the service and pay in advance, or you can pay a certain amount and give the parents the job of actually arranging the service, whichever you think will be more convenient for the recipients. Don't be put off by the perceived price until you check for yourself -- often a one-time or one-month service fee would be comparable to what you would have paid on a physical gift -- baby clothes that will be worn once and then won't fit anymore, or toys that don't fit in a small home, or decorations that don't fit the recipients' style. Isn't it nice to give a gift that will be used up -- with relief? You'll have given them a unique and favorite gift that they will delight in writing a thank-you note for.
  • On that topic, don't pester new parents for thank-you notes. I know the etiquette is to write one immediately upon receiving a gift, but just try -- I challenge you -- to write a note one handed. It seems like it should be possible, because you use only one hand to write, right? But your supporting hand is what holds that cute little notepaper in place so your scribbles don't pull it off the table. So I think there should be general thank-you note amnesty until the baby isn't breastfeeding every 10 minutes.
  • New parents often feel isolated. This is especially true if they're ahead of friends in having kids, because single or non-child-bearing friends often have no idea what the rules are in getting together with families. But, really, bringing a newborn to someone's house or out to eat somewhere family-friendly isn't insurmountable -- no babyproofing is needed, and if the baby's breastfeeding comfortably (a stage it might take a few weeks to get to), then there's not even much needed to bring besides oodles of diapers, a little blanket, and a change of clothes. So, my advice is to invite new parents over or out to eat. Don't be shy, and at the same time don't be insistent or offended if they say they're too tired or overwhelmed right now. Let them know that an open invitation stands, and continue to offer specific opportunities to get together. Offer to come to their place if inviting yourself over doesn't bother you. If done in the right spirit, your reaching out will be greatly appreciated.

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